O’Neill Surname Genealogy

is an Irish clan whose name goes back into the mists of history – to
the legendary 5th century warrior king of Ireland Niall Noigiallach
(Niall of the
Nine Hostages
) who is said to have been responsible for
bringing St. Patrick to Ireland.
The name derived from two separate Gaelic words, Ua Niall which means “grandson of
Niall” and Neill meaning
“champion.” When Nial Gluin Dubh (Nial of the Back Knee) was
killed in 919 fighting the raiding Norsemen, his grandson Domhnall
adopted the surname Ua Niall. The clan stronghold at that time
the Grianan of Aileach overlooking the Inishowen peninsula in Donegal.

Resources on

O’Neill Ancestry

The O’Neills were the chief family of the Cinel Eoghen, their territory
being Tir Eoghen (or Tyrone) which then also included most of Derry and
parts of Donegal. Aedh (Hugh) “the Stout” O’Neill, king of Ulster
in the 14th century, took as his clan emblem and warcry a severed
right hand (the
red hand of Ireland forever
). Until 1595 the chiefs
were inaugurated as the O’Neill Mor (the great O’Neill). For most
of that time these chiefs from their base at Dungannon were able to
keep Ulster free of English

In the 14th century a branch of the Tyrone O’Neills had migrated to
where they became known as the clan Aedh Buidhe (clan of the
yellow-haired Hugh) or Clanaboy – from Aedh Buidhe O’Neill who had been
slain in 1283. The Clanaboy clan chieftain styled himself the
O’Neill Buidhe. His stronghold in county Antrim was
Edenduffcarrick, subsequently Shane’s castle.

Other lesser clans of O’Neills were also formed,
those of the Fews in Armagh and the Ivowen, Thomond, Cor, and Meath
O’Neills. The O’Neill name was also quite common in county Carlow
where an O’Neill sept was to be found in the barony of Rathvilly.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the struggles to preserve Gaelic Ireland
against the English intruders centered in large part around the

  • Conn Bacach (the lame) O’Neill was the first of the
    warrior O’Neills at this time; his son Shane O’Neill (Shane the proud)
    left a bloody
    trail in his wake; while grandson Hugh O’Neill won against
    the English and then lost (at Kinsale) and fled to Europe. His
    death in Rome in
    1616 was the last entry that was recorded in The
    Annals of the Four Masters
    , the Gaelic medieval history of
  • later, Phelim O’Neill led the Rebellion of 1641 and fought in the
    Confederate Wars, before being betrayed by a kinsman and executed in
    1653; and Sir
    Nial O’Neill fought and died at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
    However, fate was kinder to Daniel O’Neill, nephew to the soldier Owen
    O’Neill. After espousing the
    Royalist side during the English Civil War, he was feted by Charles II
    following the Restoration and died one of the richest men in Ireland.

At this time, with many
O’Neills facing persecution, a number changed their names.
Names such as Paine, McShane and Johnson emerged as these O’Neills
sought to hide their identities.

The O’Neills were said to be a
fiercely proud, sometimes
arrogant clan. The wandering blind harper Arthur O’Neill was
recorded as having said: “wherever an O’Neill sits he is always the
head of the table.” The clan history has been covered most
recently in
Desmond O’Neill’s 1996 book The
Ancient and Royal Family of O’Neill

Some O’Neills later took the English line, most notably the O’Neills
who succeeded to Shane’s castle in Antrim.
From this line came Hugh O’Neill, Baron Rathcavan, an Ulster Unionist
politician who died in 1982 at the ripe old age of ninety nine and
Terence O’Neill, Baron of the Maine, who was Prime Minister of Northern
Ireland in the 1960’s.

Spain and France. The Flight of the
in 1607, with Hugh O’Neill the Earl of
Tyrone, may be said to have started Irish emigration. Other O’Neills followed him.
Hugh’s nephew Owen Roe (the red-haired) and Art g
were among those exiles who made a career for themselves in the Spanish
army in Flanders; as was, it was said, the grandfather of Alexis
O’Neill, the forebear of the French O’Neills. Patrick
O’Neill, the grandson of Hugh, was born in Spanish Flanders, was
recognized by Spain as Hugh’s successor, and made his home in Spain.

The O’Neills in Spain

in fact began with Henry O’Neill,
the 13 year old son of Hugh, arriving in Spain in
the year 1600. His line was covered in
Micheline Walsh’s 1957 book The O’Neills
in Spain.

Phelim O’Neill of Clanaboy, who arrived in France in the early 1700’s,
was a cavalry officer who fought with the Irish Brigade of the French
army. There then followed the most notable of the O’Neill
departures from
Ireland, that of Shane
O’Neill, the head of the Clanaboy clan, in 1740. He moved to
Portugal and his aristocratic O’Neill dynasty has continued there to
the present day.

Henry O’Neill of the O’Neill Fews, after losing his land tenancy in
Ireland, moved to Spain with his wife Hanna in 1758 and served in the
Spanish colonial service in the Americas. His descendants became
sugar planters in Puerto Rico.

Caribbean. Many
O’Neills in fact came
to Puerto Rico,
an island under Spanish rule. The earliest records
show a Don Juan O’Neill arriving there in the 1710’s. Some came
Spain or Spanish Flanders, others from elsewhere in the
Caribbean. Meanwhile, the
descendants of Patrick O’Neill who had given their loyalty to France
settled in the island of Martinique.

America. O’Neills
were said to be among those who accompanied Leonard Calvert in 1633 in
his mission to establish a Catholic colony in what is today
Maryland. A firmer O’Neill sighting in Maryland was that of John
O’Neill who had arrived from Ireland in 1786 and was employed in the
local militia. He was the hero of a skirmish
against the British in the War of 1812 and later served as the Concord Point
lighthouse keeper

Hugh O’Neill had arrived in Delaware around 1730. His origins in
Ireland are uncertain. A descendant Judge John Belton O’Neall
wrote in his Annals of Newberry
published in the 1850’s:

“Hugh was, I think, a midshipman in or
at any rate belonged to the English navy; and, not liking his berth
while at anchor in the Delaware, he jumped overboard, swam ashore and
landed near Wilmington, as well as I can remember, at the little
Swedish town of Christiana. Here he lived many years and married
Annie Cox. On landing, to escape detection, he had altered the
spelling of his name, from O’Neill to O’Neall.”

His descendants were plantation owners in Bush Creek, South
Carolina. Abijah O’Neall. a Quaker who objected on principle to
slavery, moved himself in 1800 to the free-slave state of Ohio.
Other O’Nealls migrated to Georgia and Florida.

America in the 19th century was home to three notable O’Neills:

  • John O’Neill, who had followed his mother to America as a young
    boy in 1848. He fought in the Civil War and then joined the Irish
    nationalist cause. He embarked on a plan to invade Canada and
    later took up the cause of resettling Irish families in the American
    West. O’Neill in Nebraska was founded by John O’Neill in 1875.
  • Daniel O’Neill, who arrived in 1851 and settled in
    Pittsburgh. He became a well-known newspaper man, owning and
    editing the Pittsburgh Dispatch with
    his brother Eugene.
  • and James O’Neill, who came to this country at the age of five in
    1852. He became a well-known actor, best known for playing the
    Count of Monte Cristo. His son was even more
    famous, being the playwright Eugene O’Neill.

Canada. O’Neills came
early to Canada’s Maritime Provinces. Local tradition has it that
the O’Neills were the first settlers in Holyrood, Newfoundland.
The first recorded O’Neill in Newfoundland was Julianna O’Neal who
registered property in Harbour Main in 1793.

The O’Neills of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia date from 1787 when
John O’Neill, a fisherman, was granted land at Main-a-Dieu. Henry
O’Neill married in Lunenburg county, Nova Scotia in 1802. He and
his son were lost at sea while on a voyage to the West Indies in
1846. Another Henry O’Neil, this time from Guysborough, was a sea
captain in the 1860’s.

Australia and New Zealand.
The early O’Neills in Australia were convicts. Two were
transported there on political grounds for their supposed involvement
in the Irish Rebellion of 1798. One – Peter O’Neill, a priest –
was barbarously scourged on a trumped-up charge of having abetted a
murder. The other – Thomas O’Neill, a Dublin tailor – received
better treatment. He pursued his trade in Sydney and gained the
favor of Governor Macquarie:

“In 1811 His Excellency Governor
Macquarie bid me go and pick out a small farm where I choose. I
went and chose it at Middle Harbour. I must remark that when the
Governor handed me the order he said: ‘Tommy, here is your order, let
me see you get rich.'”

Among later O’Neill migrants were:

  • Eugene and Ellen Mary O’Neill from Cork, who arrived in Victoria
    in the early
    1840’s. Eugene was an engineer in Melbourne. He died
    youngish in the
  • John and Bridget O’Neill from Clare, who sailed to South
    Australia on the Epanminondos
    in 1852.
  • Thomas O’Neil from county Down, who went to New Zealand on the Lancashire Witch in
    1856. He had
    enlisted in the British army and been sent to fight in the Land Wars.
  • Cornelius
    from Limerick, who travelled with his aunts to
    Victoria in 1857.
  • and Michael and Mary Ann O’Neill from Kerry, who reached Brisbane
    in Queensland in 1863.

O’Neill Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Select O’Neill Names

Domhnall, the grandson of Niall
Glun Dubh, was in the 10th century the first clan chief to adopt the
O’Neill name.
Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of
fought and lost against the English at Kinsale and then was forced to
flee Ulster in 1607.
Eliza O’Neill, the actress, was
a star of the Irish and English stage in the early 1800’s.
Eugene O’Neill was an acclaimed
playwright of the first half of the 20th century.
Tip O’Neill was a long-serving
Congressman from Massachusetts who was Speaker of the House from 1977
to 1987.
Martin O’Neill was a Northern
Ireland footballer who became a football manager and pundit in England.
Shaq O’Neal has been a tall and
dominating center basketball center in the NBA.

Select O’Neills

  • 39,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 59,000 in America (most numerous
    in New York)
  • 68,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).




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