Major-General Hugh O'Neill

O’Neill, Hugh, Major-General, served with distinction in the War of 1641-’52.

In the autumn of 1649 he succeeded his uncle, Owen Roe O’Neill, in the command of his army, and took part in some of the minor operations of the ensuing winter.

In May 1650, with 1,500 Ulstermen he stubbornly defended Clonmel against Cromwell.

He ultimately drew off secretly, after the Parliamentarians had lost some 2,500 before the place.

One of Cromwell’s officers admitted in a letter that they “found in Clonmel the stoutest enemy this army had ever met in Ireland. … There was never so hot a storm of so long a continuance, and so gallantly defended, either in Ireland or England.”

In the autumn of the same year (1650) he was appointed Governor of Limerick, and for weeks sustained a siege against Ireton and Ludlow. The latter, in his Memoirs, gives a fearful account of the sufferings endured by the inhabitants. Upon one occasion at least, a crowd of famine-stricken wretches, endeavouring to leave the city, were beaten back.

Limerick capitulated on the 27th October, on the humiliating condition that O’Neill, the Mayor, the Bishops of Limerick and Emly, Major-General Purcell, and some twelve of the principal inhabitants should be exempted from pardon.

As the garrison marched out several dropped dead of the plague.

The Bishop of Emly, Major-General Purcell, and others of the exempted persons were executed.

Hugh O’Neill, after giving Ireton the keys of the place, and showing him round the fortifications, was condemned to die. But Ireton, resolving to hear him, demanded of him what he had to say for himself.

His defence, according to Ludlow, was “That the war had been long on foot before he came over; that he came upon the invitation of his countrymen; that he had always demeaned himself as a fair enemy; and that the ground of his exception from the articles, being his encouraging to hold out, though there was no hope of relief, was not applicable to him, who had always moved them to a timely surrender; as indeed he made it appear; and therefore hoped that he should enjoy the benefit of the articles; in confidence of which he had faithfully delivered up the keys of the town, with all the arms, ammunition, and provisions without imbezzlement, and his own person also, to the Deputy. But the blood formerly shed at Clonmel … had made such an impression on the Deputy, that his judgment, which was of great weight with the court, moved them a second time to vote him to die; though some of us earnestly opposed it.”

Ireton having carried his point, a third time remitted the case to the consideration of his officers, reserving his own opinion, and O’Neill’s life was spared.

That he lived ten years after this, and assumed the title of Earl of Tyrone, appears by a letter from him (dated from Madrid, 27th October 1660) to the Marquis of Ormond, soliciting the restoration of his family to royal favour. This appeal was supported by the English Ambassador, Henry Bennett, in a letter in which he set forth Hugh’s lineal succession to the title.


52. Burke, Sir Bernard: Dormant, Abeyant, Forfeited, and Extinct Peerages. London, 1866.

80. Clarendon, Earl of: History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars. 8 vols. Oxford,1826.

92. Cromwell, Oliver, Letters and Speeches: Thomas Carlyle. 3 vols. London, 1857.

215. Limerick, Its History and Antiquities: Maurice Lenihan. Dublin, 1866. Lodge, John, see also No. 161.

219a. Ludlow, Edmund, Memoirs. 3 vols. Vevay, 1698–’9.