Felim O'Neill of Kinard

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Phelim O'neill)

Sir Phelim O'Neill
Sir Phelim O’Neill.png
Detail of the portrait further down
BornAbout December 1604
Died10 March 1653
FamilyO'Neill dynasty
Spouse(s)Jean Gordon
Gordon O'Neill
FatherTurlough MacShane O'Neill
MotherCatherine O'Neill

Sir Phelim Roe O'Neill of Kinard (Irish: Sir Féilim Rua Ó Néill na Ceann Ard; 1604–1653) was an Irish politician and soldier who started the Irish rebellion in Ulster on 23 October 1641. He joined the Irish Catholic Confederation in 1642 and fought in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms under his cousin, Owen Roe O'Neill, in the Confederate Ulster Army. After the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland O’Neill went into hiding but was captured, tried and executed in 1653.

Family tree
Phelim O'Neill with his last wife, his parents, and other selected relatives.[a]

d. 1579
Earl of

c. 1550 – 1616
Henry Og

d. 1608

of Fews

d. 1608
2nd Baron

d. 1638

3rd Baron
XXXSubject of
the article
XXXO'Neills of
XXXEarl of

Birth and origins[edit]

Phelim was born in 1604,[1] the eldest son of Turlough O'Neill[2] and his wife Catherine O'Neill. His father was a member of the Kinard branch of the O'Neills who were descendants of Shane O'Neill of Kinard, a half-brother of Conn Baccach O'Neill. His father and paternal grandfather were killed on 20 June 1608, while defending Kinard against the insurgents during the O'Doherty's Rebellion.[3][4] This grandfather, Sir Henry Óg O'Neill, had fought for his second cousin and father-in-law, Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone in the Nine Years' War, but had received a pardon and was confirmed in his lands in Tiranny and Minterburn. His second great-grandfather, Sean, a brother of Conn Bacach, had settled in Tynan parish by at least 1514 in a sub-district called Cluain Dabhal. Phelim's name in Irish shows his paternal genealogy as: "Felim mac Turlogh mac Henry Óg mac Henry mac Seán mac Conn Mór Ó Néill" (father of Conn Bacach O'Neill).

Phelim's mother was Catherine[5] daughter of Turlough MacHenry O'Neill, chief of the Fews branch of the O'Neills. After Phelim's father's death, she remarried to Robert Hovenden, a Catholic of recent English descent. He had two half-brothers from his mother's second marriage: Robert Hovenden and Alexander Hovenden. The latter was killed as a captain in 1644 fighting for Phelim.

Early life[edit]

Felim, together with his younger brother Turlough, entered King's Inns in London in June 1621,[6] as a knowledge of the law was considered important for landowners of the era. He briefly converted to Protestantism, before returning to Catholicism.

He married three times. In 1629 he married a daughter of Arthur Magennis, the 3rd Viscount Magennis of Iveagh.[7] Her first name is unknown.

On 17 March 1639 in Dublin O'Neill was knighted by Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy, thanks to the influence of his relation the Earl of Antrim.[8][9] Shortly before the rebellion, O'Neill evicted some of his Gaelic tenants near Kinard and replaced them with British settler families who paid higher rents.[10]

In summer 1641,[11] O'Neill was elected MP for Dungannon in County Tyrone in a by-election for the Irish Parliament of 1640–1649, replacing Thomas Madden, who had died in office.[12][13]

His first wife died in September 1641 shortly before the rebellion. He married secondly Louise, daughter of Thomas Preston, 1st Viscount Tara, a younger brother of the 5th Viscount Gormanston.[14][15]


Like many Irish Catholics and especially Gaelic Irish Catholics, O'Neill felt threatened by the Protestant English government of Ireland. In particular, they were aggrieved at Catholic exclusion from public office and the continual confiscations of Catholic-owned land. Another reason pressing him into desperate action was that Phelim was deep in debt.[16]


This fear reached its high point in the late 1630s and early 1640s, when Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy for Charles I, was known to be planning widespread new plantations. A crisis point was reached in 1641, when the Scottish Covenanters and English Long Parliament threatened to invade Ireland to finally subdue Catholicism there. In this atmosphere of fear and paranoia, Phelim O'Neill became involved in a plot hatched by fellow Gaelic Irish Catholics from Ulster, to seize Dublin and swiftly take over the other important towns of Ireland. After this, they planned to issue their demands for full rights for Catholics and Irish self-government in the King's name. O'Neill's role was to take towns and fortified places in the north of the country whereas Maguire was tasked with seizing Dublin Castle.[17]

A half-length engraved portrait of a man standing
Sir Phelim O'Neill
A half-length painted portrait of a man standing
Charles I by Daniël Mijtens

O'Neill was a latecomer to the plot, brought into it by Lord Maguire in early September 1641. On 23 October 1641 he surprised Lord Caulfeild in Charlemont Fort.[18][19] O'Neill was instrumental in shaping many of the political objectives of the rebellion.[20] He rapidly assumed command of the Ulster rising.


However, the plan to take Dublin was bungled by two conspirators, Maguire and MacMahon, who were captured by the authorities. O'Neill went ahead and started the rebellion in the north, capturing the important fort of Charlemont but quickly found that he could not control the Irish Catholic peasantry he had raised. These people, many of whom had been displaced during the Plantation of Ulster, began attacking the Scottish and English Protestant settlers with varying intensity over a period of 5 months. Being in command, O'Neill has been blamed for complicity or lack of oversight in these massacres, the detail of which is still a matter of contentious debate.

On 24 October 1641 O'Neill issued the Proclamation of Dungannon[21] in which he claimed to have the King's authorisation to rise in defence of the Crown and the Catholic religion. On 4 November 1641 O'Neill repeated these claims in his proclamation alongside Rory Maguire at Newry and read out a commission from Charles I of England dated 1 October, commanding him to seize: "... all the forts, castles, and places, of strength and defence within the kingdom, except the places, persons, and estates of Our loyal and loving subjects the Scots; also to arrest and seize the goods, estates, and persons of all the English Protestants, within the said kingdom to Our use. And in your care and speedy performance of this Our will and pleasure We shall rely on your wonted duty and allegiance to Us which We shall accept and reward in due time."[22] This gave O'Neill's forces the impression that they were acting within the law. Charles later denied having issued the commission.

In November O'Neill attacked Lisburn several times but failed to take it.[23]

Like other rebel leaders, O'Neill had difficulty with the discipline of his troops, which was compounded by his comparative lack of social status. In an effort to improve this O'Neill planned to have himself declared Earl of Tyrone at the historic site of Tullyhogue.[10]

Nalson, in his "History of the General Rebellion in Ireland", described O'Neill as: "Sir Phelemy Roe O Neill, captain-generall of all the rebels, and chieftain of the O Neills, O Hagans, O Quyns, O Mellans, O Hanlons, O Corrs, McCans, McCawells, Mac Enallyes, O Gormelys, and the rest of the Irish septs in the counties of Tyrone and Ardmagh."


The rebellion quickly spread to the rest of Ireland. By the spring of 1642 only fortified Protestant enclaves, around Dublin, Cork and Derry, held out. King Charles I sent a large army to Ireland, which would probably have put down the rebellion, had the English Civil War not broken out. As it was, the Irish Catholic upper classes had breathing space to form the Irish Catholic Confederation, which acted as a de facto independent government of Ireland until 1649. Phelim O'Neill was a member of the Confederate's General Assembly, but was sidelined in the leadership of Irish Catholics by wealthier landed magnates.

O'Neill was also sidelined on the military side. After his disastrous defeat on 16 July 1642 at Glenmaquin near Raphoe in County Donegal against the Protestant Laggan Army led by Sir Robert Stewart, his kinsman, Owen Roe O'Neill, a professional soldier, arrived from the Spanish Netherlands and was made general of the Confederate's Ulster army. Phelim O'Neill served as cavalry commander under him and spent most of the next six years fighting against the Scottish Covenanter army that had landed in Ulster. He fought in the army's victory at the Battle of Benburb on 5 June 1646.[24]

In Confederate politics, O'Neill was a moderate, advocating a deal with Charles I and the Irish and English Royalists as a means of winning the war against the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters. In 1648, he voted for such a deal, the Second Ormond Peace, splitting with Owen Roe O'Neill, who opposed it along with most of the Ulster army. He and several other moderates such as Alexander MacDonnell, 3rd Earl of Antrim and Arthur Magennis, Viscount Iveagh left the Ulster army because of their dispute with the hard-liners.[25] In the summer of that year, the Confederate armies fought among themselves over this issue, with the pro-Royalists prevailing.

However, this was not enough to stop Ireland from being conquered by the New Model Army of Oliver Cromwell in 1649–53. The well-trained and supplied Parliamentarians crushed all Confederate and Royalist resistance and imposed a harsh settlement on Irish Catholics.

Third marriage[edit]

In November 1649 O'Neill married Jean Gordon, the widow of Claud Hamilton, 2nd Baron Hamilton of Strabane, who had died on 14 June 1638.[26]

Defeat at Scarrifholis and surrender of Charlemont[edit]

O'Neill fought in the Ulster Army at the Battle of Scarrifholis in 1650 where it was routed by Charles Coote, 2nd Baronet of Castle Cuff. O'Neill escaped from the battle and retreated with a rest of the Ulster army to the Charlemont Fort. Together with his stepson James Hamilton, 3rd Baron Hamilton of Strabane he held the fort against Coote, inflicting heavy casualties on the English troops in the Siege of Charlemont, but surrendered on terms on 6 August 1650[27] and marching away with his remaining troops was expected to embark and take service in France. However, O'Neill decided to rather go into hiding.[28]

Trial and execution[edit]

Anyone implicated in the Rebellion of 1641 was held responsible for the massacres of Protestant civilians and was executed. O'Neill was specifically named as a ringleader in the Cromwellian Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652 and could therefore expect no mercy. A bounty of £100 was put on his head.[29] O'Neill was captured on 4 February 1653 by William Caulfeild, 1st Viscount Charlemont on a crannog (artificial island) in Roughan Lough next to Roughan Castle, Newmills, County Tyrone where he had taken refuge. He was taken to Dublin, where his trial was held. He was found guilty, hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason on 10 March 1653.[30]

O'Neill may have been able to avoid execution had he testified that he had Charles I's commission for the uprising of 1641, as the Parliamentarians claimed at the time. However, O'Neill refused to do so.[31] He was survived by at least one child, Gordon O'Neill, who would serve as a colonel in the Jacobite forces during the Williamite War.

Remark: as his birth date is uncertain, so are all his ages. Italics for historical background.
Age Date Event
0 1604 Born[1]
3–4 20 Jun 1608 Father and grandfather killed by the insurgents during O'Doherty's rebellion[3]
16–17 Jun 1621 Entered King's Inns and studied law.[6]
20–21 27 Mar 1625 Accession of Charles I, succeeding James I[32]
24–25 1629 Married 1st wife, a daughter of Thomas Magennis, brother of Arthur Magennis, 3rd Viscount Iveagh[7]
34–35 17 Mar 1639 Knighted by Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Ireland at Dublin.[9]
36–37 28 Oct 1641 Took Charlemont Fort by surprise[19]
36–37 28 Nov 1641 Failed to capture Lisburn[23]
37–38 6 Jul 1642 Lost the Battle of Glenmaquin
41–42 5 Jun 1646 Fought at the Battle of Benburb[24]
44–45 30 Jan 1649 Charles I beheaded.[33]
44–45 Nov 1649 Married his 3rd wife Jean Gordon, the widow of Claud Hamilton, 2nd Baron Hamilton of Strabane[26]
45–46 21 Jun 1650 Fought at the Battle of Scarrifholis
45–46 6 Aug 1650 Surrendered Charlemont Fort to Charles Coote, 1st Earl of Mountrath[27]
48–49 10 Mar 1653 Hanged, drawn and quartered for treason[30]

Phelim O'Neill in literature[edit]

O'Neill is depicted as a historical character in several books. Annraoi Ó Liatháin's Irish-language novel Dún na Cinniúna centres on the 1651 siege of Charlemont Fort in Tyrone.[34]

O'Neill's defeat at the battle of Glanmaquin in 1642 is described in Darach Ó Scolaí's novel An Cléireach.[35]

The use of "P. O'Neill" as a pseudonym in Provisional IRA public statements is thought by some to be a reference to Phelim O'Neill.[36]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ This family tree is based on a tree showing Phelim and Hugh O'Neill.[37]


  1. ^ a b Webb 1878, p. 416. "... born in 1604."
  2. ^ Dunlop 1895, p. 204, right column, line 37. "... eldest son of Turlough O'Neill ..."
  3. ^ a b Casway 2004, p. 856, left column, line 35. "On 20 June 1608 both Henry Oge and his son Tirlough Oge were killed in the king's service during the ill-fated O'Dogherty revolt."
  4. ^ Wills 1840, p. 434. "He was grandson of Sir Henry O'Neile, who was slain in action against Sir Cahir O'Doherty, in 1608."
  5. ^ Dunlop 1895, p. 204, right column, line 51. "his mother Catherine ny Neill, subsequently Catherine Hovenden."
  6. ^ a b O Siochru 2009, 1st paragraph, 4th sentence. "O'Neill entered Lincoln's Inn with his younger brother Turlough in June 1621 ..."
  7. ^ a b Casway 2004, p. 856, right column, line 4. "That same year [1629] O'Neill enhanced his standing in Ulster by marrying the daughter of Arthur Magennis, Viscount Magennis of Iveagh."
  8. ^ Ohlmeyer 2001, p. 92. "... and his tactless insistence that Phelim O'Neill ... be knighted at the height of the Scottish crisis."
  9. ^ a b Shaw 1906, p. 206. "1638-9, March 17. Phelim O'Neale (ibid [Dublin] by same [Wentworth])."
  10. ^ a b Lenihan 2001, p. 31
  11. ^ McGrath 1997, p. 230. "Phelim replaced Chichester* or Madden* as m.p. in the summer of 1641. He was expelled from parliament for rebellion in November of that year."
  12. ^ House of Commons 1878, p. 634. "1641/ - / Sir Phelim O'Neill, knt. (He was member 5 June 1641, and was expelled for the Rebellion 17 November 1641, and 22 June 1642.) / Kinard / ditto [Dungannon Borough]"
  13. ^ O Siochru 2009, 1st paragraph, 7th sentence. "During the summer of 1641 he replaced Thomas Madden as MP for the borough of Dungannon ..."
  14. ^ Dunlop 1895, p. 207, right column, line 1. "His first wife is said to have died shortly before the rebellion. His second wife was a daughter of Thomas Preston, a younger brother of Lord Gormanston, by whom he is said to have been influenced in his relations with Owen Roe O'Neill."
  15. ^ O Siochru 2009, 3rd paragraph. "Phelim's first wife, a daughter of Lord Iveagh, had died in September 1641, and he next married Louise, the Dutch-born daughter of Owen Roe's great rival, Thomas Preston, general of the confederate Leinster army."
  16. ^ Hamilton 1920, p. []. "Sir Phelim O'Neil, his brother Tirlough Oge, Connor Maguire, Lord of Enniskillen, his brother Rory, the Earl of Antrim, and Sir Con Magennis were all heavily in debt ..."
  17. ^ Lenihan 2001, p. 27
  18. ^ Perceval-Maxwell 1994, p. 214, line 1. "Sir Phelim O'Neill struck in Ulster on the evening of Friday, 22 October [1641], 'the last day of the moon'. He took Dungannon first, and two hours later he was in the possession of the strong castle of Charlemont ..."
  19. ^ a b Hamilton 1920, p. 135, line 30. "Sir Phelim, who was a near neighbour and personal friend of Lord Caulfield, was readily admitted to the Castle and at once made prisoners of all whithin ..."
  20. ^ Lenihan 2001, p. 20
  21. ^ Boyce 1995, p. 79. "Their aims were clearly stated in Sir Phelim O'Neill's proclamation, made at Dungannon on 24 October 1641."
  22. ^ Hickson 1884, p. 114, line 40Text of the commission
  23. ^ a b Perceval-Maxwell 1994, p. penultimate line. "...despite repeated attacks on 8, 22, and 28 November, Sir Phelim was unable to dislodge the defenders [of Lisburn]..."
  24. ^ a b Webb 1878, p. 417, line 39. "Sir Felim commanded a division of Owen Roe O'Neill's army at Benburb (5th June) ..."
  25. ^ O Siochru 1997, p. 200. "Inchiquin, however, reported a split in the Ulster ranks to Ormond, with Phelim O'Neill, Alexander MacDonnel and Viscount Iveagh deserting Owen Roe O'Neill."
  26. ^ a b Webb 1878, p. 417, line 48. "In November 1649 he [Phelim] married Lady Jane Gordon a daughter of the Marquis of Huntly and the widow of Lord Strabane."
  27. ^ a b Hill 1877, p. 528, Note 223, line 17. "... held the fort of Charlemont; and the said fort and garrison being afterwords, that is to say the 6th of Aug. 1650, taken by the army and forces of the commonwealth of England ..."
  28. ^ Corish 1976a, p. 348. "Sir Phelim O'Neill received 'leave to go beyond the sea'. Unfortunately for himself, he did not take advantage of it."
  29. ^ Warner 1768, p. 256, line 24. "An hundred pound reward to bring Sir P. O Neil, dead or alive, was encouragement enough ..."
  30. ^ a b Dunlop 1895, p. 207, left column, line 50. "... he was executed as a traitor on 10 March 1652-3."
  31. ^ Corish 1976b, p. 359. "Sir Phelim O'Neill, captured on 4 February 1653. He was tried, found guilty and executed, but he might well have saved his life had he not continued to deny that he had received a commission to take arms from Charles I."
  32. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, p. 44, line 16. "Charles I. ... acc. 27 Mar. 1625 ..."
  33. ^ Fryde et al. 1986, p. 44, line 17. "Charles I. ... exec. 30 Jan. 1649 ..."
  34. ^ Dún na Cinniúna, Annraoi Ó Liatháin, Sáirséal & Dill 1966
  35. ^ An Cléireach, Darach Ó Scolaí, Leabhar Breac, 2007
  36. ^ "Phelim MacShane O'Neill".
  37. ^ Farrell 2017, p. 245. family tree


Subject matter monographs:

Parliament of Ireland
Preceded by
Thomas Madden
Hon. John Chichester
Member of Parliament for Dungannan Borough
With: Hon. John Chichester
Succeeded by
Peerage of Ireland