Royal O'Neill Clan


Kathleen Neill ©1992 O'NEILL CLAN NEWS

The O'Neills are descendants of the Ui Neill, themselves the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, living about 400AD. The O'Neills take their actual surname from Niall Glundubh (Black-knee) who was slain fighting the Danes in 919 and not from Niall of the Nine Hostages as so many imagine. The mighty Ui Neill dynasty divided into two in the 400's, the Northern Ui Neill remained in the north while the Southern Ui Neill moved to Meath and the eastern midlands - they took it in turns to be Kings of Tara and, later, High-Kings of Ireland.

The O'Neills are descendants of the Ui Neill, themselves the descendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages, living about 400AD. The O'Neills take their actual surname from Niall Glundubh (Black-knee) who was slain fighting the Danes in 919 and not from Niall of the Nine Hostages as so many imagine. The mighty Ui Neill dynasty divided into two in the 400's, the Northern Ui Neill remained in the north while the Southern Ui Neill moved to Meath and the eastern midlands - they took it in turns to be Kings of Tara and, later, High-Kings of Ireland.

The particular Saint of the O'Neills was Mura, son of Feradach son of Eoghan, King of Ailech ca. 425. Mura was Abbot of Fahan and died ca. 645. The O'Neills were Keepers of his pastoral staff and bell.

In the eleventh century Anrothan, younger son of AEDH Athlamhan 'the Handy' O'NEILL, KING OF ULSTER 1030-1033 (Royal Heir of Ireland who was given the throne during his father's pilgrimage to Rome but who died in his father's lifetime in November 1033) moved to Scotland and married the daughter of the King of Argyll and received wide lands there. According to the mediaeval Irish and Scottish genealogies he was ancestor of the MacLaghlans of Strathlachlan, The Lamonts of that Ilk (of whom the Lyons of Glamis, Earls of Strathmore, are probably cadets), the MacSorleys of Moneydrain, the MacEwans of Otter, the entire Clan Neill in Scotland (i.e. the MacNeills of Barra and the McNeills of Gigha and Colonsay), the MacSwins of Castleswin, and the MacSweeneys of Donegal.

For centuries the O'Neills were Kings of all-Ireland, Kings of Ulster and Princes of Tyrone.

In the twelfth century the 'Neill clan divided once more. Aedh (Hugh) Macaemh Toinleasg (the 'Lazy-arsed Youth') O'Neill, King of Cenel Eoghain 1176-1177, Royal Heir of Ireland, slew his father's slayer, 1160; restored O'Neill power after his inauguration at Tullyhogue; established his rule over all Tir Eoghain (Tyrone) and became supreme in the north of Ireland.

Amongst other issue he had two sons:

AEDH Meth 'the Fat' O'Neill, King of Northern Ireland, ancestor of the O'Neills of Clannabuidhe (Clanaboy) and, in the female line, of The Hon. The Lord O'Neill (Shane's Castle), the late Lord O'Neill of the Maine (formerly Captain Terence O'Neill, formerly Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) and The Hon. Hugh O'Neill (Chairman, Northern Ireland Tourist Board). •Niall Ruadh 'the Red' O'NEILL, KING OF ULSTER 1230, had (with other issue) a son BRIAN O'NEILL, LAST NATIVE KING OF IRELAND 1258-1260. King Niall's descendants were styled Ua Neill Mor (The Great O'Neill) to distinguish them from their rivals of the Clannabuidhe (Clanaboy) branch whose Chief was styled The O'Neill Buidhe, or The O'Neill of Clannabuidhe. This Niall was the direct ancestor of the Great Red Hugh O'Neill, the last King of Ulster, inaugurated on the royal stone at Tullyhogue in 1594. When this main line of the clan died out, the O'Neills of the Fews became their successors.

ART O'Neill, King of Ulster 1509-1514, was assisted in holding his appanage of the Fews against the English by 'his cousin king Conn Mor O'Neill' in 1487. His grandson Henry O'Neill, Lord of the Fews was living in 1563; he married Joan, widow of Ferdorcha O'Neill, 1st Baron of Dungannon, and mother of the Great Red Hugh (above), daughter of Cuconnaght Maguire, dynast of Fermanagh and by her had a son Turlough (or Terence) O'Neill, Lord of the Fews. Turlough was succeeded by his son Henry of the Fews who left issue (with a younger son Shane (or John), father of Thomas 'Johnson" (John's son) from whom the Johnson baronets of New York claim descent). It is from this issue that Don Carlos, the present O'Neill Mor - Chief of his Name descends.

The First O'Neill

A Family tree of the first O'Neills. Information © THE O'NEILLS OF ULSTER, HIGH KINGS OF IRELAND by Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk and Kathleen Neill. Published by the Irish Heritage Association and the Royal O'Neill Clan Society.

AEDH FINNLIATH "White Hair" [K. of Ireland 862-79]; He went to war against the Southern Ui Neill in 860 and invaded the camp of MAELSECHLAINN [K. of Ireland] but was driven back. He plundered all the Danish fortresses in Ulster and defeated the Danes near Lough Foyle in 866, after which "twelve score of their heads were counted before him." He won a great victory in 868 against heavy odds at Killaderry over the Meath and Leinstermen, who were allied with the Dublin Vikings. The bards called AEDH "Chief King of the Gael"; he d. 879. He m. Maelmuire, daughter of KENNETH MacALPIN [K. of the Scots & Picts]; she was prob. the widow of Run [K. of the Strathclyde].

His eldest son:

DOMNALL [K. of Ailech 887-915], a peaceful ruler, was challenged by his brother NIALL GLUNDUBH, but the nobles of Cenel Eoghain interceded and the two were persuaded to share the kingdom. He later became a pilgrim and d. 915 (possibly in religious orders). Ailech by then included all of Donegall, Derry, and Tyrone, with suzerainty over Fermanagh, Armagh, and Monaghan. DOMNALL's descendants often were "Royal Heirs of the North" or kings of Ailech, down to DONNCHADH [K. of Ailech 1083] and ARDGAR [Royal Heir of Ailech], who was killed 1124.

Aedh's other son:

NIALL GLUNDUBH "Black Knee", [K. of Ireland 916-19], captured and drowned a murderer in 907 who had violated the sanctuary of Armagh; he also revived the ancient Fair of Taitiu in 916. He campaigned repeatedly against the Danes and Norse in Ireland, but was mortally wounded in battle near Dublin, 15 Sep 919, fighting against Sigtryg [K. of Dublin, afterward K. of York]. He m. Gormfhlaith (who d. 947 after accidentally falling on her sharp-pointed bedpost), widow 1st of Cormac [K. of Munster] and 2nd of Cearbhall [K. of Leinster]; she was the daughter of his predecessor, FLANN SIONNA "the Fox" [K. of Ireland 876-916], head of the Southern Ui Neill. IT IS FROM THIS NIALL THAT THE O'NEILLS DIRECTLY DERIVE THEIR NAME.

Niall's son:

MUIRCHEARTACH NA COCHALL CRAICENN "of the Leather Cloaks", [K. of Ailech 938-43, Royal Heir of Ireland], called "the Hector of the Western World," was one of the greatest of Irish military commanders, and was known by his long yellow hair. Though generous to his enemies, he often defeated the Danes and Norsemen and overran the region around Dublin; in 927 he defeated and killed Goach, the rebellious local king of Keenaght. He was caught offguard by the Norse in his own fortress of Ailech in 939, and was taken as a prisoner to their ships on Lough Swilly, but escaped; he fitted out his own fleet and pursued the Norse to their base in the Hebrides, which he plundered in 941. He then made his famous Circuit of Ireland in midwinter of that year with a picked force of the Cenel Eoghain (wearing leather cloaks against the cold), carrying off the local kings in chains, feasting them royally at Ailech, and them sending them as hostages to his father-in-law, the High King. MUIRCHEARTACH was killed in battle against Blacar [K. of Dublin] in Mar 943. He m1 Flann (who d. 940), daughter of Donchadh [K. of Ireland 919-44], head of the Southern Ui Neill]. He m 2 941 Dubhdara, daughter of Ceallach [K. of Ossory].

His son:

DOMNALL ARDMACHA "of Armagh", [K. of Ireland 956-80], was the first of the line to be styled "O'Neill" (Ua Neill or "grandson of Niall), being possibly the first Irishman of station to assume what became an hereditary surname; it may have been intended as a quasi-title during the period 944-56, when to be a grandson of Niall "Black-Knee" implied rightful inheritance of the High Kingship (despite the usurpation of Congalach [K. of Brega], who had seized the High Kingship by force of arms). DOMNALL was a patron of learning, and gave "the full of St. Patrick's Bell of silver" to the Archbishop of Armagh in 947. In 962 he carried light boats overland and raided the Danes in the lake-dwellings and islands on Lough Ennell; he raided the settlers again in 969, burning 300 of them in one house. He defeated and overran Meath in 970, and killed GILLACOLUIM [K. of Tir Conaill] in 977. He d. 980 at Armagh, after serving a long penance for his sins. He m. Mor, who was probably a daughter of Tadhg "of the Three Towers" [K. of Connaught], and had issue:

His son:

MUIRCHEARTACH MIDHEACH "of Meath", [Royal Heir of Ireland], probably received his nickname from being fostered in Meath, it being traditional that the sons of kings and chiefs be fostered among the Gaels. He was killed in battle 977 against his uncle, Olaf [K. of Dublin].

His Son:

FLAITHBERTACH AN TROSTAIN "of the pilgrim's staff" [K. of Ailech 1004-30 & 1033- 36], was constantly at war with King BRIAN BORAMA (or BORU), the usurpng King of Ireland (and ancestor of the O'Briens), who took hostages from him in 1010 and carried off a large cattle raid on Tir Conaill in 1012. FLAITHBERTACH supported the restoration of MAELSECHLAINN "the Great" as High King in 1014 (the last of the Southern Ui Neill to be King of Ireland). Also during his reign, the capital was moved from Ailech itself to Tulach Og (Tullahogue), where the later O'Neills were inaugurated on a sacred stone in a grove by the O'Cane, their most powerful under-king and hereditary inaugurator, and the O'Hogan, "Lawgiver to O'Neill." FLAITHBERTACH resigned his throne in 1030 and went on pilgrimage to Rome, resuming his power after his son's death in 1033. He d. 1036. He is 7th grand father of AEDH Maceamh Toinleasg ' the lazy-Arsed Youth" O'NEILL, KING OF CENEL EOGHAIN 1176-1177, forefather of the three main branches of the dynasty; the O'Neill Mor of Tyrone, The O'Neill of the Fews, and the O'Neills Buihe of Clanaboy (whose history and lineages will be recounted in later editions- and available in the publication - THE O'NEILL OF ULSTER - HIGH KINGS OF IRELAND, which is available through this newsletter.


The royal O'Neill Clan of Ulster are the most illustrious of Irish clans. Tradition tells us they descend from Heremon, son of Milisius, first absolute Monarch of Ireland ca. 500 B.C.

It was an O'Neill, Domnall, who first introduced surnames into Ireland by prefixing the "O" (grandson of) to the name of his grandfather, the legendary Niall Glundubh (Black-Knee). The O'Neills of Ulster are the oldest traceable family left in Europe. Their name is one of the greatest in the world and is derived from the word Niall, Irish for 'Champion'.

There are many families who are O'Neills 'in disguise' but who are not readily identifiable as O'Neills today, such as Neill, Neal, Neale, McNeil, MacNeill, etc. and the MacShanes and Johnsons, Baronets of New York. >From the 5c to the 11c, O'Neill blood held the Irish monarchy, until Brian Boru dethroned Malachy II in 1002 and became monarch in his place. The O'Neills regained the throne in 1200 and were Monarchs of Ireland, Kings of Ulster and Princes of Tyrone for another six centuries.

The Clan in modern times.

The end of the Clan system in Ireland really started, during the reign of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This destruction was completed by the defeat of the native Chiefs and the "Flight of the Earls" during the early days of the 17c. While remnants of the old Gaelic order held on, these were virtually obliterated by subsequent tragic events, both natural and human.

In 1982, however, the clan system once again came to the fore - with the First International Gathering of the Clan O'Neill and the inauguration of Jorge O'Neill, Peer of Portugal, as The O'Neill of Clannabuidhe, on 23rd June that year.

This was the first inauguration of an Irish chieftain to take place on Irish soil for almost 400 years. In August 1991, at the Third International Gathering of the O'Neill Clan, Don Carlos O'Neill (a Spanish Nobleman), heir apparent to the title The O'Neill Mor - Chief of his Name, took his proper placed in the clan.

These events, perhaps more than any others, have generated an upsurge of interest in the clan system and many more clans are now 'restructuring' - the hunt is on to identify and prove title to the Chiefship of clans all over Ireland. As it was in the past, so it is today - others follow where the O'Neills lead.

Branches of the Clan:

There are several branches, or Septs, of the O'Neill Clan.

The O'Neills of Ulster (the Senior branch) comprising: •a) The O'Neills Mor of Tyrone, Chiefs of the Name and The O'Neills of The Fews, i.e. Don Carlos O'Neill, 12th Marquis De La Granja, 5th Marquis De La Norte, Conde De La Benagiar, heir apparent to the title The O'Neill Mor - Chief of His Name. •b) The O'Neills of Antrim (Clannabuidhe), i.e: Hugo O'Neill of Portugal, The O'Neill of Clannabuidhe. •The O'Neills of Ivowen: ie. Alan O'Neill, Esq., Co. Waterford, The O'Neill of Ivowen. •The O'Neills of Mayo - a branch of the O'Neills of the Fews. •Other branches of O'Neills who are probably actually O'Neills of Ulster: The O'Neills of Thomond; The O'Neills of Cor; The O'Neills of Leitrim (who are probably actually O'Neills of Mayo and, thus, O'Neills of the Fews); The O'Neills of Meath. •The O'Neills of Leinster (and The O'Neills of Magh da chonn) also known as the O'Neills of the Decies are a separate sept entirely. Though descended from a Niall, this was not the same Niall from whom descend the royal O'Neills of Ulster. For further information about this sept please see The O'Neills of Leinster; by Sean O'Neill, pub. Irish Heritage Association, and available via this page.


In 1595 The Great Red Hugh O'Neill - The O'Neill Mor - Chief of his name, was inaugurated Chief of his Clan - the last Chief of the royal O'Neill clan to be formally inaugurated; according to the ancient traditions of his ancestors.

In June 1995 The Royal O'Neill Clan Society commemorates this fact by calling all O'Neills - worldwide - to join them in celebrating this historic occasion. The main gathering will be held from the evening of Friday 23rd through Sunday 25th June 1995 in the heart of O'Neill country at Cookstwon, Co. Tyrone. There will be an optional pre-gathering authentic all-Ireland heritage tour starting on Saturday 17th June at Shannon Great Southern International Hotel, Co. Clare and taking in O'Neill territories of Ballyneal, Ivowen; Carlow, Mayo, The Fews (Co. Armagh) and Clannauidhe (Antrim & Down), amongst others. Participants will be personally accompanied at all times by Kathleen Neill, Founder/Administrator & Life Trustee of They Royal O'Neill Clan Society and Mr S. Don Neill, Life Trustee, who will act as Tour Directors.

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