Born in 1550, Aodh Mór Ó Néill (Hugh O’Neill) came from a line of the and the successors to the Chief’s of the O’Neills. He was the second son of Feardorcha Ó Néill and grandson of Conn O’Neill, the first Earl of Tyrne.
At the age of nine he became a ward of Giles Hovenden, an English settler in the Pale. He was educated in England as an English noble. Here he learned the tactics of English warfare and the art of diplomacy.
In 1585 he became the Earl of Tyrone. For almost twenty years he served the English Crown and remained outwardly loyal to the crown but secretly built an army and gathered a large quantity of lead for ammunition. He secretly trained his army in modern warfare and waited for his chance.
In lecture delivered by William Rooney at the Celtic Literary Society on 13 January 1990 in Abbey Street, on the subject of the National Ideal, he said of O’Neill:
O’Neill may be regarded as the most astute, the most politic, the most resourceful, the most influential, and the most skilful enemy England had faced up to his time. He most certainly aimed at the sovereignty of Ireland, and he recognised that the aid of all his countrymen was essential to secure it. He was the first soldier of Irish freedom who recognised that the crafty English politician was scarcely less dangerous than the soldier or the hired assassin. The soldier, he knew, could be met with the native courage of his people; the assassin might be checkmated by the exercise of a little care and watchfulness. The statesman, vindictive and cunning, could not be effectually opposed by anything but his own weapons. These Hugh’s English training placed at his command, and he utilised them till the preparations of years fitted him to take the field and maintain an Irish army. While his foresight and patriotism places him at the head of Irish chieftains, the national spirit of such men as O’Donnell, Maguire, MacMahon, O’Ruarc, O’Sullivan, and all the others who loyally served under his banner is beyond all praise.
In 1593 he took the name ‘O’Neill’ in defiance of English law. In doing so he secured the allegiance of his fellow clans men but alienated him from his English past. O’Neill was now a traitor in the eyes of the English Crown. O’Neill fought in the nine years war and was instrumental in the early strategic success of the rebellion.
After the defeat of Kinsale and the eventual end of the war he signed the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603 a few days after Queen Elizabeth had died. After plots were made against him and his fellow northern Earls they left Ireland forever in the epic journey known as the Flight of the Earls in 1607. While in Rome he always planned to come home and fight in another rebellion with the help of the Spanish but nothing ever came of it. His defeat, exile and death was the end of Irish Gaelic rule in Ireland.
Aodh Mór Ó Néill died in exile in Rome on the 20th July 1616 and is buried in San Pietro in Montorio in Rome.
Photos show the tomb slabs of the Irish section of the crypt of this historic church. Hidden under the blue carpet are the grave slabs and a commemorative plaque next to the Cappella San Giovanni Battista.
Photos: credit Gript