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Early History and The O’Neills

During the reign of Niall of the Nine Hostages, his brother Brion carved out a kingdom in south west Ulster which included a substantial part of Tyrone and what is now County Monaghan.  This kingdom became Muintir Brion which later became anglicised to Minterbyrne.  This once substantial territory nowadays refers only to a small area between the villages of Dyan and Eglish.  Caledon was previously known as Kinnaird and was part of this ancient territory of Muntir Birn/Munterbirne – now more widely known as Minterburn.

The first written record (in the Annals of Ulster) of an O’Neill at this site was Seán Buidhe (yellow haired) O’Neill in 1480.   Henry O’Neill, Prince of Ulster (1455-89) during his reign, divided Tyrone [Tir Eoghain] out into delegated jurisdictions among his brothers.  Áed of the Fews ruled South Armagh, Art ruled the former lordship of Harry Avery in the west from his castle in Omagh.  Felim ruled the area around Cookstown and Seán Buidhe ruled the area around his castle at Kinnaird along the Blackwater River. The O’Neills continued to live in this area from until after the death of Phelim O’Neill in 1653.  Sir Phelim was executed by the Cromwellian government for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1641.  Following the death of Phelim O’Neill, huge debts remained on the castle and estate at Kinnaird with these being reclaimed by the Cromwellian financiers.  In 1661, after the restoration of King Charles II, Captain William Hamilton was awarded possession of Phelim O’Neill’s forfeited Tyrone estate. It is believed as Captain Hamilton was of Scottish descent, he renamed Kinnaird to Caledon as a tribute to his home land – Caledonia

Bartletts Map c1600

The castle at Kinnaird has been identified on Bartlett’s map of c1600.  Richard Bartlett, known as queen’s last map-maker created detailed maps between 1600 -1603 of various parts of Ireland showing lakes, castles, forests, mountains and identifying townlands and territories. 

Kinnaird(Kenard) can be clearly seen with the castle which is situated on an island in the middle of a lake (Drummorragh) as part of the Barony of Dungannon.  This is one of two maps detailing the ancient area of Dungannon. We can also see other townland names such as Enagh – Eannagh, Mullaghmore – Mullamore, Aghenis and Annaghroe – Annaghgron still in use today.

At the time of the Irish Rebellion in 1641, the ‘Down Survey’ noted the manor of Kenard (Kinnaird) and Munterbirn consisted of 383 townlands of approximately 2300 acres in total. All of this land was in the control of Phelim O’Neill.

The O’Neill’s of Kinnaird descendants

The O’Neill lineage is said to descend from Niall Glúndub, or Black-knee, king of Cenél Eógain and high-king of Tara, who died in 919.

His grandson, the high-king Domnall of Armagh who died in 980 was the first to call himself Domnall Ua Néill, or Domnall grandson of Niall.

The O’Neills of Kinnaird are descendants of Conn Mor, King of Tyrone.  At a later date, Cortine, daughter of Hugh O’Neill, second Earl of Tyrone, who died in Rome in 1616 following the flight of the Earls in 1607, married Henry Og of Kinnaird. 

Conn Mor: Prince of Tyrone – 14681493

Son of Henry MacOwen O’Neill, Conn married Eleanor Fitzgerald in 1483, daughter of Thomas Fitzgerald, 7th Earl of Kildare in an attempt to neutralise the threat from the growing power of the Earl of Kildare.  They had 3 children:

  • Conn Baccach
  • Art Oge
  • John

Conn Mor founded the Franciscan Friary at his Dungannon stronghold.

In the midst of an O’Neill civil war in 1481 Conn Mor was taken by Conn O’Neill, lord of the Clandeboy O’Neills, and transferred into the hands of Aodh Ruadh O’Donnell , lord of Donegal.   He remained in captivity for two years and was released only after long negotiations. On his return to Tyrone in 1483 he succeeded his aged father as king and at once set about restoring O’Neill power in Ulster.

On 8 January 1493 Conn was killed by his younger brother Henry Óg O’Neill (c.1450–1498); his death led to a long and bitter succession race between Henry Óg and another brother, Domhnall Clárach O’Neill (c.1445–1509)

Art Og O’Neill

Second son of Conn Mor, Art Óg was ‘The O’Neill’ between 1514 and 1519 following the death of his uncles Henry Óg and Domhnall. Art had a son by his first marriage Niall, and from his second marrage a son Shane of Kinnaird.

Shane O’Neill

Known as Shane of Kinnaird, Shane O’Neill was the second son by a second wife of Art Óg O’Neill. Shane was Tanist of Tyrone until he died in 1517

Henry O’Neill d1579

Sir Henry Og O’Neill d1608

Henry Og, married Cortine daughter of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone’s, and was knighted Sir Henry McShane O’Neill. He was killed by the forces of Sir Cahir O’Doherty on 6 May 1608 during O’Doherty’s Rebellion following the Burning of Derry. Henry Og had a son named Turlough and a daughter Catherine.

Henry Og is named in a list of Knights in 1604 and became High Sheriff of Co Armagh in 1605.  Following the Flight of the Earls in 1607, Sir Cahir O’Doherty of Donegal, a favourite of the English Government made a raid on Fermanagh and Tyrone, reaching Kinnaird which they burnt, but were unsuccessful in forcing the castle and moved on to Dungannon before returning to Donegal.  At a later action in July 1608, whilst supporting the new English administration against Sir Cahir, both Henry Og and his son Turlough died.

Turlough O’Neill d1608

Son Of Henry Og, Turlough married Catherine Ny Neal. He died young alongside his father in 1608 following battle against Sir Cahir O’Doherty.  Following his death, the land of Henry Og and Turlough O’Neill was divided into parts and regranted to Henry Og’s two brothers, Catherine, wife of Turlough, Turlough’s brothers and children.  In 1629 the crown re-granted all of Henry Og’s Minterburn territory to Phelim O’Neill eldest son of Turlough.

Sir Phelim O’Neill 1604-1653

Eldest son of Turlough O’Neill and his wife Catherine – daughter of Turlough MacHenry O’Neill, Chief of The O’Neill of the Fews.  Phelim O’Neill studied law at King’s Inn in London, was a member of the Irish Parliament in the 1630s, and was awarded a knighthood in 1639.

Like many Irish landowners he felt threatened by the colonisation of Ireland.  When the Irish Parliament failed to provide safeguards for the rights of Irish landowners, O’Neill and others began plotting against the British government, culminating in the Irish Rebellion of 1641 where they intended on seizing power by means of a swift coup.  Due to Lord Maguire’s failure to capture Dublin, the situation rapidly escalated into a general uprising of native Irish against British settlers.  This led to the 11 year Confederate War.

Phelim continued to fight with his cousin Owen Roe although they had a difficult relationship due to rivalry over claims to the title of the Earl of Tyrone, with his regiment supporting Owen Roe’s victory at Benburb in 1646.  The command of the Ulster Confederates was passed to Heber MacMahon following Owen Roe’s death and after a terrible defeat at the battle of Scariffhollis in 1650, Phelim O’Neill escaped fleeing back to Tyrone.  As Phelim was regarded as one of the main instigators of the Irish Uprising and therefore the death of Protestant settlers, a reward was offered for his capture.  He was betrayed in 1653 with his hideout on an island in Lough Roughan, outside Newmills, being identified and was put on trial at the High Court in Dublin.  The court condemned him as a traitor and he was hung drawn and quartered on 10 Mar 1653.  He was also charged with the murder of Lord Caufield.

He was survived by his third wife Jean Gordon and his son Gordon O’Neill.

Sir Gordon O’Neill

Son of Phelim O’Neill, held the office of Lord-Lieutenant of County Tyrone under James II. He fought for King James II.  He was second in command at the famous siege of Charlemont fort.   During the Williamite war he seen action at the Battle of The Boyne, the Siege of Derry and the Battle of Aughrim where he was wounded.  Having recovered from his wounds and following the Treaty of Limerick in 1692, he took his regiment to France and fought with distinction within the famous Irish Brigade.

Jean Gordon (widow of Phelim O’Neill)

Jean Gordon was the daughter of the Marquis of Huntley (Scotland), also known as the ‘Cock of the North’ due to his importance within Scotland, and widow of Claude Hamilton, baron of Strabane.