and reports on the death of the Great ONeill
Hugh O'Neill was buried in the church of San Pietro
in Montorio, beside his son, also Hugh, Baron of Dungannon,
and his brothers-in-law, Rory and Cathbarr O'Donnell.
The inscription on his tomb is briefer and not as grand
as that recorded for his son and the O Donnells. The original
inscription of his tomb was recorded by the historian, Father
C.P. Meehan in 1832. During renovations to the church in
1848 the tombstones bearing the epitaphs of the Baron and
O Donnells were carefully set in place again but the flagstone
bearing the inscription on O Neills tomb was lost
and a replica set in place at the behest of His Eminence,
the late Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich, bearing the original inscription,
can now be seen. The inscription reads,
D.O.M. HIC QUIESCENT UGONIS PRINCIPIS O NEILL OSSA.
Translated, it reads, HERE LIES THE BONES OF HUGH
ONEILL, PRINCE or CHIEF.
By all accounts the funeral was a grand affair, attended
by the Spanish ambassador, cardinals, foreign ambassadors
and, Roman dignitaries. There was also a large attendance
of Irish nobles and gentlemen. The following extract from
the English ambassador in Madrid, Sir Francis Cottington
reported to London how the Irish exiles in Spain gathered
to mark the occasion.
The Earl of Tyrone is dead at Rome, by whose death
this King saves five hundred ducats every month, for so
much pension he had from here well paid him. Upon the news
of his death, I observe that all the principal Irish entertained
in several parts of this Kingdom are repaired unto this
court, as O Sullivan Bear, or Master of Bearhaven, from
the Groyne (i.e. la Coruna); Raymond Burke from Lisbon;
one who calls himself Desmond from Bayonne in Galicia; and
the Archbishop of Tuam, from Alcala, with many others of
less note, but captains and of good quality.
From the English point of view, the death of O Neill was
greeted with a great sigh of relief. Removed from the scene
was the Arch Traytor who, while he lived was
a constant source of concern.
Throughout his exile, the many rumours of his imminent return
to Ireland had sent shivers through the English establishment
in Ireland and was a continuing threat to the Plantation
Even after his death, there remained the lingering threat
that one of ONeills sons would grasp and carry
the torch. The seventeenth century Gaelic chroniclers, the
Four Masters, wrote their tribute to ONeill in these
words, the person who here died was a powerful, mighty
lord, (endowed) with wisdom, subtlety, and profundity of
mind and intellect; a warlike, predatory, enterprising lord,
in defending his religion and patrimony against his enemies.
The Rev E.A. DAlton in his History of Ireland
published in 1912 is fulsome in his praise of ONeill.
In him the Irish lost their greatest leader, the greatest
that had ever led them into battle or presided over their
councils. Both Art MacMurrough and Red Hugh were daring
chiefs; but the former lacked steadiness and patience, while
the latter confined his activities to Leinster alone.
Unlike O Donnell, O Neill was cautious and foreseeing, laying
his plans with care, and refusing to be led by impulse or
passion, and unlike MacMurrough, his activity extended to
the whole country, and his purpose was to combine against
the common enemy, the scattered fragments of the nations
power ... In his own day, against the whole forces of England,
he all but succeeded; and failed only because of the universal
treachery which surrounded him, a treachery so appaling,
so shameful, that, except O Donnell and Maguire, there was
not one on whom an honest man could rely, none that was
not a trickster or a cheat.
Amid such leaders he towers as does the Pyramid over the
plain. Later ages were not slow to recognise his worth;
and in times of stress and storm his countrymen sought,
but sought in vain, for another Hugh ONeill.
However, Hiram Morgan, in his meticulously researched book,
Tyrones Rebellion published in 1993 is
not nearly so fulsome in his analysis of O Neill. He writes
, The successes of ONeills early
career depended on the political skills he could bring to
bear on a given situation.
He lacked the charisma of ODonnell yet was possessed
of considerable personal charm. For instance, he made a
favourable impression on the Queen on his visit to Court
in 1587. He inspired loyalty in his servants to such an
extent that he would trust them as double agents.
Most of all he was a consummate liar. His dissembling manner
deceived some government officials, others allowed themselves
to be deceived by taking bribes. Therefore, he made himself
the enigma he is today because the elaborate campaign of
disinformation he waged was so successful that it confounded
subsequent historians as well.
There are many examples of his political acumen in the early
stages of the conflict. He used his kinsmen as proxies to
wage war on the state and, when challenged, claimed they
were refusing to do his bidding. When he did not wish to
meet officials face to face he evinced a fear of treachery.
This may have been a genuine fear given the assassination
of Shane ONeill and the more recent executions of
Hugh Roe Mac Mahon and Brian O Rourke. On the other hand,
he was willing to gamble his own personal safety at the
battle of the Ford of the Erne or when he went to Dublin
to explain himself to the new lord deputy. He was not averse
to murdering political opponents such as Hugh Gavelock MacShane
O Neill and Phelim MacTurlough O Neill ... O Neill was a
very ambitious man; indeed far too ambitious because he
lacked experience in the vital area on which ultimate success
depended. He did not have the formal training in regular
warfare which he might have acquired had he been brought
up at Court or visited the continent as a young man. He
was beaten decisively at Kinsale ... His victories were
Irish ambushes on the grand scale, including Clontibret
and the Yellow Ford, over the inept Sir Henry Bagenal.
In mitigation of this harsher judgement of Morgans,
it must be pointed that he mainly deals with O Neills
actions only until the end of 1596. There are those who
will disagree with Morgans analysis, for example,
on the difficulties presented by the failure of the Spanish
to land in either a northern or western port and the subsequent
failures of Philip III to support O Neill in the period
after 1607. Whatever view one takes, O Neill yet remains
as the leader who most nearly succeeded in breaking English
control of Ireland.
Courtesy of Pat John Rafferty and the Tyrone Times