Born 1550 the Grandson of Conn O'Neill the first Earl of Tyrone. At the age of nine he became a ward of Giles Hovendon, an English settler in the Pale. He was educated in England an English noble. Here he learned the tactics of English warfare and the art of diplomacy.
In 1585 he became the Earl of Tyrone. For almost twenty years he served the English Crown and fought for the English in battles against his fellow Irishmen. For these acts he would never be fully trusted by his own people. He remained outwardly loyal to the crown but secretly built an army and gathered a large quantity of lead for ammuniation. He secretly trained his army in modern warfare and waited for his chance.
In 1593 he took the name 'O'Neill' in defiance of English law. In doing so he secured the allegiance of his fellow clans men but alienated him from his English past. O'Neill was now a traitor in the eyes of the English Crown. O'Neill fought in the nine years war and was instrumental in the early strategic success of the rebellion.
After the defeat of Kinsale and the eventual end of the war he signed the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603 a few days after Queen Elizabeth had died.
After plots were made against him and his fellow northern Earls they left Ireland forever in the epic journey known as the Flight of the Earls in 1607. Hugh O'Neill died in exile in Rome on the 20th July 1616.