Sir Felim O'Neill

O'Neill, Sir Felim, one of the most prominent actors in the inception of the War of 1641-'52, fourth in descent from a younger brother of Con Bacagh O'Neill, was born in 1604. Carte gives the following account of him: "Sir Phelim O'Neile of Kinard, in the County of Tyrone, had a very good estate in that and the adjoining county of Ardmagh, and was the most considerable person of his name in Ireland. His grandfather, Sir Henry O'Neile, had deserved well of the Crown; and by a patent under the Great Seal of Ireland, dated 12th June 1605, had a grant made him of the whole and entire territory called Henry Gage's country. Sir Henry was slain in the King's service on June 20th 1608, in an action against Sir Cahir O'Dogharty, who had risen in rebellion in Ulster.

By an inquisition taken before Sir Robert Jacob, on March 30th 1609, it was found that Sir Phelim was next heir to his grandfather, and then five years and an half old. After he came of age, he was desirous of a new grant in which all the lands mentioned in Sir Henry's patent in general terms, should be specially named; and accordingly, upon a report of the King's council, on May 6th 1629, a new patent was ordered, vesting in him all his grandfather's estate in the manner and form he desired. Sir Phelim was a person of very mean natural parts, and improved them very little in his English education, whilst he was a student at Lincoln's-inn; during which time he had professed himself a Protestant, but changed after, if not before, his return into Ireland; and then entering upon his estate before he had discretion enough to manage it, or to conduct himself, ran into all the follies and extravagances of youth; and having thereby contracted an heavy debt, and mortgaged in a manner all his estate, was the more liable to receive those impressions, and engage in those measures which the other conspirators suggested to him. Old Tyrone had died A.D. 1616, and his son had no children; so that Sir Phelim, as the nearest to them in blood; and the greatest in interest among the O'Neiles, saw himself in a fair way of being set up as the head of that family, and of succeeding to those vast possessions, and that absolute power which the O'Neiles had been used to enjoy in Ulster."

In 1641 he entered warmly into plans for insurrection with Roger More, Lord Maguire, his brother Turlough O'Neill, Sir Con Maginniss, and other persons of distinction in Ireland. [For the motives by which they were actuated, see the notice of the Duke of Ormond, p. 57.] His house was the rendezvous for the meetings of the leaders; and he was one of the five who met in Castle-street, Dublin, in October, to concert measures for the capture of the Castle. Their plans were discovered through the carelessness of a drunken servant, and the leaders fled. Escaping north, Sir Felim seized and garrisoned Charlemont Fort, Dungannon, and the northern fortresses, and soon found himself governor of ten counties. Mr. Prendergast in his Cromwellian Settlement, clears him of the charge of having murdered Lord Caulfeild. "He treated him and his family with great care when he surprised the Fort of Charlemont, on the 23rd October 1641; and there Lord Caulfeild was kept until the 14th of January 1642, when he was sent with an escort to Cloughouter Castle... He was shot in the back by Edmund O'Hugh, a foster brother of Sir Phelim, and thus murdered in the absence and without the knowledge of Sir Phelim. That Sir Phelim had no part in this murder is certain."

On the 5th November 1641, at the head of 30,000 men, he established his head-quarters at Newry, declaring that he fought for the King. As warrant for going out into insurrection, he exhibited a document with the Great Seal attached, which he afterwards acknowledged was detached from a patent he found at Charlemont Fort. Great atrocities are, not without reason, charged against his followers. He was twice defeated with considerable loss before the castle of Derrick, in Tyrone. He took Dundalk in November; and about the 1st of January 1642, at the head of a large force, invested Drogheda. The place was defended with extraordinary resolution by Sir Roger Tichborne, and after a siege of about two months, Sir Felim drew off his forces to Dundalk. Thither Sir Roger Tichborne followed, took the town by storm, with the loss of only eighteen men, and obliged his adversary to retreat towards Armagh. There was considerable jealousy between Sir Felim and Owen Roe O'Neill, as rival heads of the family, and although the former commanded in several minor conflicts, after Owen Roe's arrival from the Continent, he did not take a leading part in military operations. He, however, held a prominent place at the council board of the Confederation. Rinuccini's efforts to bring about an understanding between the O'Neills proved successful in 1646.

Sir Felim commanded a division of Owen Roe O'Neill's army at Benburb (5th June), where, says Rinuccmi, "everyone slaughtered his adversary, and Sir Phelim O'Neill, who bore himself most bravely, when asked by the colonels for a list of his prisoners, swore that his regiment had not one, as he had ordered his men to kill them all without distinction." In November 1649 he married Lady Jane Gordon, a daughter of the Marquis of Huntley, and widow of Lord Strabane. He had just before relieved her castle of Strabane, attacked by Monro. Three years afterwards, in 1652, he was taken prisoner by Lord Caulfeild, on an island in Lough Roughan, near Dungannon, and was forthwith sent to Dublin. He was tried and convicted in October, and was executed with all the barbarities then inflicted on persons adjudged guilty of high treason. His head wasfixed on the bridge at Dublin, and his quarters were scattered throughout different parts of Ireland. According to Mr. Froude's account, his trial took place at Kilkenny, under General Fleetwood.


196. Irishmen, Lives of Illustrious and Distinguished, Rev. James Wills, D.D. 6 vols. or 12 parts. Dublin, 1840-'7.

224. MacDonnells of Antrim, Historical Account: Rev. George Hill. Belfast, 1873.

295. Rinuccini, Monsignor, G. B., Archbishop of Fermo, Embassy in Ireland, in 1645-'9: Translated by Annie Hutton. Dublin, 1873.

323. Temple, Sir John, Rebellion of 1641. Dublin, 1724.