|Séan 'an díomais' Ó Néill|
|Prince of Ulster, Dominus Tyronis
|Coronation||1559, Tullyhogue (Tulach Óg)|
|Died||2 June 1567|
|Place of death||Cushendun, County Antrim, Ireland|
|Buried||Ballyterrim, Cushendun, Ireland Possibly reburied at Glenarm Abbey|
|Predecessor||Conn Bacach Ó Néill|
|See Earl of Tyrone and Count of Tyrone|
|Successor||Sir Turlough Luineach O'Neill, The O'Neill Mor|
|Consort||Catherine McDonnell (annulled, 1560)
Margaret O'Donnell (died c. 1563)
Countess Catherine MacLean, daughter of Hector Mor Maclean, 12th Chief (died 1585).
|Issue||Conn, Hugh Gaveloch, Art, Seán Óg, Hugh McShane O'Neill, Brian Laighneach, Henry, Rose, Turlough, Níall, Edmond|
|Father||Conn Bacach Ó Néill (d. 1559), Provincial King of, then 1st Earl of Tyrone|
|Mother||Alice Fitzgerald dau. of 8th Earl of Kildare|
Shane O'Neill (Irish: Séan Ó Néill; c. 1530 – 2 June 1567), nicknamed Séan an Díomais, or "Shane the Proud", was an Irish king of the O'Neill dynasty of Ulster in the mid 16th century. Shane O'Neill's career was marked by his ambition to be The Ó Néill Mór – Sovereign of the dominant Ó Néill Mór family of Tyrone... and thus head overking or Rí ruirech of the entire province. This brought him into conflict with competing branches of the O'Neill family and with the English government in Ireland, who recognised a rival claim. Shane's support was considered worth gaining by the English even during the lifetime of his father Conn O'Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone (died 1559). But rejecting overtures from Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex, the lord deputy from 1556, Shane refused to help the English against the Scottish settlers on the coast of Antrim, allying himself instead with the MacDonnells, the most powerful of these immigrants.
Feuding within the O'Neill Lordship
The English, since the late 1530s, had been expanding their control over Ireland, this century long effort is known as the Tudor conquest of Ireland. To incorporate the native Irish Lordships, they granted English titles to Irish Lords – thus making Conn Bacach O'Neill, Shane's father, the first Earl of Tyrone. However, whereas in Gaelic custom, the successor to a chiefship was elected from his kinsmen, the English insisted on succession by the first-born son or primogeniture. This created a conflict between Shane, who considered it his natural right to be Chieftain of his clan and an "affiliated son" or adoptee of his father Conn Bacach, Matthew or Fear Dorcha who was 'conveniently mistaken' as the offspring of Conn when he travelled to London in 1542 to be invested with the Earldom of Tyrone. Feardorcha had accompanied Conn's entourage as the Earl's eldest son Phelim Caoch O'Neill had been killed by his enemy Gillespic MacDonnell during a raid in Ulster shortly before Conn's inauguration visit. Gillespic MacDonnell's family were noted as committed adherents of Feardorcha and his descendents.
Shane's mother Lady Alice Fitzgerald, Tyrone's first wife, was the daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, and his stepmother was the daughter of Hugh Boy O'Neill of Clanaboy. She died while Shane was young and Shane, following Gaelic custom, was fostered by the Donnelly family, who raised him until his early teenage years. During his trip to the English court to receive the title of earl of Tyrone, Shane's father Conn 'Bacach, who had just lost his eldest son and was in open conflict his surviving sons, was accompanied by the fosterling Feardorcha (translated into English as 'Matthew'), a youth who, until he was sixteen had been acknowledged as the son of a Dundalk blacksmith. Feardorcha's mother Alison Kelly was Conn Bacach's current mistress at the time. When Conn was created earl of Tyrone, Feardorcha was declared to be Conn's heir in English law, disinheriting all of Conn's surviving sons, including Shane. Under English law, Feardorcha, titled Baron of Dungannon from Conn's principal house in Tyrone, was intended to succeed him as 2nd Earl of Tyrone. However, Feardorcha was ambushed and killed by Shane's foster brothers, the Donnellys in 1558, some months before the death of Conn Bacach, and the claim to the Earldom thus passed to Brian, Feardorcha's eldest son, who was later killed in 1562 in a skirmish with Turlough Luineach. Thus the claim to the Earldom passed to Feardorca's next son Hugh O'Neill who had been removed to safety in the Pale by Sir Henry Sidney in 1559, stayed at the English court and was protected there while Shane established his supremacy in Ulster.
Having eliminated his rivals, Shane had himself inaugurated as The O'Neill. While in English law this was an illegal usurpation of the rulership of Ulster, according to Gaelic Irish custom, Shane had every claim to the title The O'Neill. The case for Feardorcha's disqualifying status under both English and Irish law, as an affiliated member of the family rather than as an actual son of Conn Bacach, was carefully stated by Shane when he made his own claim to the title of Earl of Tyrone both before and during his visit to Queen Elizabeth in 1562, and re-stated in some detail by the English authorities when Hugh O'Neill was outlawed during the Nine Years War.
Relationship with the English
Although Shane had allied himself with the Scottish MacDonnell clan, who had settled in Antrim, against the English, Queen Elizabeth I, on succeeding to the English throne in 1558, inclined to come to terms with Shane, who after his father's death functioned as de facto chief of the formidable O'Neill clan. She accordingly agreed to recognise his claims to the chiefship, thus throwing over Brian O'Neill, son of the assassinated Feardorca (Matthew), baron of Dungannon, if Shane would submit to her authority and that of her deputy. O'Neill, however, refused to put himself in the power of Sussex without a guarantee for his safety; and his claims in other respects were so exacting, that Elizabeth consented to measures being taken to subdue him and to establish Brian in his place.
An attempt by Sussex to increase the enmity of the O'Donnells against Shane was frustrated by his seizure of Calvagh O'Donnell in a monastery. Elizabeth, whose prudence and parsimony were averse to so formidable an undertaking as the complete subjugation of the powerful Irish chief, desired peace with Shane at almost any price. Elizabeth's faith in Sussex's aggressive strategy diminished when the repeated annual devastations of Shane's territory by the Lord Deputy with sizeable and expensive armies failed to bring Shane to submission. Sussex's credibility completely failed after Shane's dramatic destruction of the greater part of his invasion army at the Battle of the Red Sagums, 18 July 1561, while Sussex was still deep in O'Neill controlled territory garrisoning Armagh with a small body of men. Sussex, indignant after his narrow escape from Shane's trap, and at Shane's demand for the final withdrawal of the now completely isolated English garrison from Armagh, received no support from the Queen, who sent the earl of Kildare to arrange terms with Shane. Unable to succeed against Shane in battle, Sussex had finally tried in 1561 to procure Shane's assassination via poison wine. Shane now laid the whole blame for his perceived lawless conduct on the lord deputy's unnatural enmity, as displayed in this most recent of many attempts on his life. Elizabeth consented to treat, and hostilities ceased on terms that gave Shane practically all his demands. Shane offered some trifling concessions, but most significantly he finally consented to present himself before Elizabeth in London to argue his case against Sussex and the Baron of Dungannon in person. As a final indignity to Sussex's honour, Shane requested his half-sister Lady Frances Radclyffe's hand in marriage as an ernest of future friendship.
Accompanied by the Irish Earls of Ormonde and Kildare as surity for his safety, Shane reached London on 4 January 1562. William Camden describes the wonder which O'Neill's wild gallowglasses occasioned in the English capital, with their heads bare, their long hair falling over their shoulders and clipped short in front above the eyes, and clothed in outlandish saffron dyed shirts of fine linen. Elizabeth was less concerned with the respective claims of Brian and Shane, the one resting on an English patent and the other on the Gaelic custom, than with the question of policy involved in supporting or rejecting the demands of her proud suppliant. Characteristically, she temporised; but finding that O'Neill was in danger of becoming a tool in the hands of Spanish intriguers, she permitted him to return to Ireland, "recognising" him as "The O'Neill". Elizabeth's recognition of Shane's claim to the title "The O'Neill" was effectively meaningless, as she had no authority to confirm a title conferred under ancient Irish Brehon law. During this visit Shane's legal claim to his father Conn Bacach's Earldom was verbally confirmed and Shane was led to believe he would be recognised as the 2nd Earl of Tyrone, though some reservation was made of the possible future rights of Hugh O'Neill, who had meantime succeeded his brother Brian as baron of Dungannon. Brian had been killed in a skirmish in April 1562 by Shane's Tanist Turlough Luineach O'Neill. However, confirmation of the grant of the Earldom was never delivered, and Shane was eventually compelled to defend his hegemony in Ulster when his one-time supporter Sir Henry Sidney was appointed Lord Deputy and resurrected Sussex's policy of undermining Shane's authority.
War in Ulster
There were at this time three powerful contemporary members of the O'Neill family in Ireland – Shane, Sir Turlough and Brian, 1st Baron of Dungannon. Turlough had been elected Tánaiste or tanist (second and successor) when his cousin Shane was inaugurated as The O'Neill, and he schemed to supplant Shane in the higher dignity during Shane's absence in London. To this end Turlough assassinated his principal rival Feardorcha's eldest son Brian during Shane's absence when rumours of Shane's imprisonment began to circulate. Turlough's pretensions did not long survive Shane's return to Ireland, where he quickly re-established his authority, and, in spite of Sussex's protestations, Shane renewed his warfare against the O'Donnells and the MacDonnells to force them to recognise O'Neill hegemony in Ulster.
Shane now turned his hand against the MacDonnells, claiming that he was serving the Queen of England in harrying the Scots. He fought an indecisive battle with Sorley Boy MacDonnell near Coleraine in 1564, and the following year at Easter hosted his entire army at Feadan above Newry. Marching north at unprecedented speed, Shane surprised the MacDonnells, who had expected him to intervene against an incursion by James MacDonnell of Dunnyveg's own household troops who had landed in Lecale. While James MacDonnell of Dunnyveg and his brothers rapidly assembled an army in Scotland, Shane defeated Somhairle Buidhe MacDonnell's local levies at Knockboy above Broughshane, crossed the Antrim mountains by way of Clogh and after burning James's new castle at Redbay, pursued the remains of Somhairle's army and the recently landed army under James to the neighbourhood of Ballycastle, where he routed the MacDonnells at the Battle of Glentasie and took Somhairle Buidhe and his badly wounded brother James prisoner.
This victory greatly strengthened Shane O'Neill's position, and Sir Henry Sidney, who became lord deputy in 1565, declared to the earl of Leicester that Lucifer himself was not more puffed up with pride and ambition than O'Neill. Preparations were made in earnest for his subjugation. O'Neill ravaged the Pale, failed in an attempt on Dundalk, made a truce with the MacDonnells, and sought help from the Earl of Desmond. The English, on the other hand, invaded Donegal and restored O'Donnell.
The custom amongst the nobility of sixteenth century Ireland was for marriage to be undertaken to cement political alliances between powerful families. If the alliance fell apart, then the husband could send the wife back to her father in a form of political divorce. All of Shane's marriages were of this type. His first wife was Catherine, the daughter of James MacDonald of Dunnyveg, Lord of the Isles. Shane married Catherine while the MacDonnells were providing him with military support during the 1550s to contest the Lordship of Tyrone with his father Conn Bacach, then "The O'Neill".
Shane later divorced Catherine to forge an alliance with the O'Donnells of TirConnell. He married Mary, a daughter of the Lord of Tyrconnell, Calvagh O'Donnell. Mary's brother's open hostility to the alliance led to Shane rejecting Mary, whom he treated with studied cruelty in revenge. In the ensuing conflict, Shane captured and imprisoned her father Calvagh O'Donnell.
Calvagh was married to Catherine, the dowager Countess of Argyle and daughter of Hector Mor MacLean of Clan MacLean and the Scottish island of Duart. Catherine was also former wife of Archibald Campbell, 4th Earl of Argyll whose favour could ensure Shane could rely on a ready supply of Highland "redshank" mercenaries. Shane kept Calvagh imprisoned at Benburb and his island stronghold of Fuath na nGall for many years. During Calvagh O'Donnell's imprisonment, Catherine willingly became Shane's mistress. Upon Calvagh's eventual negotiated release, Catherine refused to accompany him, electing to stay with Shane. Her father Hector Mor MacLean came to Ireland and blessed her eventual marriage with Shane in 1563.
However, during Shane's visit to London in 1563, he requested that Queen Elizabeth should find him a "proper English wife". This is likely to have been a facetious request, satirically highlighting those English attitudes Shane had encountered during his visit to Elizabeth's court, where the men and women of the Gaelic world were regarded as savages by Elizabeth's courtiers.
Between May and June 1567, while Shane was attempting to negotiate a military alliance with the MacDonnells in the wake of his catastrophic defeat at battle of Farsetmore, he discussed the possibility of divorcing Catherine MacLean to marry his current mistress, the widow of James MacDonald, Agnes Campbell, who had been captured with her husband by Shane at the Battle of Glentasie in 1565. Agnes was herself the base sister of Catherine's earlier husband, the Earl of Argyll. Shane was, however, still married to Catherine on 2 June 1567, the day of his assassination at Castle Cara, Cushendun, at the hands of a MacDonnell warband with whom he was negotiating possible military aid. Catherine and her children had accompanied Shane and his entourage to the MacDonnell camp at Castle Cara below Ballyterrim, and after his assassination they fled across the river Bann to the forest of Glenconkeyne where they were protected by a minor chieftain of the Clandeboye O'Neill. Catherine eventually made her way to safety at Duart Castle where her brother fostered the youngest of Shane's children, those who had been born to his sister, while offering protection to the other MacShanes.
The sons of Shane – The Mac Shanes
Shane had at least ten sons by his various wives. All of these ten are considered legitimate, but there may be others of a base origin. Many of them were later fostered in various O'Neill clans after their father's death, and eventually became the rival force to Hugh O'Neill in his climb to power in the 1580–1600 timeframe. His known sons are:
- Shane Og, mother was Catherine MacDonnell. He died in 1581 on a raid, was tanist to the O'Neill, Turlough Luineach, in 1579.
- Henry MacShane O'Neill, His mother was Catherine MacDonnell, he died 1622. Father of Sir Henry O'Neill and Con Boy McHenry. Perhaps the most famous of Shane's sons. Granted a large Estate in Orior County Armagh.
- Con MacShane O'Neill, died in 1630. Mother was either the daughter of Shane og Maguire or Catherine MacLean, sources disagree. He invaded Ulster in 1583 with 3000 Scottish warriors and was named the Tanist of The O'Neill, Turlough Luineach, in the 1580s. During the 9 Years War, he fought against his cousin the Earl and was rewarded with a large estate (1,500 acres (6.1 km2)) and the Manor lordship of Clabbye in Fermanagh. He played a part in Ulster politics until his death in 1630/1. His sons continued to serve in Ireland and abroad. Two of his grandsons were made Spanish Counts.
- Turlough, mother was Catherine MacDonnell of the Route. Died 1598.
- Hugh Gaveloch, died in 1590, most popular of the Mac Shanes. Led an army of his MCLean kinsmen into Ulster to support his claim to The O'Neill Mór title. He was captured and hanged by his 1st cousin, Hugh, Earl of Tyrone.
- Naill, mother thought to have been Catherine O'Donnell.
- Art, mother was Catherine MacLean, died of exposure while escaping from Dublin Castle with Red Hugh O'Donnell.
- Brian Laighneach, mother was Catherine MacLean, died after 1598.
- Edmond, died fighting against Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone.
- Hugh McShane O'Neill, mother was Catherine MacLean, died in 1621. Became Chief of the O'Neill sept inside Glenconkeyne forest and known from that point on as the "MacShanes". (Sources point to the fact that Hugh may have been the son of Conn Mac Shane).
- Cormac, mother was Catherine MacLean, died after 1603. Stayed with brother Hugh MacShane as did his son Cormac Boy.
- Rose married into the MacDonnell clan.
Defeat and death
Failing in an attempt to arrange terms, and also in obtaining the help which he solicited from France, O'Neill was utterly routed by the O'Donnells again at the battle of Farsetmore near Letterkenny; and seeking safety in flight, he threw himself on the mercy of his enemies, the MacDonnells. Attended by a small body of gallowglass, and taking his prisoner Sorley Boy with him, he presented himself among the MacDonnells near Cushendun, on the Antrim coast. Here, on 2 June 1567, whether by premeditated treachery or in a sudden brawl, he was slain by the MacDonnells, and was buried at CrossSkern Church at Ballyterrim above Cushendun. His headless body was possibly later moved to Glenarm Abbey. William Piers, Senechal of Clandeboye and commander of the English garrison at Carrickfergus, travelled to Cushendun to take Shane's head and send it to Dublin Castle as proof of his death.
In his private character Shane O'Neill was perceived by the English as a brutal, uneducated savage. However, Irish history is often written by English historians. Shane was tough, but a brilliant politician and fighter at times. Calvagh O'Donnell, when Shane's prisoner, claimed he was subjected to continual torture. Calvagh's wife became his mistress. Shane married her in 1563 and had several children by her. He frustrated his English opponents with his ability to defeat them in the field and then again at Court. His death was greeted with great pleasure in London.
Shane was succeeded as The O'Neill by his tanist, Turlough Luineach O'Neill who married Shane's mistress, Agnes Campbell a natural daughter of Archibald Campbell, 4th Earl of Argyll some months after Shane's assassination. Shane had many sons, who were known as the "Mac Shanes" – or Irish for the sons of the Shane. Two became tanists to Turlough Luineach in his attempts to neutralise Hugh, Earl of Tyrone. The Bishop of Clogher, Miler Magrath, claimed 'the people[ of Ulster] adhere to the MacShanes whom they consider the true branch of Conn Bacach's line,' but with their arch enemy Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, entering into open rebellion with the outbreak of the Nine Years' War the MacShanes were compelled to support Hugh's enemy, the Dublin administration, and their local support in Tyrone withered.
'Séan an díomais' or 'Seán Donnghaileach'
Although known throughout history as 'Séan an díomais', this is actually an abusive nickname developed in the writings of hostile sources such as "The Annals of Four Masters", whose authors had as patrons Shane's enemies the O'Donnell lords of Tirconnell. The name, often translated as 'Shane the Proud', implies in the chosen Irish word 'díomais' an irrational vanity and overbearing narcissism rather than any natural "pride" in the subjects self and abilities. It was a convenient epithet for his detractors, and the myth of Shane's devilish pride was a convenience for later English historians wishing to explain why such effort should have been expended to destroy 'Séan an díomais'. Where any additional name to 'Shane' is added in the contemporary political correspondence, anglicisations of 'Donnghaileach' such as 'Donnolloh' are used. Notably, the first Irish historian to compose a non-Gaelic full length history of Ireland, Abbé Jaques McGeoghegan, in his 'Histoire de l'Irlande Ancienne et Moderne', notably uses 'John, or Shane Doulenagh O'Neil,' where English historians to that date have consistently used 'Shane the Proud'.
Shane O'Neill should more accurately be known by the name that would have been used by his contemporaries, 'Seán Donnghaileach mac Cuinn Bhacaigh Ó Néill'. 'Donnghaileach' refers to his fosterage among the Donnellys, and may be compared to similar usage in the formulation of the name of his successor 'Turlough Luineach mac Néill Chonnalaigh Ó Néill', where 'Luineach' refers to his fosterage amongst the O'Lunney (Ó Lúinígh) family of the Glenelly Valley, in the Sperrins. Thus, 'Seán "Donnelly", son of Conn the maimed O'Neill', and 'Turlough "O'Lunney", son of Neill Connallach (Turlough's fathers own name and nickname would be 'Neill of Cénell Conaill') O'Neill'.
Antrim GAA has a Gaelic football club named in his honour, Shane O'Neill's GFC, founded by the solicitor and antiquarian Francis Joseph Bigger. It is situated in the outskirts of Glenarm village in Feystown and has over one hundred members. Shane O'Neill's hurling club was the first official GAA club in Glenarm, founded in 1903 using land donated by the Gibson family of the Libbert, Glenarm. Arthur and Dan Gibson went on to represent County Antrim. There is also a Shane O'Neill's GAC in Camloch, County Armagh.
A cairn was raised at his reputed burial place above Cushendun by the antiquarian Francis Joseph Bigger in 1908 and yearly commemorations held in Shane's honour between that date and 1914. The poet Robinson Jeffers visited the site in 1929 and refers to Shane's Cairn in several poems in the sequence "Decent to the Dead," inspired by his pilgrimage to Ireland.
- Donald M. Schlegel, 'The MacDonnells of Tyrone and Armagh: A Genealogical Study,' Seanchas Ardmhacha, vol. 10, no.1 (1980/1981), pg. 205
- Richard Bagwell, Ireland Under the Tudors, (3 Vols) London, vol ii, pgs 2–4.
- Sean Ghall, 'An Historical Note on Shane O'Neill,' The Catholic Bulletin, vol XIII, April–May 1923, pgs, 311–314.
- J.S. Brewer and W. Bullen, (eds), Calender of the Carew Manuscripts Preserved in the Archepiscopal Library at Lambeth, 1515–1624, (6 vols), London, vol. i, pgs 304-8; Ciarán Brady "The Government of Ireland, circa 1540–1583' PhD. Trinity college, Dublin, 1981, pgs, 153-4, 180–5.
- For an example, see: Brewer,J.S. and William Bullen [ed] Calendar of the Carew Manuscripts preserved at the Archiepiscopal Library at Lambeth, vol i, 1515–1574, Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer (Lindon, 1867), p. 268
- MacGeoghegan, Abbé Jaques, [trans. Patrick Kelly] History of Ireland, Ancient and Modern, Taken from Authentic Records, by the Abbé Mac-Geoghegan, and Dedicated to the Irish Brigade, Duffy, (Dublin 2nd edn. 1844) p. 442.
- Roland Spottiswoode, "'At the Grave of Shane O'Neill', Commemorations at Shane's Cairn Cushendun, 1908–1914" in Dúiche Néill no 18 2010, pgs. 9–28.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Calendar of the State Papers of Ireland, 1509–1573, pg.172,178, 230, 296, 444,
- Calendar of the State Papers of Ireland for King James I, 1615. pg. 77, 41–42.
- Calendar of the State Papers of Scotland, 1547–1603. Vol. I & II pg. 203, 677–678
- Duiche O'Neill, Journal of the O'Neill Country Historical Society. Vol. 11 & 13.
- The Ancient and Royal Family of O'Neill, by Desmond O'Neill
- Conspiracy, by Raymond Gillespie. pg. 18.
- The Great O'Neill, by E. Boyd Barret, Hale Cushman, Flint, Boston, 1939.
- A Military History of Ireland, by Bartlett & Jeffery. pg. 136–138, 143, 145–146
- Shane O'Neill, by Ciaran Brady, Dundalk 1996