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The Uí Néill Tribe and Their Clans
The Uí Néill Clan were the foremost political dynasty in Ireland between the 7th and 10th centuries.
The O’Neill clan has one of the most historical and ancient lineages in Ireland if not the world. Their famous ancestor is Niall of the Nine Hostages, a legendary 4th century King of Ireland, who ruled from 377 to 404 AD, and is said to have conquered all of Ireland and Scotland and much of Britain and Wales. Because he took one royal hostage from each of the kingdoms he conquered he became known as such. He had twelve sons, four of whom settled in Ulster and began the dynasty there. Eoghan O'Neill gave his name to Tyrone.
His descendant 12 generations later is Niall Glún Dubh, or Niall of the Black Knee, High King of Ireland who was killed by the Vikings in 919. His grandson Domhnall was said to have adopted the name O’Neill, which comes from Ua Neill and means ‘grandson of Niall’.
The famous red hand of Ulster dates from the 4th and 5th centuries and legend has it that when an O’Neills ancestor first reached the north coast of Ireland, whoever touched the land first could claim it as his own. This brave O’Neill cut off his hand and threw it ashore and claimed his prize!In the centuries to follow descendants of Niall and the Nine Hostages ruled.
The Uí Neills divided into two main branches, the Northern Uí Néill and Southern Uí Néill.
The Northern Uí Néill
Niall of the Nine Hostages had seven sons; three of these sons were Owen (Eoghan), Conall Gulban (Conaill) and Enda (Énda). These 3 sons became the progenitors of the three Cenél’s (races) that make up the Nothern Uí Néill. They would alternate the High Kingship with their southern cousins the Southern Uí Neill into the 10th century.
The territory of the Northern Uí Néill is in the present, counties of Derry, Donegal, Tyrone and North County Sligo. The Chief clans of the North were Cineal Eoghain, Cineal Conaill and Cineal Cairbre.
The Southern Uí Néill
The territories of the Southern Uí Néill were that of County Meath (Kingdom of Mide). Chief Clans of the South were Clan Cholmain, Cineal Fiachach and Fir Teathbha.
Mael Sechnaill mac Domnaill of the Uí Néill Clan was probably the most famous of the Uí Néills. After the death of Domhnall Ua Néill in 980, he gained the throne of High King and ruled from 980 to 1002. He was the last great power from the Southern Uí Néill. His power had declined by the turn of the 11th Century.
As Brian Boru (Bryan Boru) grew stronger in power in Munster the balance shifted, and in 1002, Máel Sechnaill finally submitted to Brian Boru. Boru was crowned High King of Ireland in 1002 thus overthrowing the power of the Uí Néill in Ireland. After the death of Brian Boru at the Battle of Clontarf, Mael Sechnaill resumed his throne and recommenced his interrupted reign. He ruled as High King of Ireland until he died in 1022.
With the emergence of Brian Boru and the powerful Dál gCais Clan in tenth century, the decline of the Uí Néill dynasty was inevitable. Today the Uí Néill Dynasty prospers in Ireland and all over the world.
To Find Your Clan See Below in our List of Clans of the Uí Néill............
In Ireland, they are thought to be descended from Sir Art MacBaron O’Neill, a natural son of Matthew O’Neill, the first Baron of Dungannon. Matthew, originally called Ferdoragh, died at the hand of his grandson Shane O’Neill the Proud who was against Anglo-Irish law and its titles. This title began in the 1540s and was bestowed on all first sons of the Earls of Tyrone until they assumed the title themselves....read more
The name mac Conmhide, now Conway, translates as the son of the hound of Meath. They originally occupied territories of Counties Tyrone and Derry. Giolla Brighde Mac Con Midhe was such a poet who addressed his poems to the many kings of the 13th century including the O’Neills. The annals in the 13th century record a chief Mac Con Meadha on the Connaught and Leinster borders. Later by the 16th century the name was strong in Leitrim. The name is found mostly today on Tyrone and Derry. The sept MacNamee was based beside the Shannon in Co. Kilkenny. The Conway sept also belonged to the counties of Clare, Limerick and Tipperary. ...read more
Of Scottish and Irish origin, the name Devlin originates from Domailén or O’Duibhlin meaning “descendant of Dobhaileann, thought to be a personal name coming from dobhail which means ‘unlucky’. It is generally believed to mean ‘Descendant of the Loud One’. The Devlins controlled areas around Tyrone and the name is still strong in this area. Lands on the western shores of Lough Neagh were given to the O’Devlin ascendants and they can be traced back to a Domhnall Dabhaill who died in 915. ...read more
Donnelly or Ó Donnáile in Irish is a personal name and means ‘brown-haired warrior’ or boy, as donn means brown and gal means brave. This branch is descended from Domhnall O Neill who died in 876, who was descended from Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fifth century High King of Ireland during the time of St Patrick. There is also a connection with Niall Glúndubh (Niall of the Black Knee), who was High King of Ireland, and was killed by Norsemen in 919 AD at the Battle of Dublin. ...read more
This unusual surname dates back to before the 10th century and is of Gaelic-Scottish origin. They occupied territories of County Down and County Mayo, and branches also settled in County Donegal. The name means “son of the servant of the Bishop”, from Mac Giolla Easpaig. The Gillespies who came from Scotland were thought to be erenaghs or landlords who managed local church lands....read more
The name comes from the meaning, Bright Prince. Laverty is the Anglicisation of Ó Fhlaitheartaigh or Mac Fhlaithbheartaigh meaning descendant of Flaitheartaigh, a personal name combinig the gaelic words for ‘flaith’ ,prince or ruler and ‘beartach’ meaning doer of good deeds. The name is mainly found in the Northern Province of Ulster despite being first found in Connemara. They inhabited Donegal and Tyrone and were formally Lords of Aileach (in Donegal) and Táiniste, or chosen heir and the worthiest of his kin, in Tyrone. ...read more
In medieval Ireland the O’Neills had ruled all of northern Ireland for centuries and their kings would often give land to their second or third sons. The MacShanes were an example of these secondary benefactors and they generally came to occupy the territories of north-east Tyrone and later of Donegal and Louth. Derived from the Gaelic name Mac Seáin, it means ‘son of John’. It came into use in the 1500s at the time of Shane An Díomas O’Neill, (Shane the Proud) Prince of Ulster, who was killed in 1567 and left ten sons behind him. ...read more
Mac Neill originates from Clan MacNeill which was a Scottish clan thought to be descended from an O’Neill clan from Ulster. They claim to descend from Niall of the Nine Hostages, the founder of the Uí Néill dynasty. As the Mac Suibhne, they came to Ireland as gallowglasses and later on as pirates. They are recorded to have gone as far as the borders of Connaught in the 1340s. The earliest reference to the name comes from Gilbert McNeill in 1329, fom Scotland in the reign of Robert the Bruce....read more
The surname McRory and its variations comes from the name Mac Ruaidhrí, meaning son of Ruairí, the Red King, and they were recorded as Irish chiefs in the 16th century. It is possible they were originally gallowglasses or mercenary soldiers of fortune who came from Scotland in the 14th century as this name was popular here. Their possible progenitor was Ruaidhri mac Raghnail. He was a 12th century Scottish magnate who fought in Scotland and Ireland. It is believed he died fighting the English at the Battle of Ballyshannon in 1247. ...read more
Murphy is the anglicised version of Ó Murchada and Mac Murchada where Murchadh means ‘sea warrior’. Mac Murphy is exclusive to Ulster. Here this tribe was descended from Eoghan, the founder of the Uí Néill dynasty, Niall of the Nine Hostages. They were based in Muintir Birn. Today the name is most common in Armagh. The O’Murchada branches arose in Cork, Wexford and Roscommon. In Wexford they were the most prominent....read more
Derived from forename Domhnall, an ancient and powerful family kings and princes and lords of Tyrconnell in Co. Donegal, allies and rivals of the O’Neills. Tir Connall was founded by a son of Niall of the nine Hostages , Conall in the 5th century. His descendants ruled this land until the Flight odf the earls in 1607. Mael Sechnaill mac Domnaill ruled from 1241 to 1247, Manus O’Donnell till 1564, Iníon dubh a quenn till 1608. Hugh Roe O’Donnell died 1602. He was known as Red Hugh O’Donnell (1572-1602) was king of Donegal. Aged 15 captured and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. He escaped with the help of his ally Hugh O’Neill. Led the O’Donnell clan in the Tudor conquest which was at its height at this time...read more
This name comes from Mac Lachlainn and means son of Lochlann. Since lochlannach (meaning the lakes) was the term used by the Gaels to describe the Viking invaders from Norway, it is possible this surname is derived from descendants of those Norse who settled in the UI Neill territory in the decades after their arrival on Rathlin island in 795. It is known that a branch of the O’Neills took the name MacLochlain and becme rival kings to the O’ Neills. The last Mac Lochlainn king was killed by King Brian O Neill and his son, Anrothan went to Scotland and is the ascendant of the MacLachlans there....read more
The history of the O’Neill family can be traced back to the 5th century and from here until 1608, with the death of Red Hugh O’Neill, this dominant family were rulers of all Ireland, kings of Ulster, earls and princes of Tyrone, statesmen and soldiers. They are therefore one of the oldest families in Europe with an unbroken descent in the male line of the Tyrone branch. This branch is more commonly known as the Clandeboys O’Neill’s. It takes its name from Clann Aodha Bhuidhe (Clan of Yellow Hugh), grandson of Aodh Dubh (Black Hugh) who was King of Ulster and brother to Niall Ruadh (Red Niall) who was in turn the Prince of Tyrone....read more
The surname Sweeney comes from the gaelicised version of Mac Suibhne, meaning son of Suibhne. The progenitor of this clan was Suibhne O’Neill, who was a Scottish chieftain from Argyll around 1300. There is a 16th century script written in Irish called the Leabhar Chlainne Suibhne (The Book of Clan Sweeney), which documents the clan history. It is currently held in the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin. Suibhne also is an Irish word meaning ‘well-disposed and pleasant’. ...read more
If you have any comments or would like to add your clan, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you Stephanie! I have been meaning to write you a note and have been so crazy with work since we returned. The trip was unbelievable! We had a wonderful time and loved every minute of the trip.
Andrea Stevens, Plantation, Florida