- Felim O'Neill of Kinard
Sir Felim O'Neill of Kinard (died August 1653), better known as Phelim O'Neill was an Irish nobleman who led the
Irish Rebellion of 1641in Ulsterwhich began on 22 October 1641. His first name is also translated from the Gaelic "Féilim" as "Phelim", and "Cionn Ard" as "Kinard" or "Caledon". He was a member of Confederate Irelandduring the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, where he fought under his kinsman Owen Roe O'Neill. He was captured and executed during the Cromwellian conquest of Irelandin 1652. Phelim O'Neill is also believed to be the source of the name "P. O'Neill" used to sign official statements from the Irish Republican Armyduring the twentieth century.
A member of the famous O'Neill family, Sir Felim was the grandson of Sir
Henry Oge O'Neill, one of the O'Neills who remained in Ulster after the Flight of the Earlsdespite the difficulties brought on by land confiscation and the Plantation of Ulster. O'Neill's family were from a minor branch of the O'Neill clan and had risen to prominence by siding with the English against the chief, Hugh O'Neillin the Nine Years War. In return for their service, Phelim O'Neill's family retained some estates around Kinard in Tyrone. O'Neill was a member of the Irish Parliament in the 1630s and trained as a lawyer at King's Innsin London.
However, in common with many Irish Catholics, and especially Gaelic Irishmen, O'Neill felt threatened by the Protestant English government of Ireland. In particular, they were aggrieved at Catholic exclusion from Public Office and the continual confiscations of Catholic owned land.
This fear reached its high point in the late 1630s and early 1640s, when Thomas Wentworth, a minister of Charles I, was known to be planning widespread new plantations. A crisis point was reached in 1641, when the Scottish Covenanters and English
Long Parliamentthreatened to invade Ireland to finally subdue Catholicism there. In this atmosphere of fear and paranoia, Phelim O'Neill became involved in a plot hatched by fellow Gaelic Irish Catholics from Ulster, to seize Dublinand swiftly take over the other important towns of Ireland. After this, they planned to issue their demands for full rights for Catholics and Irish self government in the King's name. O'Neill's role was to take towns and fortified place in the north of the country.
However, the plan to take Dublin was bungled by two conspirators, Maguire and MacMahon, who were captured by the authorities. O'Neill went ahead and started the rebellion in the north, but quickly found that he could not control the Irish Catholic peasantry he had raised. These people, many of whom had been displaced during the
Plantation of Ulsterbegan attacking the Scottish and English Protestant settlers. O'Neill, along with Rory O'Moore, then tried to march on Dublin, defeating a government force at Julianstown but failing to take Drogheda after a rather inept siege.
Civil War career
The rebellion quickly spread to the rest of Ireland. By the spring of 1642 only fortified Protestant enclaves, around
Dublin, Cork and Derry, held out. King Charles I sent a large army to Ireland, which would probably have put down the rebellion, had the English Civil Warnot broken out. As it was, the Irish Catholic upper classes had breathing space to form the Irish Catholic Confederation, which acted as a de facto independent government of Ireland until 1649. Phelim O'Neill was a member of the Confederate's parliament, named the General Assembly, but was sidelined in the leadership of Irish Catholics by more wealthy landed magnates.
On the military side, O'Neill was also sidelined. After his disastrous defeat at
Glanmaquinnear Raphoein County Donegal, his kinsman, Owen Roe O'Neill, a professional soldier, arrived from the Spanish Netherlandsand was made general of the Confederate's Ulsterarmy. Phelim O'Neill was a cavalrycommander in this force, and spent most of the next six years fighting against the Scottish Covenanterarmy that had landed in Ulster. He fought in the army's victory at the Battle of Benburb.
In Confederate politics, O'Neill was a moderate, advocating a deal with Charles I and the English Royalists as a means of winning the war against the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters. In 1648, he voted for such a deal, The Second
OrmondePeace, splitting with Owen Roe O'Neill, who opposed it along with most of the Ulster army. In the summer of that year, the Confederate armies fought among themselves over this issue, with the pro-Royalists prevailing.
However, this was not enough to stop Ireland being re-conquered by the
New Model Armyof Oliver Cromwellin 1649-53. The well trained and supplied Parliamentarians crushed all Confederate and Royalist resistance and imposed a harsh settlement on Irish Catholics.
The Ulster Army was routed at the
Battle of Scarrifholisin 1650. Phelim O'Neill escaped the battle but spent the remaining years of his life as fugitive. He successfully held off a Parliamentarian assault on Charlemont Fortshortly after the disaster at Scarrifholis, inflicting heavy casualties on the English troops before surrendering on terms and marching way with his remaining troops.
Anyone implicated in the Rebellion of 1641 was held responsible for the massacres of Protestant civilians and executed. O'Neill was specifically named as a ringleader in the Cromwellian
Act for the Settlement of Ireland 1652and could therefore have expected little mercy when he was captured on 4 February 1653at Roughan Castlewhere he had taken refuge, near Newmills, County Tyrone. He was taken to Dublin, where he was hanged for treason.cite web | title=Newmills Potted History| work=Culture Northern Ireland | url=http://www.culturenorthernireland.org/town_Home.aspx?co=4&to=206&ca=0&sca=0&navID=1 | accessdate=2007-11-28]
O'Neill may have been able to avoid execution if he had testified that he had Charles I's commission for the uprising of 1641, as the Parliamentarians had claimed at the time. However, O'Neill refused to do this. In August 1653, O'Neill was executed, in accordance with the verdict of a High Court set up in
Dublinby the Cromwellian government.
O'Neill is depicted as an historical character in
Annraoi Ó Liatháin's Irish language novel "Dún na Cinniúna" centring around the 1651 siege of Charlemont Fort in Tyrone. [Dún na Cinniúna, Annraoi Ó Liatháin, Sáirséal & Dill 1966]
O'Neill's defeat at the battle of Glanmaquin in 1642 is described in
Darach Ó Scolaí's novel " An Cléireach". [An Cléireach, Darach Ó Scolaí, Leabhar Breac, 2007]
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