Ancestral Notes

My Family History blog

13th Ed. Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture – Irish Names – O’Neil



The surname of O’Neil is perhaps the earliest Patronym. It has been around since Niall Mor reigned almost 1600 years ago. He was perhaps one of the first Christians in Ireland, being converted from paganism by St. Patrick, who had been one of his hostages.

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.

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 surname O’Neill.

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 Buidhe”.

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 Ivowen O’Neills.

from Electric Scotland

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Filed under: Carnival of Irish Heritage and Culture, Carnivals, Genealogy, O'Neil/Neil, , ,

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