Matthew O'Neill, 1st Baron Dungannon

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Matthew O'Neill, 1st Baron Dungannon
Cause of deathAssassination

Matthew O'Neill, 1st Baron Dungannon (Irish:Feardorcha Ó Néill) (1520 – 1558) was an Irish aristocrat. He was accepted by Conn O'Neill as his natural son. Matthew was challenged by his alleged half-brother Shane O'Neill over who had the right to succeed as Earl of Tyrone.


Background and parents[edit]

Matthew was brought up by Alison Kelly ( Roth) in Dundalk, the wife of a blacksmith. At the age of sixteen, he was presented to Conn O'Neill, whom Kelly had previously had an affair with. Conn accepted that Matthew was his natural son.

Baron Dungannon[edit]

As part of the surrender and regrant policy brought in during the reign of Henry VIII, Conn was made Earl of Tyrone with Matthew confirmed as his heir and made Baron of Dungannon. Both visited London to formally submit to the King.

Conflict with Shane O'Neill[edit]

This arrangement was disputed by Matthew's elder half-brother Shane O'Neill, who had a larger and more powerful following. Shane's violent response crushed the government's hope that a peaceful succession might take place.[1] Matthew was killed by Shane's men in 1558, a year before Conn O'Neill died.

In his attempts to gain recognition of the title of Earl of Tyrone from the Crown, Shane suggested that Matthew had not really been Conn's son, and his real father was a blacksmith from Dundalk named Kelly. Shane tried to show Matthew's claims were weak under both the English law of primogeniture as well as the Gaelic custom of the strongest member of the family inheriting. Shane received some recognition of his role as head of the O'Neills, but he was never made an Earl before his death in 1567.


Matthew had several children, the most notable of which was Hugh O'Neill. With government-backing Hugh, who had been educated by an English family, returned to Ulster with a role in the Royal Irish Army and began to build up a power base. Hugh was able to secure the Crown's acknowledgement that Matthew had been Conn's legitimate heir, and was therefore Hugh was made the 2nd Earl of Tyrone. He grew into the leading nobleman in Ulster before his Tyrone's Rebellion and subsequent Flight of the Earls destroyed his power base. Matthew's widow Siobhán Nic Uidhir remarried after his death to Sir Eoin O'Gallagher, an influential figure in neighboring Tyrconnell.


  1. ^ Brady p.67


  • Brady, Ciaran. The Chief Governors: The Rise and Fall of Reform Government in Tudor Ireland, 1536-1588. Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Morgan, Hiram. Tyrone's Rebellion. Boydell Press, 1999.