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Hugh O’Neill became leader of the clan in 1595 and as such was known as The O’Neill. A charismatic, even romantic figure, he had a long, tempestuous and complicated relationship with the English Crown, a relationship largely of convenience – for both parties. It was characterised by double-crossing by each side, building and abandoning strategic alliances. And ultimately, by all-out war.
In this story Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone and the last inaugurated chief of the O’Neills, plays the central role. Dungannon was at the eye of an international political storm from 1594 to 1603, during which time The O’Neill would lead mighty armies, would win and lose battles, and create problems for at least four monarchs.
And the repercussions were serious. Some might say that the consequences are still being felt today. When Hugh O’Neill was ultimately outmanoeuvred, his defeat paved the way for two connected seismic events that would forever transform his kingdom.
The O’Neill was a military genius who repeatedly got the better of the Crown’s generals in Ulster. However, after a bitter defeat at the Battle of Kinsale, he was driven to bid farewell to the Hill of the O’Neill and the lands he ruled over.
O’Neill’s departure for Spain, with the Earl of Tyrconnell and 90 followers, became known as the Flight of the Earls. It was a pivotal event in Irish history, effectively marking the end of the Gaelic way of life.
There’s no better place to find out about it than right here, and our guides can answer all your questions. You’ll find out about what happened next too – because the old O’Neill base of Dungannon was soon to become a crucial location in a second momentous event, the Plantation of Ulster.
With The O’Neill and his followers effectively gone into exile, the way was clear for the organised colonisation of their lands by wealthy settlers, largely from Scotland and England under King James I. This was known as the Plantation, a plan conceived to subdue, control and ‘civilise’ the wayward Irish. Instrumental in managing the process and distributing the lands was the Lord Deputy of Ireland – Arthur Chichester, who had defeated Hugh O’Neill in the Nine Years War. (Chichester would go on to become a major figure in the founding of Belfast.)
The Plantation is the point that marks the shift in Ulster from an ancient Gaelic tradition to a new Anglo-Scottish ethos. It is in effect, the beginning of another age in the history of Ireland, Ulster, Dungannon and, of course, of the Hill.