James Bond Fans have gone over every Bong Thing with a fine-tooth comb, and, can not answer the riddle of the Red Hand of Ulster being in the Bond cote of arms.
John Presco 007
Red Hand of Ulster
The Red Hand of Ulster (Irish: Lámh Dhearg Uladh) is an Irish symbol used in heraldry to denote the Irish province of Ulster. It is an open hand coloured red, with the fingers pointing upwards, the thumb held parallel to the fingers, and the palm facing forward. It is usually shown as a right hand, but is sometimes a left hand, such as in the coats of arms of baronets.
The Red Hand is first documented in surviving records in the 13th-century, where it was used by the Hiberno-Norman de Burgh earls of Ulster. It was Walter de Burgh who became first Earl of Ulster in 1243 who combined the de Burgh cross with the Red Hand to create a flag that represented the Earldom of Ulster and later became the modern Flag of Ulster.
It was afterwards adopted by the O’Neills (Uí Néill) when they assumed the ancient kingship of Ulster (Ulaid), inventing the title Rex Ultonie (king of Ulster) for themselves in 1317 and then claiming it unopposed from 1345 onwards. An early Irish heraldic use in Ireland of the open right hand can be seen in the seal of Aodh Reamhar Ó Néill, king of the Irish of Ulster, 1344–1364.
An early 15th-century poem by Mael Ó hÚigínn is named Lámh dhearg Éireann í Eachach, the first line of which is a variation of the title: “Lamh dhearg Éiriond Ibh Eathoch”, translated as “The Úí Eachach are the ‘red hand’ of Ireland”. The Uí Eachach were one of the Cruthin tribes (known as the Dál nAraidi after 773) that made up the ancient kingdom of Ulaid.
The Red Hand symbol is believed to have been used by the O’Neills during its Nine Years’ War (1594–1603) against English rule in Ireland, and the war cry lámh dearg Éireann abú! (“the Red Hand of Ireland forever”) was also associated with them. An English writer of the time noted “The Ancient Red Hand of Ulster, the bloody Red Hand, a terrible cognizance! And in allusion to that terrible cognizance- the battle cry of Lamh dearg abu!”
The Order of Baronets was instituted by letters patent dated 10 May 1612, which state that “the Baronets and their descendants shall and may bear, either in a canton in their coat of arms, or in an inescutcheon, at their election, the arms of Ulster, that is, in a field argent, a hand gules, or a bloody hand.” The oldest baronets used a dexter (right) hand just like the O’Neills, however it later became a sinister (left) hand.
Dispute over ownership
The exclusive rights to the use of the Red Hand symbol has proved a matter of debate over the centuries, primarily whether it belonged to the O’Neills (Uí Néill) or the Magennises (Méig Aonghasa). The O’Neills became the chief dynasty of the Cenél nEógain of the Northern Uí Néill and later the kings of Ulster, whilst the Magennises were the ruling dynasty of the Uí Eachach Cobo, the chief dynasty of the Cruthin of Ulaid, and also head of the Clanna Rudraige. A 16th-century poem noted disagreement between the “Síol Rúraí” (an alias for Clanna Rudraige) and the Northern Uí Néill.
- Diarmaid Mac an Bhaird, one of the last fully trained Irish bardic poets, admonishes the claim of the O’Neills to the Red Hand, arguing that it rightly belongs to the Magennises, who should be allowed to keep it. He supports his statement citing several medieval texts attributing it to Conall Cernach, the legendary ancestor of the Uí Eachach Cobo.
- Eoghan Ó Donnghaile refutes the Clanna Róigh (Clanna Rudraige) right to the symbol. He cites a story based on the Lebor Gabála Érenn claiming that it belongs to the descendants of Érimón, from whom Conn of the Hundred Battles and thus the O’Neills are said to descend.
- Niall Mac Muireadhaigh dismisses both these claims and states that the symbol belongs to the Clann Domhnaill (descended from the Three Collas, the legendary ancestors of the Airgíalla). Mac Muireadhaigh derides Ó Donnghaile as a fool and finds it deplorable that he is an author.
Further poetic quatrains in the dispute were written by Mac an Baird, Ó Donnghaile, as well as by Mac an Bhaird’s son Eoghain. The Mac an Bhairds appear to deride Ó Donnghaile as not having come from a hereditary bardic family and that he is of very low rank without honour, as well as hinting at his family’s genealogical link to the O’Neills.
Writing in 1908, the then head of the O’Neill clan says of the Red Hand: “History teaches us that already in pagan days it was adopted by the O’Neills from the Macgennis, who were princes in the north of Ireland region inhabited by them”.
Neill is arguably the most illustrious among the surnames of Ireland, though only tenth in the list of most commonly found names. The story of the sept originates in the myths of prehistory. The ancient clan historians trace the family back to Heremon, son of Milesius and Celtic conqueror of Ireland. Thence the line continues through many generations to through Conn Ceadcathach (Conn of the Hundred Battles), second century High King and on to Niall Naoi Ghiallach or Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Ireland from 377 to 404 AD. As High King of Ireland, Niall reigned from the ancient Irish royal seat at Tara, in modern Co. Meath. During his reign he conquered all of Ireland and Scotland and much of Britain and Wales. He took a royal hostage from each of the nine kingdoms he subjugated, hence his famous nickname. The families that descend from Niall are collectively known as the Uí Neill, meaning descendants of Niall, and not to be confused with the sept of O Neill. He had twelve sons, of whom four moved into Ulster to establish the dynasty there.
Eoghan, son of Niall gave his name to Tir Eoghain (in English Tyrone) and twelve generations later we find his descendant, Niall Glandubh (Niall of the Black Knee) as High King in 890 A.D. He was killed in battle against the Norsemen near Dublin in 919. It was his grandson, Domhnall (c. 943) who adopted the surname O Neill, meaning grandson of Niall. From the fifth to the eleventh century, and from the twelfth century to the death of Red Hugh O Neill in 1608, this dominant family were monarchs of all Ireland, kings of Ulster, earls and princes of Tyrone, statesmen and soldiers. The O Neills are the oldest family in Europe with unbroken descent in the male line. The descent of the original Tyrone family has continued unbroken, down to the present holder of the title of O Neill Mór.
From the sixth to the twelfth century, the Grianan of Aileach, which overlooks the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, was an O Neill stronghold. It was plundered many times and Murtough O Brien demolished it in 1101 in revenge for the destruction of the O Brien royal seat at Kincora in County Clare. It is recorded that he ordered his soldiers to carry away the stones with their provisions. In the nineteenth century, the Grianan was imaginatively restored by a local citizen.
In the fourteenth century a branch of the Tyrone O Neills migrated to Antrim where they became known as Clann Aodha Bhuidhe, from Aodh Buidhe (or Hugh Boy) O Neill, who was slain in 1283. His name is perpetuated in the territorial name Clannaboy or Clandeboy. These O Neills reversed the usual trend in Ireland of that day by taking large tracts of land from the Anglo-Norman invaders. Their principal seat was at Edenduffcarrig, later known as Shane’s Castle, northwest of Antrim town. The attempts made by the English in the sixteenth century to exterminate them, which were carried out by Essex and others with a ferocity and perfidy seldom equalled even in that violent age, were unsuccessful, and O Neills are numerous there today, as they are also in West Ulster. Since 1740, the O Neills of Clanaboy have been living in Portugal, where they proudly continue their ancient Gaelic designation O Neill, Chieftain.
The O Neills of the Fews in Co. Armagh descend from Aodh, known as Hugh of the Fews, died 1475, second son of Eoghan, chief of the name, who was inaugurated in 1432.
The O Neills of Thomond (Clare and Limerick) were chiefs of a territory in the modern barony of Bunratty: to-day O Neill is not a common name in Co. Clare, but the Nihills and the Creaghs of that county claim to be of Thomond O Neill stock. Modern historians believe that Nihills were originally Ulster O Neills who settled in Co. Clare after the battle of Kinsale.
The name O Neill is quite numerous in and around Co. Carlow, where an O Neill sept was situated in the barony of Rathvilly. Another O Neill sept was located in the Decies and its present day representatives are found in Co. Waterford and south Tipperary.
One of the most lasting and identifiable symbols of Ireland, the red hand, is taken from the O Neill coat of arms. The symbol predates the advent of formal heraldry, which was introduced by the Normans and is recorded on the battle standards of the Uí Neill in the fourth and fifth centuries. Even the family motto “Lám Dearg Éirinn” means “the red hand of Ireland”. There are many legends as to how the O Neills acquired their motto. One story is that when their ancestors sailed close to the northeast tip of Ireland they agreed that whoever landed first would have that area of land. A quick-witted warrior chopped off his left hand, threw it onto the shore and claimed his reward! Modern coats of arms show the symbol as a right hand, but the more ancient records clearly have it as “sinister” or left.
In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the struggles to preserve Gaelic Ireland centred around the O Neills and many of them left an indelible imprint on the history of the province of Ulster.
Conn Bacach (the lame) O Neill, the first Earl of Tyrone (c. 1484-1559), was the first of the great warrior O Neills. When his territory was invaded, he went to London to submit to Henry VIII who created him Earl of Tyrone. His family did not approve of an English title and there was much feuding, which led to the murder of one of his sons. Conn took refuge in Dublin, inside the Pale, where he died. Conn was succeeded by his son, Sean an Diomais (Shane the proud). Shane’s followers murdered his half-brother, Matthew, and Shane himself was murdered by the MacDonnells of Antrim in revenge for the destruction by Shane of their Scottish settlements in the county.
Conn Bacach’s grandson, the great Hugh O Neill (1550-1616), 2nd Earl of Tyrone and son of Matthew, lived for six years at the Court of Queen Elizabeth as Baron of Dungannon. She hoped to tame him and win the allegiance of the O Neills and for a long time he appeared to be loyal to the Crown. Ireland was in a chaotic state, it lacked any government except inside the Pale, and constant warring had led to famine and disease. Given his experience in England, Hugh was aware of the wider political issues, and at times it must have been difficult for anyone to know, including himself, which was the right side to support. He began a series of intrigues with the local chiefs and also with the English, and was harassed by Elizabeth’s spies. Endlessly suing for peace or pardons, he played for time, waiting for the promised help from Spain. His marital arrangements were equally unstable. He divorced his first wife, his second wife died, and, at 45 he eloped with Mabel Bagenal, the sister of his archenemy, Sir Henry Bagenal. She left him when she discovered he “affected two other gentlewomen”. She did not live long and, after her death, he married Catherine Magennis. In 1595 he had a successful encounter with the English at the battle of Clontibret. At the battle of the Yellow Ford, near Armagh in 1598, the Irish had one of their greatest triumphs and Bagenal was killed. Hugh O Neill now began to be regarded as Prince of Ireland – The O Neill – a title, which meant much more to him and the Irish than Earl of Tyrone. His arrogance alarmed Elizabeth who sent over her favourite, the Earl of Essex, with a vast army. However, Essex was tricked by O Neill and returned, unsuccessful, to London, where Elizabeth had him executed. She sent another expensive army with more efficient leadership. Many of the Irish chiefs, thinking only of their property, joined the English. When the Spanish army finally landed, it was at Kinsale rather than at an Ulster port. Hugh O Neill had to lead his army in hazardous winter conditions from the north to the extreme southern tip of Ireland. He wanted to attack at once, but was, it is thought, restrained by Red Hugh O Donnell and Del Aquila. When they finally attacked on Christmas Eve 1601, it was too late, and the best opportunity in centuries was lost.
The defeat at Kinsale marked the end of the Gaelic order and ushered in the exodus to Europe. In 1607, Tyrone and his family and many other chiefs sailed from Lough Swilly, an event to become known as The Flight of the Earls. Tyrone died, homeless and penniless, in Rome. Although they fought continuously, either between themselves or against their neighbours, they also sought valiantly to drive out the colonisers. When Hugh O Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and O Donnell, Earl of Tirconnell, fled to Europe, they left Ulster open to the Protestant plantations of James I, contributing to the continuing conflict in this area of Ulster, which remained British when the rest of Ireland became independent.
Owen Roe (the red haired) O Neill (1590-1649), a nephew of the great Hugh O Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was a professional soldier who had served thirty years in the Spanish army. He returned to Ireland and, in 1642, joined the new movement styled the Confederate Catholics of Ireland. He defeated the Scots under Monro at Benburb in County Tyrone in 1646. When Cromwell landed to wreak vengeance, Owen Roe, on his way to join the royalist army led by Ormond, died.
Owen Roe’s nephew, Daniel O Neill (1612-64), was a Protestant Cavalier and a favourite of Charles II who, in 1663, appointed him Postmaster-General, an appointment which an O Neill of Clanaboy, Charles O Neill, was to hold in the nineteenth century.
Sir Phelim O Neill (1604-53), a lawyer, soldier and bon viveur, took part in the disastrous insurrection of 1641 where he was Commander-in-Chief of the northern forces. He was betrayed by a kinsman and executed as a traitor.
The O Neills of Ulster were a fiercely proud, sometimes arrogant clan. Although their royal dynasty is long gone, their fame still lives on in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where O Neills fought in the armies of Spain, Austria and the Netherlands. There were also distinguished O Neills in the Church and the arts. The wandering, blind harper, Arthur O Neill (1737-1816), is recorded as having said, “wherever an O Neill sits he is always the head of the table”. This Arthur was the rootstock from which has sprung some of the best in Irish traditional music.
Sir Niall O Neill (1658-90), the eldest son of Sir Hugh O Neill of Shane’s Castle at Antrim, of the Clandeboy family, had the dangerous assignment of stopping the first wave of King William’s troops crossing the Boyne at Rossnaree in 1690. He was fatally wounded and was later buried in Waterford. Shane O Neill was the last Gaelic Lord of Clanaboy. In 1740 he sailed for Lisbon in Portugal, and the aristocratic O Neill dynasty continues there to the present day. After his departure, the O Neill castle, Edenduffearrig in County Antrim, was renamed Shane’s Castle. Today, Raymond, 4th Lord O Neill of the English creation of 1868, lives there. An ancestor of his, Mary O Neill, married the Reverend Arthur Chichester, rector of Randalstown. Because these O Neills had died out in the male line, he adopted the illustrious surname, and the numerous descendants of Mary and Arthur have kept the name an active one in Irish public affairs. Shane’s Castle on the edge of Lough Neagh has suffered many vicissitudes. In the nineteenth century, Earl O Neill had almost completed the restoration of the splendid mansion designed by Nash, when it was destroyed by fire. Some say the fire was caused by Kathleen, the family banshee, who had been disturbed by the rebuilding. It was later burned again by Sinn Fein, with the irreparable loss of historical family papers. Raymond O Neill includes among his wide-ranging activities the preservation of steam trains; he runs a railway system on the estate at Shane’s Castle, which is open to the public. There is also a nature reserve, and the rebuilt conservatory houses a unique collection of camellias which, are over 100 years old. Lord O Neill is also chairman of the National Trust in Northern Ireland.
John O Neill, a member of the old Irish Parliament, supported Catholic emancipation. He was one of the delegates who, in 1789, went from the Irish Parliament to request George, Prince of Wales, to assume the regency. He was killed at the outbreak of the 1798 rising, while travelling home to help restore order to his Ulster homeland.
Terence O’Neill was born in September 1914 in London. He was the youngest son of Lady Annabel Hungerford Crewe-Milnes (daughter of the Marquess of Crewe) and Captain Arthur O’Neill of Shane’s Castle, Randalstown, Member of Parliament for Mid-Antrim at Westminster and the first MP to be killed in combat during World War I. Terence was only three months old when his father died. The family had assumed the surname O’Neill by royal licence in lieu of their original name Chichester, when in 1855 the Reverend William Chichester was raised to the peerage in 1868 as Baron O’ Neill of Shane’s Castle, Randalstown. The Chichesters trace their lineage to the name O’Neill through Mary Chichester, daughter of Henry O’Neill of Shane’s Castle. Terence grew up in London and was educated at West Downs School, Winchester and Eton College. He spent summer holidays in Ulster. Following school he spent a year in France and Germany and then worked in the City of London and Australia. In May 1940 he received a commission at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst and went on to serve in the Irish Guards during the Second World War, in which both of his brothers died. Like many other unionist politicians, the rank he held during the war would follow him into his political career, hence “Captain” Terence O’Neill. He was Prime Minister of Northern Ireland from 1963 to 1969, in which year he resigned. He made staunch efforts to reconcile unionists, nationalists and republicans. He was created a life peer in 1970, taking the title Lord O Neill of the Maine. He died in Hamshire in 1990.
Hugo O Neill, son of Jorge, whose family has been in Portugal since the eighteenth century, is officially recognized by the offices of arms throughout Europe as titular Prince and Count of Tyrone and Clanaboy, but he refuses to use this title. Hugo is, in fact, a Portuguese nobleman who prefers to use his Irish title, O Neill Buidhe of Clanaboy.
In the eighteenth century, a few O Neill women came to the fore. Eliza O Neill (1791-1872) was born in Drogheda, County Louth, where her father, an actor manager, encouraged her early acting career. When she appeared on the Dublin stage, her dramatic talents were immediately recognized. Soon afterwards she played Juliet at Covent Garden. Her beauty, splendid voice and versatility made her a favourite, and she earned an enormous salary during five very successful years. In 1819 she retired to marry William Wrixon, an Irish Member of Parliament from Mallow, County Cork. His uncle left him a fortune and he assumed his name, Becher. Later he was knighted and Lady Eliza Wrixon Becher’s many children married into the Munster gentry.
Early in the seventeenth century the O Neills, together with other leading Irish families, were pioneers in the exodus to America. They sailed with Leonard Calvert and began the settlement of Maryland, which became a haven for these early Irish and English Catholic settlers.
The O Neills had an abundance of Irish talent for drama. James O Neill (1849-1920) was only five when he left Kilkenny with his parents for America, where he became an outstanding actor. He played Edmund Banton in The Count of Monte Cristo 6,000 times in twenty years, and was thus frustrated from developing his acting talent. He was the father of the great Irish-American dramatist, Eugene O Neill (1888-1953), who was born in New York. Having worked as an actor, gold prospector and seaman, to name but a few of his occupations, he began to write plays when he was confined to hospital with tuberculosis. He won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in the 1920s and the Nobel Prize for literature in 1936. He was very aware of his Gaelic heritage and many of his plays reflect this, particularly Long Day’s Journey into Night and Moon for the Misbegotten.
“Sweet Peggy O Neill” (1769-1879) almost caused the break-up of the United States. Daughter of a Washington tavern-keeper of Irish origin, she had beauty, wit and vivacity. Her second husband, John Henry Eaton, a Tennessee politician and member of the US Senate, was a close friend of President Jackson. In 1829, he appointed Eaton as Secretary of War. This sudden elevation of Sweet Peggy O Neill was bitterly resented by the other politicians and more so by their ladies, so Jackson was forced to reorganize his cabinet! Eaton became US Minister in Spain where Peggy was happily accepted and they were very successful. He died leaving her a wealthy widow, but she was tempted into a third marriage by a man who relieved her of her wealth. She spent the last years of her life in Washington in penury.
John O Neill (1834-78) from County Monaghan carried his nationalism with him when he emigrated to America. First he served with distinction in the army. Then he joined the Fenian Brotherhood in an abortive attack on British Canada, in the cause of Irish freedom. He survived and returned to civilian life to work for a company of land speculators. The chief town of Holt County is named after him.
Captain Francis O Neill (1848-1936) of Bantry, County Cork, became a senior official of the Chicago police at the beginning of the twentieth century. Encouraged by his mother, he listened to, and made notes on, the many traditional Irish singers living around Chicago. A fellow police officer, James O Neill from County Down, collaborated with him. Together they published a number of volumes of folk music and dances of Ireland. They left their great contribution to Irish musical heritage to the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Subsequent Irish folklorists have been enriched by their research.
Rose O Neill (1874-1944) was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Her father’s people were Irish, and he kept a bookstore and encouraged Rose in her writing and illustrating. She was the creator of the amazingly popular Kewpie (Cupid) doll, a forerunner of the Walt Disney industry. For 25 years, her “jolly little elves” disported themselves on the pages of Ladies Home Journal and other women’s magazines. The Kewpie doll image was used to decorate nurseries, wallpaper, fabrics, china, even radiator caps. She made a fortune, but was careless, and generous, with her money and ended up penniless.
Congressman Thomas P. O Neill was born in Boston in 1912. Under President Jimmy Carter he became Speaker of the House of Representatives. Known as “Tip” O Neill, he was regarded as one of the most powerful advocates of the Irish cause internationally. He died in 1994.
Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community was spearheaded by an O Neill. Sir Con O Neill (1912-88), who was born in London, went from Eton to Oxford to service in the Diplomatic Corps. When Britain was officially admitted to the EEC in 1973, part of the credit was due to Sir Con, who had headed the team that conducted the negotiations.
The story of the O Neills is a long and illustrious one. Perhaps the most appropriate quotation pertaining to the family is that of a fourteenth-century poet who said, “to compare any clan with that of the O Neills one may as well contend with the ocean”. Many other lines have been written in their honour, including the following relating to one of their chiefs
His Brehons around him – the blue heavens o’er him,
His true clan behind, and his broad lands before him,
While group’d far below him, on moor, and on heather,
His Tanists and chiefs are assembled together;
They give him a sword, and he swears to protect them;
A slender white wand, and he vows to direct them;
And then, in God’s sunshine, “O’NEILL” they all hail him:
Through life, unto death, ne’er to flinch from, or fail him;
And earth hath no spell that can shatter or sever
That bond from their true hearts – The Red Hand for Ever!
Proud lords of Tir-Owen! High Chiefs of Lough Neagh!
How broad-stretch’d the lands that were rul’d by your sway!
What eagle would venture to wing them right through,
But would droop on his pinion, o’er half ere he flew!
From the Hills of MacCartan, and waters that ran
Like Steeds down Glen Swilly, to soft-flowing Bann –
From Clannaboy’s heather to Carrick’s sea-shore
And Armagh of the Saints to the wild Innismore –
From the cave of the hunter on Tir-Connell’s hills
To the dells of Glenarm, all gushing with rills –
From Antrim’s bleak rocks to the woods of Rostrevor –
All echo’d your war-shout – `The Red Hand for Ever!’