O'Neill, Turlough Luineach (c.1530–1595), Gaelic lord, was son of Niall Connallach O'Neill (d. 1544), the son of the previous O'Neill (Art Óg) and tánaiste to Conn Bachach O'Neill (qv), and Niall's wife Rose, sister of Manus O'Donnell (qv). Turlough Luineach was born into one of the most senior branches of the O'Neill dynasty, whose power was concentrated on the north-western region of Tír Eoghain, centring on Strabane. Sent to fosterage with a minor dependent family of the O'Neills, the Lunneys (Uí Luinigh, from which his sobriquet is derived), Turlough's early life is obscure. But he appears to have had little difficulty in defending his father's position, for by the later 1540s he had asserted his claim as the principal leader of the O'Neills in the north-west, building a formidable castle at Strabane as a defence against, and a challenge to, the O'Donnell castle at Lifford. His position among the O'Neills as a whole was strengthened during the violent internecine war of the early 1550s, though he himself later claimed to have suffered grievously at the hands of Conn Bacach during this period. But when Shane O'Neill eventually established his authority, he was sufficiently impressed by Turlough's rising influence to nominate him as tánaiste. It is possible that it was while acting in this capacity in April 1562 that he attacked and killed Brian O'Neill (qv), the young baron of Dungannon, who had just been summoned to court to undermine Shane's negotiations regarding the earldom of Tyrone. But it is equally possible that the killing was an independent démarche, as Turlough was rumoured to have had himself formally proclaimed O'Neill at Tullahogue. After Shane's hasty return to Tír Eoghain in May, Turlough, at any rate, became silent, though the viceroy, the earl of Sussex (qv), continued to believe throughout 1562–3 that he had secured his support in any further campaign against Shane. Not till 1567, after Shane's disastrous defeat at Farsetmore (8 May), did Turlough again emerge as a rival, and on Shane's death (June) Turlough succeeded finally in laying claim to the title of O'Neill.
Turlough's claim was greeted with no initial alarm at Dublin. The lord deputy, Henry Sidney (qv), believed that he lacked sufficient authority to maintain control over all of the O'Neills, and suggested that he would be readily satisfied by being made a baron, and by receiving recognition of his lordship over his family's traditional vassals in the north-west. The indecision displayed by the English privy council over the twelve months, its reneging on promises of recognition, and its perceived encouragement of his rivals, induced Turlough to adopt a highly ambitious strategy rapidly to extend his influence among the O'Neills. This strategy had several components. One was an attempt to weaken the O'Neills east of the Sperrins by entering into alliances with lesser families in Ulster, notably MacQuillan and Magennis. More important was an alliance with the current O'Donnell, Hugh O'Donnell (qv), who was equally disappointed with the promises of the crown and equally vulnerable to challenge in his own lordship. But most important of all was his alliance not only with the MacDonnells in east Ulster and their relations in the Western Isles, but through them with the powerful house of Argyll, which was finally consolidated in February 1569 in his hugely significant engagement (solemnised by marriage in June) to Agnes Campbell (qv), aunt of the current earl of Argyll and widow of James, late chief of the MacDonalds, which gave him immediate access to thousands of available Scottish mercenaries.
Thus when the recently returned Sidney reopened negotiations in the autumn of 1568, he found Turlough's attitude greatly changed. O'Neill agreed to accept the settlement of young O'Neill (qv), the baron of Dungannon, into a modest holding on the south-eastern shore of Lough Neagh, and to guarantee his safety. But the talks achieved little more. And thereafter Turlough's activities became the subject of increasing suspicion in Dublin. It was, for example, strongly believed in Dublin that he was secretly involved in supporting the rebels in Munster in 1569. But while Turlough did little to appease such rumours, they had little foundation in reality.
It is unlikely also that O'Neill was deeply exercised about the small colonial experiment inaugurated in the Ards peninsula by the English secretary of state, Sir Thomas Smith (qv), through his son Thomas (qv) in the autumn of 1572. In keeping with his concern to keep the families of east Ulster in alliance, he expressed grave apprehensions about its intent, and refused all cooperation. Far more serious than this abortive experiment was the ‘enterprise of Ulster’ launched in 1573 by Walter Devereux (qv), 1st earl of Essex, and toward Essex O'Neill was from the beginning overtly hostile, fomenting fear among the Gaelic Irish of east Ulster and promising to come to their aid should Essex seek to destroy them. O'Neill's conduct drove Essex to attempt to make open war against him. But while he raided Tír Eoghain in September 1574 and took some considerable spoil, he did little to damage Turlough's power.
In fact the Ulster colonial enterprises had inadvertently done much to shore up Turlough Luineach's unsteady position as O'Neill. Though of considerable advantage on occasion, the dowry of Scots mercenaries inevitably obliged Turlough to impose a substantial burden on his subjects in Tír Eoghain and on his allies in Ulster as a whole, which from the time of his marriage alliance into the early 1570s produced repeated defections among his followers, gloatingly reported on by the Dublin government. Dissatisfaction with the arriviste Turlough was perhaps also accentuated by a sense of his personal fragility. It took him many months to recover from an accidental shooting ( by his jester) at his wedding festivities, and his heavy drinking was beginning to become notorious, In this context the colonial initiatives of the early 1570s were a singular boon to O'Neill, enabling him to pose as the leader of the native families’ defence against the invader. The damage done by Essex's assaults was, therefore, more than compensated for by a greater willingness among the O'Neills and the other families to support Turlough and his Scots.
At the same time it is clear that, like his predecessor Shane, Turlough was anxious to escape from dependence on Scottish military force by securing a permanent settlement with the crown. Even in the early 1570s he had sought, in large part through the diplomacy of his wife, to keep channels of negotiation open with both Dublin and the court at Whitehall. Thus when the Essex enterprise was abandoned and Sidney was reappointed viceroy, a tortuous series of negotiations between September 1575 and May 1578 led to the recognition of Turlough Luineach's temporary authority among the O'Neills as a whole, his permanent authority over his traditional vassals in the north-west of Tír Eoghain, and his elevation to the peerage as earl of Clanconnell (for life) and baron of Clogher ( in perpetuity), in return for his agreement to reduce his Scottish forces and his acceptance of the autonomy of other powers among the O'Neills. Though a patent embodying these agreements was drawn up it was not enrolled, and the momentum was lost following Sidney's recall in 1578 and the outbreak of rebellion in Munster in the following year.
Turlough's frustration with this further delay may have contributed to his intrigues with the Munster rebels and to the generally threatening stance which he adopted toward the Dublin government in the early 1580s; and this perceived ‘insolence’ led similarly to a further loss of enthusiasm for a settlement in Dublin. But O'Neill's anxieties were further deepened by the steady increase in influence of one who had by this time become his principal rival in Tír Eoghain: Hugh, baron of Dungannon. Alternately conciliating Dungannon (by marriage with one of his daughters and recognising him as tánaiste) and threatening him, Turlough became increasingly jealous of Dungannon's unique influence with the Dublin government, and was thoroughly alarmed to discover, on waking from an alcohol-induced coma in June 1583, that Dungannon, thinking him dead, had sought to have himself proclaimed O'Neill at Tullahogue. In the autumn of 1584 the attempt of the sons of Shane O'Neill to reclaim authority in Tír Eoghain, by means of a massive force of Scots, necessitated an alliance of expedience between the two rivals, and Turlough's sense of his diminishing influence is registered in his agreement that Dungannon should have the governance of all of the lordship east of the Sperrins in return for an annual tribute.
It was in these circumstances that when in September 1584 the new viceroy, Sir John Perrot (qv), commenced his tour of Ulster, Turlough came to him without conditions and sued for a renewal of the Sidney agreement. Perrot was sympathetic (as was Secretary Walsingham). Under his proposed treaty (August 1585) O'Neill, as earl of Omagh, and his heir Art, as baron of Strabane, were to retain the family's traditional regional influence, and to enjoy a rent from Dungannon (now earl of Tyrone) for his surrender of his claims over the rest of the O'Neills for seven years – a period within which, Perrot surmised, the dissolute Turlough would surely have expired. But Tyrone successfully conducted a campaign of delay and obstruction, and by the spring of 1588 the rivals were in a state of open war. At first Turlough showed that he was still more than a spent force. An alliance with Niall Garbh O'Donnell (qv) and other O'Donnells hostile to Tyrone's Tír Conaill allies enabled him to deliver a surprise blow to Tyrone at Carricklea (1 May 1588), and a later alliance with Sorley Boy MacDonnell (qv) further consolidated his position. The election of Tyrone's son-in-law Aodh Ruadh Ó Domhnaill, ‘Red’ Hugh O'Donnell (qv), as the O'Donnell in April 1592, however, severely weakened Turlough in the west, and a pincer movement launched by Tyrone and O'Donnell forced him in May 1593 to surrender all rights of lordship in Tír Eoghain in exchange for a pension of £2,000 and a guarantee of his personal estate, and his retention for life of the title O'Neill. Turlough attempted unsuccessfully to exploit the opportunities of the outbreak of rebellion in Ulster in the following year, and by early 1595 he was actively seeking political asylum in Dublin. An attempt at escape in June through an English ship, the Poppinjay, was frustrated by Tyrone, and he was forced to seek sanctuary in the ancient church at Ardstraw, where he died in the following September.
In his long though tenuous term as O'Neill, Turlough Luineach repeatedly represented the dilemma of each of his predecessors as O'Neill since the 1530s and his immediate successor, Hugh: that is, the impossibility of attempting to manipulate simultaneously three forces whose consistency, strength, and sheer ability to carry out their own intentions could never be relied on for long – his own dynastic and regional vassals, the Scots, and the English administration in Dublin. He was survived by his one legitimate son, Art. A pen-and-ink sketch by Barnabe Googe (qv), ‘rudely drawn but greatly resembling him’, survives in State Papers Ireland (TNA (PRO, London), SP 63/45/60, ii).