Judge John Belton O’Neall of South Carolina wrote his major historical work, the Annals of Newbury, in 1858 on the eve of the American civil war, which, like the revolutionary war during the preceding century, would pit the descendants of his great-grandfather Hugh O’Neill’s eight sons against one and other. While this sort of interfamilial warfare may be suprising for the people of other races and origins ; since the encroachment the fetters and the manacles of the English into our island, the brutal repression and or expulsion of the majority of its native inhabitants into a world created by our enemy, and their utter repression of our culture, this has been the norm for the Irish. Masters of political intrigue, none can deny the might of Perfidious Albion, and now, her Five Eyes, in applying the concept “dividum et imperum” to the people whose worldly possessions they have consumed, plundered, and destroyed. In it, he describes his descent from the royal house of O’Neill, Shanescastle, County Antrim : –
Justice John Belton O’Neall of South Carolina
“William O’Neall’s father’s name was Hugh ; he was, I think, a midshipman in, or at any rate he belonged to, the English navy, and not liking his berth, while at anchor in the Delaware he jumped overboard, swam ashore, and landed near Wilmington, as well as I remember, at the little Swedish town of Christiana ; this took place about 1730 ; here he lived many years, and married Annie Cox. On landing, to escape detection, he altered the spelling of his name, either from O’Neill or O’Neale to O’Neall ; the latter is the tradition.”
Memorial plaque of Shane Frankagh, or French John, O’Neill. Note the inscription ; Shane m’Brien m’Felim m’Shane m’Brien m’Felim.
Since then, his descendants have held fast to this story, but, having only a hazy and tentative knowledge of the history of Ireland, this family has fallen into utter obscurity. Genealogy, on its own is, in the words of the Venerable Charles O’Conor of Belanagare “bare meat without any bones.” Similarly, history without the articulating science of genealogy lacks the attention-increasing element of personal connection, and could coversely be equally truthfully said to be bare bones without any meat. In this instance, it is more the case that the bones were scrambled through the shifting vicissitudes of a refugee family, as were those of French John O’Neill and his family in their vault thanks to that perfidiously mischevious creature we call the badger !
Descendants of this Hugh held tight to the false story that he was descended from Bryan mac Felim O’Neill, of Shanescastle, which is true !
The author and Raymond Lord O’Neill at Shanescastle, 2013, direct descendants in the female line of Bryan MacPhelim Baccach O’Neill
Luckily for them, Irish history and genealogy and especially that of mine own family is my specialty, and, I am, as a write this, only distracting myself from a much larger work – the Life and Letters of Charles Henry O’Neill, The O’Neill of Clanaboy – whose only child Elizabeth married Judge James Gervé Conroy, and had an only son Charles O’Neill Conroy, K.C. O.B.E., the present writer’s great-grandfather.
The Bryan MacPhelim O’Neill our O’Neall cousins suppose themselves to be descended from is the stem of my family tree above, which is taken from Arms Authorised by the Laws of Heraldry, by Sir Bernard Burke. Where they have fallen into error, leaving a more than century-long hole in their story, which casts doubt upon it in the eyes of any competent genealogist, is that they have mistakenly supposed their ancestor, Hugh of the British Navy who jumped ship and swam ashore to be the son of the more famous Bryan MacPhelim, that restored the sept of Felim Baccach O’Neill, who had fallen as sovereign Prince of Clanaboy in either 1533 or 1537 (the state papers record his death in both years) to supremacy as Sovereign of his clan by the strong hand, when, in fact Hugh who swam to shore in Delaware was the son of Bryan O’Neill of the Largy, son of Phelim Duff O’Neill, and thus a brother of French John O’Neill. In other words, Hugh’s father Bryan MacPhelim Duff O’Neill was the great-grandson of Bryan MacFelim Baccach O’Neill. My ancestor Charles Henry O’Neill, the barrister, writing in 1855 to the Belfast Daily Mercury, described the descendants then living of the Royal House of O’Neill in the following terms : –
“I will now conclude with a resumé of the male line of Sir Bryan MacPhelim O’Neill of Edenduffcarrick. As stated, his eldest son, Shane MacBryan O’Neill had five sons, Sir Henry O’Neill, and Arthur, Phelim Duff, Hugh, and Shane Oge O’Neill. The male line of Sir Henry O’Neill became extinct upwards of 200 years ago, on the death of his sons, Arthur, Henry, and Conway O’Neill. The male line of the second son, Arthur O’Neill, became extinct in 1716, on the death of his grandson Colonel Charles O’Neill, and the male line of the third son Phelim Duff O’Neill is centered in the person of the present General Lord Viscount O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, who is the present chief and head of the house, and “The O’Neill of Clanaboy,” and in Mr. Charles O’Neill of Aldergrove, Crumlin, late of Brecart, Toome, and his two brothers who are sons of the late Mr. Charles O’Neill of Brecart, and nephews of the late Captain Daniel O’Neill, also of Brecart, deceased, who are descended from Arthur O’Neill, the second son of Phelim Duff O’Neill, and uncle of French John. The late Mark Ker O’Neill, Esq., of Flowerfield, Coleraine, was also descended from said Arthur O’Neill.
The issue of Hugh O’Neill, the fourth son, I am unable to discover in my collection for “The Annals of History and Pedigree of the House of O’Neill,” which I have in a forward state for publication ; and I am therefore, at present, under the necessity of stating that his issue, if he left any, is unknown.
The male line of Shane Oge O’Neill of Shane Oge O’Neill is centered in and represented by the Messrs. Hugh and Arthur O’Neill and their families, of Ballynemony, in the County of Down, who are of the younger branch, the eldest male line having failed in the person of his great grandson, Ambrose O’Neill, of Ballybollan, Esq., whose daughter and co-heiress, Henrietta O’Neill, married Daniel O’Rorke, Esq., of Dromshane, in the County of Leitrim, by whom she had a son, Ambrose O’Rorke, who was grandfather of the present Ambrose O’Rorke, of Ballybollan, Esq., J.P.
And the male line of Con MacBryan O’Neill (brother of Shane MacBryan O’Neill), whose grandson “Bryan MacHugh Oge O’Neill of the Feevagh,” was left the estates by Sir Henry O’Neill, as before mentioned, is represented by “Don Carlos Felix O’Neill,” of Spain, son of the late Colonel Con O’Neill of the Spanish service, formerly of the Feevagh, and his sons, who all reside in Spain ; and by the nephew of Colonel Con O’Neill, namely, Mr. Felix C. O’Neill, of Drumderg, in the Feevagh, who has four sons and five grandsons all living. There is a very curious pedigree, which is one hundred and twenty years old, of Con Modera O’Neill, the grandfather of Colonel Con O’Neill, among the family papers in possession of Mr. Felix C. O’Neill. It is headed “Genealogy of Mr. Con O’Neill, of Carlyan” (the name of a townland in the Feevagh, on which the house was built.) It is written in columns, and terminates with his own name “Con” ; and, after naming his father, Con MacBryan the 2nd – his grandfather, “Bryan MacHugh Oge,” – his great grandfather, “Hugh Oge,” and Hugh Oge’s father, Con MacBryan the 1st, it proceeds backwards, according to the custom in all old Irish pedigrees, from son to father, until it terminates or rather commences with Adam ! There is a glossary at the end in the following terms : – “Note -That ‘K.U.’ stands for King of Ulster ; ‘K.I.’ for King of Ireland ; and ‘K. in S.’ for King in Spain, and also carry ‘son of’ in your mind – as, for example, Con, son of Con, son of Bryan, son of Hugh Oge, &c. – Collected by Mr. John Conry (son of Peadair, son of Fearfeasa, of the Four Masters) and transcribed by Patrick O’Kinan, January 31, 1735.”
North wall of the old church in Saint Olcáns graveyard at Cranfield, in the county of Antrim, where the author’s ancestors celebrated mass during the Penal Laws
French John, brother to Hugh O’Neill who jumped ship, married Charity Dixon, and, after a life of, at all events, systematically violating the provisions of the statute 25th Henry VI., chapter 4, by wearing the “Glibbe” in the most approved Irish fashion, was interred with her in the vault he had built for the purpose, which is shown in the topmost picture here, according to the specifications of his will : “no cloth, clasps, or hinges to be put upon his coffin, which should be coloured only with lampblack.” French John O’Neill had been esteemed in public during his life as a loyal man to the reigning power, but suspected, and not without reason, of having secretly espoused the cause, and sympathised with the fortunes of the fallen House of Stuart. Martha, sister of Hugh who jumped ship and French John, married Captain Arthur O’Hagan, and was interred with him at the old church at Cranfield, in a family plot along with my ancestors for several generations from Hugh Oge O’Neill and his wife to Hugh O’Neill and his wife Anne, daughter of Charles O’Neill of Clonkeen, as well as some of the ancestors of Hugo Riccardi O’Neill, the current O’Neill of Clanaboy, his sister my dear cousin Madelena, and the rest of the Portugese O’Neills, when they were Lords of the Feevagh, prior to my forebear Hugh Oge O’Neill moving into the district. The plot was in the vicinity of the north wall of the old church shown in the photo above. The headstone for Martha O’Neill and Captain O’Hagan was restored in the 19th century by the Earl O’Neill, but no trace of it could be found in 2016 when the author visited. It is possible that they were removed to the Randalstown cemetary when the bodies were removed from the vault at Shanescastle due to pest problems referred to earlier.
Charles Henry St. John Earl O’Neill, Grand Knight, Orange Order, used “fines and recoveries” to bar the entail
Here is the correct line of genealogical descent John Belton O’Neall described :
Niall Mór O’Neill
Felim Baccach O’Neill
Brian mac Felim Baccach O’Neill
Sean mac Brian O’Neill
Felim Dubh O’Neill
Brian of the Largy O’Neill
Justice John Belton O’Neall
With this little musing I hope that I have added a bit of accuracy to the pride with which my American cousins must boast of their princely descent ; for they are as entitled to such bravado as any, being verified and documented lineal descendants of the Royal House of O’Neill, Shanescastle, anciently descendants of that prince-scholar and fountain of knowledge, Niul, of Scythia, whose antiquity stretches back into the very mists of pre-European history.