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O'Neill, Hugh (fl.1642-1660) (DNB00)

O'NEILL, HUGH (fl. 1642–1660), major-general, born in the Spanish Netherlands, was son of Art Oge, who was elder brother of Owen Roe O'Neill (d. 1649) [q. v.], and nephew of Hugh O'Neill [q. v.], the great earl of Tyrone. Hugh gained distinction as an officer in the army of Spain, and accompanied Owen O'Neill in 1642 to Ireland, where, from his father, he was known as ‘MacArt,’ and styled in Irish ‘buidhe,’ or the swarthy, from his complexion.

O'Neill was taken prisoner in a skirmish with British troops in the county of Monaghan in 1643, and remained in durance till released through exchange after the battle of Benburb in 1646. In that year he was appointed major-general of the Irish forces in Ulster; and they were partly under his direction during the illness of his uncle, General Owen Roe O'Neill, whose confidence he enjoyed, and by whom he was despatched with two thousand soldiers to aid the Marquis of Ormonde. After Owen O'Neill's death, in November 1649, Hugh was, like his cousin, Daniel O'Neill [q. v.], one of the numerous unsuccessful candidates for the command of the Ulster army.

In February 1650 Ormonde appointed him governor of Clonmel. He had under his command some 1,200 men, of whom all but fifty-two were infantry, and with these forces he inflicted on Cromwell the most serious check he experienced in Ireland. On 27 April Cromwell opened a formal attack on the place, which had been more or less blocked up since February. O'Neill vainly appealed to Ormonde for succour, and on 9 May, after effecting a breach, Cromwell ordered the place to be stormed. Never did the parliamentary army meet with stouter resistance. No sooner had they entered the breach than they found themselves face to face with a new semicircular wall, from which the besiegers poured into their ranks a steady fire. Cromwell's soldiers were caught in a trap, ‘and when night fell the survivors staggered back to acknowledge for once that they had been foiled’ (Gardiner, Hist. of the Commonwealth, i. 174; Carlyle, Cromwell, ii. 294–5; Ludlow, Memoirs, ed. Firth, i. 238).

Nevertheless, the garrison could not prolong the struggle, and in the dead of night O'Neill and his followers slipped away in the direction of Waterford, leaving instructions with the mayor to come to terms. On 10 May Cromwell received a deputation, and granted them terms. It was not until he got within the walls that he learnt of the escape of the garrison. He kept his word, but sent in pursuit of O'Neill, and, according to Ludlow, killed two hundred of his soldiers. O'Neill himself escaped. A letter to him from Oliver Cromwell, in relation to exchange of prisoners, has been reproduced in the ‘Facsimiles of National Manuscripts of Ireland’ from the original in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In the same publication will also be found a facsimile of a letter signed by O'Neill and the mayor of Clonmel in April 1650.

O'Neill subsequently commanded in Limerick during the protracted siege of that city by Ireton. In the articles, dated in October 1651, for the surrender of Limerick, the governor, Major-general Hugh O'Neill, was excepted from quarter, and excluded from any benefit, on the ground that he had largely contributed to ‘the long and obstinate holding out of the place.’ In conformity with them, O'Neill, as governor, on 29 Oct. 1651 surrendered the city to Ireton, and was committed to prison. A council of war on the same day voted that O'Neill and others should be executed. On the following day O'Neill, in a letter, remonstrated against the judgment passed on him. He averred that he had not been guilty of any base or dishonourable act, having only discharged his duty as a soldier, and appealed to the justice of the lord-deputy, Ireton. On 1 Nov., after reconsideration, the vote for the death of O'Neill was revoked, and it was determined to send him as a prisoner to be dealt with by the authorities of the parliament at London. This course, it would appear, was adopted mainly in consequence of O'Neill's rights as a subject of the king of Spain (having been born in Flanders) and his numerous influential connections.

As a prisoner in the Tower of London, where he arrived on 10 Jan. 1652, O'Neill was treated with consideration by the government, and allowed twenty shillings a week for his maintenance; he was also granted the privilege of having ‘the liberty of the Tower.’ In July 1652 Cardenas, the Spanish ambassador at London, applied officially for the discharge of O'Neill from the Tower, on the grounds that he was a subject of the king of Spain, that he had not been guilty of excesses in Ireland, and that his liberation would promote the bringing together of the Irish soldiers then about to be levied for the Spanish service.

O'Neill appears to have ended his days in Spain after 1660. In October in that year he addressed letters from Madrid to Charles II and the Marquis of Ormonde in reference to his hereditary right to the earldom of Tyrone, consequent on the death in Spain in 1641 of John O'Neill, titular earl of Tyrone, and youngest son of Hugh O'Neill, the great earl of Tyrone. A reproduction of O'Neill's letter to Charles II was given in Gilbert's ‘Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland, 1641–1652,’ printed in 1880.

[Authorities quoted; Ormonde Archives, Kilkenny Castle; Carte Papers, Bodleian Library; O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees, ed. 1887, i. 723; Gilbert's Hist. of Irish Confederation, 1890; Bate's Elenchus Motuum, 1676; Articles for Limerick, 1651; Whitelocke's Memorials, 1853; Ludlow's Memoirs, ed. Firth, 1894; cf. also authorities for art. O'Neill, Daniel.]

J. T. G.