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The Great O'Neill - Hugh, Earl of Tyrone

Hugh O'Neill is definitely a man of many facets. Even those of a Royalist or English leaning recognised

that he possessed on the one hand skills, talents and abilities, but certainly those writing after his rebellion felt he also possessed the traits of those they considered barbarians:


Hugh O'Neill was a man of no common order, and had times or circumstances proved equally propitious, he might have stood in the same rank with some of our most celebrated military leaders. He had entered early in life into the service of Elizabeth, and commanded a troop of horse during the hostilities in Munster, being admirably fitted by nature for desultory warfare and hazardous exploits. He possessed a vigour of constitution capable of enduring the severest privations. He was brave, vigilant, and temperate, and with these advantages were united great acuteuess of intellect which had been improved by a liberal education, the most polished manners, and unremitting industry. Yet he was such a complete master of the art of dissimulation, that among his own people he could completely conceal this refinement, and assume all the barbarous manners of his ancestors.

Hugh O'Neill had petitioned the Irish parliament during its late session that he might be restored to the title of earl of Tyrone, with the inheritance annexed to it, in virtue of the grant to his grandfather earl Con, to his father and his heirs. The title was readily granted; but the inheritance having been forfeited to the crown, by the attainder of the late John O'Neill, the claimant was referred to the queen; and Sir John Perrot furnished him with strong letters of recommendation to the English court. Thus prepared, he set out for London, in 1587, when his insinuating manners and apparent attachment to the English government so wrought on Elizabeth, that she granted him the earldom and the whole inheritance of Tyrone, with the exception of two hundred and forty acres on the river Blackwater, for the use of a fort which she had ordered to be erected in that quarter: some stipulations were also made in favour of the sons of John and Turlogh O'Neill.

As the new earl of Tyrone was now considered the firmest friend of government in the North, he was authorized to keep six companies constantly on foot to repress any attempt at insurrection. This permission greatly forwarded the design he contemplated, as when he trained them to military evolutions, he dismissed them and levied others in their place, by which means he soon taught the use of arms to all his vassals, and under pretence of roofing a castle which he was building at Dungannon, he imported a considerable quantity of lead; but he took care to reserve it for a very different purpose. He at the same time used every art to extend his influence over the neighbouring Irish lords, and all who opposed his proceedings felt the weight of his power. Maguire and MacMahon made loud complaints to the lord deputy of O'Neill's tyrannical conduct, which were transmitted to the queen; but before the government could come to a decision on this point, its attention was directed to the punishment of another powerful malcontent.

FROM True Stories From The History Of IrelandJohN James McGregor

This version of Hugh O'Neill's story is not without a counterpoint though. The more pro-Irish (or as the centuries progress pro-catholic) writers painted much less negative pictures of O'Neill:

These interminable disputes wearied the Earl of Tyrone. The truth was that, since making his submission, in 1603, his character as a loyal subject was above reproach. He kept his territory in the best of order; Chichester admitted that he put down a rebellion on the borders of Tyrone with a strong hand, and did not spare his own nephew, who was among the rebels; and Davies declared that there was no part of the country so quiet as Tyrone. All O'Neill wanted was to be allowed to live in peace. He had fought a great fight; he had been worsted in the struggle; he had accepted his defeat, and was satisfied to live as a subject of England. But this was becoming impossible. Repeatedly his lands were invaded and seized on pretence of being church lands; and he had to complain to Cecil and to the King that nothing was secured to him; that the terms made with him were flagrantly violated. His house was often broken into on pretence that he harboured disloyal persons; he was accused of unjustly executing persons by martial law, and when he asked to be confronted by his accusers they did not appear; Chichester insulted him at the Council table, and told him he hoped to live to see him a reformed man, and the animus of Davies could be seen by all the world. And as if to drive him to despair, it was said that Chichester was to be appointed President of Ulster. Hard as it was to wage war against the English, it was still harder to be a loyal subject of England. The Earl of Tyrconnell and Maguire were being similarly worried, until at last they determined to leave Ireland; and when Tyrone was informed by the latter chief that, if he went to London, he would be detained a prisoner there, he also, alarmed by this fresh piece of intelligence, resolved to follow the example of his friends.

FROM Volume 3 of History of Ireland, from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Edward Alfred D'Alton

But that in many ways leads the reader to consider The Flight of The Earls long seen as  aseminal event in irish History and one dealt with in another article in this topic.


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