The O’Neill family was
quite prevalent in Irish history for almost 700 years, until the end
of the 17th century. By the 14th century, it is thought that Ulster
O’Neills numbered 29,000.
They are descendants of
Niall of the Nine Hostages. After the death of King Niall Glúin Dubh (BlackKnee)
in 919 AD, his grandson Domnall became the first to use and adopt the
The surname Niáll means champion. The surname O'Neill is derived from
two Gaelic words, Uá Niáll, which means grandson of Niáll. It is also
the surname of one of the three most important Gaelic families, the
other two being, O’Brien and O’Conor.
The nickname creagh, derived from the Gaelic word craobh, meaning
branch, was one by which earlier O’Neills were known. This nickname
was given to them because they camouflaged themselves with greenery
when battling against the Norsemen near Limerick.
Ulster O’Neills divided into two main branches . The senior branch was
known as the Tyrone O’Neills and the newly formed branch was known as
Clan Aedh Buidhe (Clan of the Yellow haired Hugh) or Clanaboy. Each
branch had it’s own chieftain. "The O’Neill Mor" was head of the
Tyrone Clan and the Clanaboy Clan chieftain was known as "The O’Neill
Other lesser clans of O’Neills were also formed. They were the
O’Neills of the Fews, the O’Neills of Feevah, the O’Neills of Mayo
(who were actually descended from the Fews) , the O’Neills of Leinster,
the Cor O’Neills, the Leitrum O’Neills, the Meath O’Neills and the
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