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Earl of Tyrone

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The Earl of Tyrone is a title created three times in the Peerage of Ireland.

It was first created as part of the Tudor attempt to establish a uniform social structure in Ireland by converting the Gaelic kings and chiefs into hereditary nobles of the Kingdom of Ireland. Under brehon law, clans were effectively independent, and chose their chiefs from the members of a bloodline – normally, but not always, a close relative of the previous chief; the clan as a whole generally had a voice in the chief's decisions. Also, acknowledged sons of a clan member were members of the bloodline, even when not begotten in lawful marriage. The holder of a title, on the other hand, was subject to the Crown, but held his lands by hereditary right, which the Crown would help to enforce; the rest of the clan were usually now his tenants. Illegitimate sons had no right of succession under the new system unless expressly granted.

The title in the Peerage of Ireland was created again in 1673 for Richard Power, 6th Baron Power, the Anglo-Norman peer and Restoration politician, along with a large grant of land in County Waterford, at the other end of Ireland. He was also given the subordinate title of Viscount Decies; both titles became extinct upon the death of his younger son, the third earl, in 1704; he left an only daughter, Lady Katherine Power, but both titles descended by patent to male heirs only.

It was created a final time in 1746 for Marcus Beresford, 1st Viscount Tyrone, son-in-law of the last Power earl. His son was created Marquess of Waterford in 1789, and the title has since been a subsidiary title of the Waterford title.[1]

Earls of Tyrone, first creation (1542)


The king and chief of the O'Neills of Tyrone, Conn Bacach O'Neill, went to Greenwich and submitted to Henry VIII of England and of Ireland in 1542; he renounced the style of "The O'Neill" and his independent rule. In exchange, he was created Earl of Tyrone, which was by the charter to descend to his illegitimate son Matthew or Ferdoragh O'Neill, who was also created Baron of Dungannon, which was always to be held by the heir to the Earldom; this was a substantive title, which gave Ferdoragh a seat in the Irish House of Lords, not a courtesy title. This adaptive process, known as "surrender and regrant", was taken up by other Irish clan chiefs.[citation needed]

This passed over Conn's legitimate sons; the eldest, Shane O'Neill, was only about twelve at the time. When he grew up, Shane (who is remembered as Séan an Diomais, or "Shane the Proud") drove his father out of Ulster, and was inaugurated The O'Neill (in Irish: Uí Neíll). There was civil strife among the Cenell Eoghain; Shane was victorious, Ferdoragh was killed, Conn was permanently driven out of Tyrone, and died in the Irish Pale in 1559, the area of Ireland directly governed by the English.

In English law, Ferdoragh's eldest son, Brian O'Neill, then succeeded to the Earldom; in practice he continued to be called Lord Dungannon. Queen Elizabeth I, newly come to the throne, proposed to recognize Shane as Earl, since he actually ruled Tyrone and was the eldest legitimate son; but the negotiations collapsed.[2] Brian was killed in 1562, while still young and unmarried, by his cousin Turlough O'Neill, the tanist of his uncle Shane (and a grandson of the brother of Conn Bacagh, the first Earl). Shane died in June 1567, whereupon the English generally supported Brian's younger brother Hugh O'Neill against Turlough Linneach O'Neill. But Turlough was inaugurated The O'Neill Mor and as leader of the clan, was perceived to be the greater threat to English control of Ireland. In 1585, Hugh was recognized as Earl of Tyrone. In 1593, Turlough surrendered to him the position of "The O'Neill" to the Earl and retired.

Hugh O'Neill's career as unquestioned leader of the O'Neills became a series of quarrels with the English government: like many great feudal lords, he rebelled in the Nine Years' War, was proclaimed a traitor, and ultimately submitted to the Crown at the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603. Despite the Anglo-Spanish peace treaty of 1604, in 1607 O'Neill, his brother-in-law the Earl of Tyrconnell, and several of their followers fled to Europe, expecting the Spanish to invade Ireland with an army. He was found guilty of treason the year after this Flight of the Earls. The attainder was confirmed by the Parliament of Ireland in 1614; at which point the Earldom became forfeit under the common law.

Notwithstanding this attaintment, Earl Hugh, followed by his sons, continued to claim to be Earl of Tyrone, through its recognition by the Pope and the King of Spain, until the last legitimate grandson died unmarried, in 1692. Irish marriage practices at the time allowed for a political divorce, but all children were considered legitimate by the Irish: Hugh was married four times. Historians have stated that at this point the Irish title became extinct, as well as forfeit; however, that is by English law of descent. Gaelic law allowed for chiefships and property to descend through tanistry, and thus the descendants of Earl Hugh's brothers acted as The O'Neills of Tyrone, and called themselves Earl of Tyrone by Spanish grant, for the rest of the century. At that point, the chiefship and property transferred to the O'Neill of Tyrone existent back in Ireland through the descendants of Prince Shane O'Neill.

Heirs who did not live to succeed are indented.

Baron Dungannon


The Barony of Dungannon created for Matthew or Ferdoragh O'Neill was limited, by the terms of the patent, to his descendants who were heirs apparent to the Earldom of Tyrone. This provision would have meant that it acted like a courtesy title: when an Earl of Tyrone had an eldest son, or an eldest grandson by a deceased eldest son, that heir would be Baron Dungannon; when there was no heir apparent, the Barony of Dungannon lapsed until there was.

So when Matthew died, his son Brian became Baron Dungannon. However, when Conn Bacach died the next year, Brien was not recognized as Earl of Tyrone, but continued to be called Baron Dungannon until he was killed by Turlough Luineach O'Neill, Shane O'Neill's tanist.

His younger brother Hugh O'Neill was called Baron of Dungannon until 1585, when he received a charter confirming him as Earl of Tyrone. The same charter confirmed his son Hugh, the eldest son of his second wife, as Baron Dungannon; Earl Hugh's first marriage was invalid, and his children by that marriage illegitimate.

The following men were known as Baron Dungannon:

Since the younger Hugh O'Neill was attainted with father in 1608, the title is forfeit, and is now extinct. Young Hugh went to Rome with his father, and died there in the summer of 1609.



Earl Hugh and his family continued to lead the O'Neills of Tyrone from abroad; they also had the title of Earl of Tyrone recognized in Spain in the form of Conde de Tyrone. "Though no longer recognized in England, it was granted by Spanish kings to a line of O'Neills in rightful succession to the end of the seventeenth century".[5]

  • Hugh O'Neill (c. 1550–1616), the attainted Earl.
  • Henry O'Neill (c. 1586–1610[6]) Earl Hugh's son by Joan O'Donnell, his second wife; Colonel of the Irish regiment in the Spanish service in Flanders; Knight of Santiago. Accompanied his father in his flight, and was attainted 1608, confirmed 1614. He is omitted from an account of his father's family in 1617; he is noted as dead in 1621
  • Shane O'Neill (Juan, John, Sean: 18 October 1599 – 27 Jan 1641), Earl Hugh's son by Catherine Magenis, his fourth wife. Succeeded his father as Earl of Tyrone, his brother as Colonel; Knight of Calatrava; Major Domo at Madrid, 1638; died in the siege of Barcelona. He was created the Viscount of Montjuich by the King of Spain upon his death.
    • His younger brothers died young: Conn (c. 1601_1627) was left behind in the flight, went to Eton, and died in the Tower of London; Brian (1604–1617) went to school in Brussels and was killed there, being found hanged with his hands bound.
  • Hugo Eugenio O'Neill, his son, was legitimated at Shane's death by Philip IV of Spain but died young. Shane's will provided that Hugo Eugenio be taught Irish, so he could be an effective leader of the O'Neills; it also provided an elaborate system of succession if Hugo Eugenio died childless, as did happen.[7]
    • Conn O'Neill (Con, Constantino, died before 1660), son of Cormac O'Neill, the younger brother of Earl Hugh who died in the Tower of London, was named as second heir in Shane O'Neill's will, if Hugo Eugenio died childless; by the law of the Kingdom of Ireland, he would be the next heir to the Earldom, if restored. Since he died before Hugo Eugenio, he does not appear to have called himself Earl, but Owen Roe O'Neill, Earl Hugh's half-nephew and a general in the War of the Three Kingdoms, acknowledged "that all the immediate right to the earldom of Tyrone belongs to Don Constantino, who is in Spain" and that while he lived, Owen Roe himself "could claim nothing".[8]

By 1660, therefore, the Earldom of Tyrone was forfeit by English standards.[9] Nonetheless, by Spanish and Irish standards the collateral O'Neill descendants of Mathew "Ferdocha" O'Neill, were allowed to use the title in Spain until 1692.[10] At that point, it went to the senior member of the descendants of Prince Shane O'Neill, the half brother of Mathew "Ferdocha" O'Neill.

  • Hugh Dubh O'Neill, (c. 1610 – c. 1666), nephew of Owen Roe O'Neill (by his brother Art Oge) and so grandnephew of Earl Hugh, and commander under his uncle in Ireland, where he held Limerick against Henry Ireton during a long siege. Petitioned Charles II in October 1660, after the English Restoration, to be restored to the Earldom of Tyrone.
  • Hugh O'Neill (after 1644 – c. 1670), grandson of Owen Roe O'Neill by his son Henry Roe O'Neill. Knight of Calatrava 1667.
  • Owen O'Neill, grandnephew of Owen Roe O'Neill, whose younger brother Con had a son Brian, father of this Owen. Educated at Rome; executor of a will 1679, died after 1689. After Owen, no-one claimed the Earldom of Tyrone until the 19th century.[11]
  • Don Bernardo O'Neill, (c. 1619 – 1681), colonel of the Irish regiment of Tyrone, nephew of General Eoghan Roe. Born in Armagh, served as a captain in Flanders starting in 1636. Fought in the War of the Confederacy, returned to Flanders and was given permission to raise and Irish regiment in 1663. In 1673, "became Earl of Tyrone after the death of Hugo, son of Henry mac Eoghain Rua". Died 1681 in Barcelona.[12]
  • Eugenio O'Neill, after the death of Don Bernardo in 1681, "the titular colonel was the eighth Earl, a young boy also called Eugenio O'Neill", he was claimed as a grandson of General Eoghan Rua through a son named Brian. He was still a minor and titulary colonel of the Regiment of Tyrone on 18 April 1689.[13]

Later claimants


By this point, the claim to the Earldom of Tyrone became intertwined both with the position of the O'Neill of Tyrone and the wider position of chief of all the O'Neills of Ulster. Not all the claimants to the Gaelic offices claimed the Earldom: the descendants of Shane the Proud were inaugurated as the O'Neill by the ancient ritual, by which the O'Hagan put golden shoes on their feet on May Eve, without calling themselves Earls.[14] In fact, Don Constantino or Conn McShane O'Neill went to Spain in 1681 to claim the chiefship and regiment from the King of Spain, upon the death of his cousin, Don Bernardo. He carried proofs of his senior descent from Prince Shane O'Neill, but was late to arrive. In the meantime, the King granted the estates to the minor Eugene O'Neill. This Conn went back to Ireland and was a senior member of the Jacobite O'Neills in the Williamite War.

The leadership of the O'Neills as a whole had usually been held by the O'Neills of Tyrone; but their distant cousins the O'Neills of Clanaboy or Clandeboye in Antrim had also sometimes held it, most recently Art mac Aodha O'Neill, from 1509 to 1514, when the first Earl was young. They, like the O'Neills of Tyrone, spent much of the seventeenth century fighting for the Catholic powers; in 1740 they relocated permanently to Portugal.

Don Jorge O'Neill of Clanaboy and Lisbon submitted his pedigree to the Ulster office of Heralds; in 1895 the genealogy and arms were confirmed. 1903 he received a patent from Sir Henry Farnham Burke, Somerset Herald, acknowledging that he had proved his royal descent from the Kings of Ireland, and his collateral descent from Hugh O'Neill, and thus was the representative of the Earldom and the senior member of the Royal family of O'Neill of Ulster. Although collateral descent from the grantee does not confer a peerage, he assumed the style of Conde de Tyrone, but his descendants use the title Prince of Clandeboye. Queen Victoria's recognition was followed by those of the Pope, the kings of Spain and Portugal, and the Republic of Ireland in 1945 as the Prince of Clandeboye.

Barons Power (13 September 1535)


Earls of Tyrone, second creation (1673)


with subsidiaries Viscount Decies (1673) and Baron Power (1535)

Heirs to the barony of Power but for the attainder


Earls of Tyrone, third creation (1746)


See also



  1. ^ Complete Peerage, Vol. XII, Part II, "Tyrone".
  2. ^ Christopher Maginn, O'Neill, Shane (c.1530–1567), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 25 April 2011; her deputy, Thomas Radclyffe, 3rd Earl of Sussex did not trust Shane, who, in turn, did not want the English deciding the quarrels between him and his subordinate chiefs.
  3. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Conn Bacach O'Neill, King and Earl of Tyrone
  4. ^ Destruction of the Peace, Micheline Kearney Walsh, R&S Printers, Monaghan, Ireland, 1986
  5. ^ as translated in Micheline Kearny Walsh The Will of John O'Neill, Third Earl of Tyrone, dated September 18th, 1640. pg. 320 Seanchas Ard Mhacha
  6. ^ Henry O'Neill and the Formation of the Irish Regiment in the Netherlands, 1605, by Jerrold Casway, Irish Historical Studies, Vol. XVIII, No. 72, Sept. 1973, pg. 481–489
  7. ^ Micheline Kearny Walsh The Will of John O'Neill, Third Earl of Tyrone, dated September 18th, 1640. If he died, the Earldom was to pass first to Shane's cousin Conn, then to his illegitimate cousins, the sons of Art mac Baron, then to the descendant of Shane the Proud who should be nearest in blood.
  8. ^ Micheline Kearney Walsh: "The Will of John O'Neill" (1976); before the will was published, there were theories than this Conn was an elder brother of Owen Roe O'Neill; or a son of one of Owen Roe's elder brothers; and so descended from Owen Roe's father, Art McBaron O'Neill, an illegitimate half-brother of Earl Hugh (Art's epithet arises from his being the son of Ferdoragh (Matthew), Baron Dungannon). This would not bar him or Owen from being leader of the O'Neills; but it would mean they were not heirs to the Earldom.
  9. ^ Complete Peerage, "Tyrone, Earldom of", Vol XII, part II, pp. 138–141; quotation about Conn O'Neill from p. 140, note (j).
  10. ^ Spanish Knights of Irish Origin, Vol. III, & Don Bernardo O'Neill of Aughnacloy, Co. Tyrone, pg. 327–328, translated by Micheline Walsh Kearney and published in Seanchas Ard Mhacha
  11. ^ Complete Peerage Vol XII, part II, Appendix C, suppl. pages 12–13; noting that the older opinion that this Owen is grandson of Owen Roe has been corrected.
  12. ^ Don Bernardo O'Neill of Aughnacloy, Co. Tyrone, pg. 327–328, translated by Micheline Walsh Kearney and published in Seanchas Ard Mhacha
  13. ^ Don Bernardo O'Neill of Aughnacloy, Co. Tyrone, pg. 328, translated by Micheline Walsh Kearney and published in Seanchas Ard Mhacha
  14. ^ John O'Hart: Irish pedigrees, Part III, Chapter iv, section 2. In the Dublin edition of 1892, these are pp.717, 727-9


  • Annals of the Four Masters;
  • Calendar of State Papers of Ireland;
  • The Ancient and Royal Family of O'Neill;
  • The Great O'Neill;
  • The Patent Rolls of Queen Elizabeth and King James I;
  • Burke's Peerage;
  • Spanish Knights of Irish Origin, Vol. I, II, III, by Micheline Kearney Walsh 1960–1970
  • Cumann Seanchais Ard Mhacha (Historical Journal of Armagh) Micheline K. Walsh published much through this journal
  • Journal of the Historical Society of Kilkenny, Ireland, 1886.
  •  Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tyrone, Earls of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 549. {{cite encyclopedia}}: Cite has empty unknown parameters: |HIDE_PARAMETER15=, |HIDE_PARAMETER13=, |HIDE_PARAMETER14c=, |HIDE_PARAMETER14ab=, |HIDE_PARAMETER3=, |HIDE_PARAMETER1=, |HIDE_PARAMETER4=, |HIDE_PARAMETER2=, |HIDE_PARAMETER8=, |HIDE_PARAMETER14bb=, |HIDE_PARAMETER20=, |HIDE_PARAMETER5=, |separator=, |HIDE_PARAMETER14b=, |HIDE_PARAMETER14cb=, |HIDE_PARAMETER14a=, |HIDE_PARAMETER10=, |HIDE_PARAMETER9=, |HIDE_PARAMETER6=, |HIDE_PARAMETER7=, |HIDE_PARAMETER11=, and |HIDE_PARAMETER12= (help)

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