1567 – Shane O’Neill’s army crosses the Swilly estuary at Farsetmore, and is defeated in a pitched battle by Hugh O’Donnell.

Many drown while trying to escape; O’Neill loses 1,300 men.

The Battle of Farsetmore was fought near Letterkenny in Co Donegal, on 8 May 1567, between the O’Neill and O’Donnell Túath. Shane O’Neill, chief of the O’Neills of Tyrone, was defeated by Aodh mac Maghnusa Ó Domhnaill (Hugh O’Donnell) and the O’Donnells freed themselves from O’Neill aspirations of ruling Ulster as its King.

‘If Elizabeth, your mistress, is Queen of England, I am O’Neill, King of Ulster; I never made peace with her without having been previously solicited to it by her. I am not ambitious for the abject title of Earl… I have gained that kingdom by my sword, and by the sword I will preserve it.’ –Shane O’Neill’s response to Queen Elizabeth’s message offering him an English title.

Shane O’Neill had, in the previous 20 years, eliminated his rivals within the O’Neills and asserted his authority over neighbouring clans (or “septs”) the MacDonnells in Antrim and O’Donnells in Donegal. In 1566, the English Lord Deputy of Ireland, Henry Sidney, gave military support to the O’Donnells against O’Neill, who was regarded as a destabilising and anti-English power in the north of Ireland. O’Neill forced out these English troops, but the new O’Donnell chieftain, Hugh O’Donnell, took the opportunity to assert his independence and raided O’Neill’s lands at Strabane. In response, O’Neill mustered his armed forces and marched into O’Donnell territory.

Photo: An artist’s impression of an O’Donnell gallowglass dispatching an O’Neill kern in the waters of the Swilly, with Glebe Hill in the background.

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