History of The Clan MacShane
The origins of the modern Clan of McShane go directly back to the upheaval surrounding the efforts of King Henry VIII of England to establish the Kingdom of Ireland in the early-1500s. There were bands of families termed “mac Shane” at times in Irish history, but the only family group that evolved into a separate clan were the MacShanes of Tyrone established circa 1567.
The events that led to our clan becoming independent began in 1538 when Conn Bacach O’Neill, the King of Tir Eoghan, O’Neill Mor and chief of all three O’Neill septs in Ulster , and primary Prince of all Ulster (the north third of Ireland), took the side of his maternal 1st cousin, “Silken Thomas” the Anglo-Irish Fitzgerald Lord, titled the Earl of Kildare, in the Geraldine Rebellion . When it was suppressed the English king, Henry VIII, decided to impose more control over all the lords of Ireland, Anglo and Gaelic alike. Thus, Conn Bacach was given the choice of “surrender and regrant” of his Irish kingdom or face a continued English army in his territory.
In October of 1542 Conn sailed to England with the four other regional kings of Ireland and each in turn, surrendered their ancient title of King to Henry as Lord of Ireland, and took in return money, lands, plate and armor, and their old lands back but with the new English title of Earl. In the case of Conn, he asked for the much older and royal title of the earldom of Ulster. However, Henry VIII chose to disassociate the old Norman title from his own modern grant and made Conn the 1st Earl of Tyrone, changing the spelling from Tir Eoghain to Tyrone. Henry showered Conn with gifts, a grant of arms , some land outside of Dublin, and essentially all of Ulster as his earldom.
However, as a part of the deal, Conn was required to submit one son as a hostage to the English to be educated in either Dublin or London. That son would titled the Baron of Dungannon and would be the English pick to lead Ulster in the future. At the time, Conn had two legitimate sons and one older illegitimate son. He decided to keep his legitimate heirs out of English hands and submitted his natural son Mathew Kelly or in Gaelic “Ferdocha” as his heir.
Conn’s eldest legitimate son, Phelim, died that same year in a raid and his youngest son, Shane (anglicized as John) continued to live in Ulster at the castle of Dungannon and was later fostered to the Donnelly clan. Ferdocha left Ulster for English lands and spent the next decade outside Ulster.
This title swapping arrangement was considered a subjugation of Ulster and initially caused turmoil with the other O’Neill sub-clans in Ulster, but life continued relatively peacefully for about ten years. In that time, the English made much more progress within Ireland and thus had much more influence over events in Ulster than Conn had ever expected. The result was that Conn was blamed by his kin and clans for English practices and taxes. In time some of the more powerful families within Ulster convinced the young Shane that he had every right to assert himself as the Lord of the Ulster. In 1555 that is exactly what happened.
Shane, who had now picked up the moniker “an Diomas” or the Proud, went into rebellion against his father, his half-brother, and the English. Many of the clans joined his banner, and within a year, Conn Bacach and Ferdocha were pushed out of Ulster. They did have a small army that was backed by the English soldiers and for three years the two sides fought running battles across the north of Ireland with Shane beginning to get the upper hand against his father and English.
In 1558 Ferdocha was killed by Shane’s men in a battle, and in 1559 , Conn Bacach died in Dublin and though the English moved quickly to recognize Ferdocha’s heir, Shane turned on Dublin and began a multi-year campaign to burn, destroy, and kill anyone associated with the English as far south as he could ride. Further, he began to raise an Army in Scotland, through his MacLean and MacDonnell connections, to do the same across the Irish Sea.
In 1560 Queen Elizabeth had enough of war. She paid for Shane and his party to sail to London and make a token submission. In London, the Queen lavished him and his 100 warriors and courtiers for four months. During that time, Shane learned that the Queen was going to secret his rival cousin to London and pit the two against each other at court to lessen Shane’s case. Another cousin of Shane’s caught Brian MacBaron traveling with a small band to Dublin and the entire group was put to the sword; Shane was the only heir to the O’Neill crown.
Shane won everything he came for. The Queen forgave his rebellion, granted him the title “Lord O’Neill” with the promise of making him the 2nd Earl of Tyrone, and patented all the lands of his father and the overlordship of all Ulster. He received all of Ulster as his fief, the removal of all English troops garrisoned there, overlordship of all the clans in Ulster, money, a grant of arms , but most importantly the Queen agreed to recognize him as The O’Neill Mor, a much more ancient and respected title in Ireland. In return Shane made a promise of peace in Ireland.
Shane returned to Ulster and dominated the politics in and out of Ireland for six years, referring to himself alternatively as “the Monarch of Ireland”, “Dux Hibernia”, and “the Prince of Ulster”. He married and annulled twice and had a number of children. He continued to have squabbles with the English Lord Lieutenant in Dublin, eventually requiring another peace treaty to be signed. In 1563, Shane agreed to the Treaty of Drumbow, which reiterated his absolute authority over all of the Ulster and his ability to govern in his own name. Shane had the Bible translated into Gaelic and imported the first printing press into Ireland. He upheld the position of the Catholic Church in Ulster and maintained independent relations and trade with the Kingdoms of Scotland, Spain, and France. Though an enlightened leader in some aspects of his reign, Shane also had a pension for making war on his vassal lords.
In 1567 he made the mistake of getting into a war with both his traditional enemy O’Donnell to the west and the Scottish MacDonalds to his east. In June he lost a particularly expensive battle against his former brother-in-law O’Donnell in terms of key fighting men and advisors. He traveled across Tyrone and across the Bann River into the Antrim glens, turning to the Scots to quickly settle an ongoing fight with them. He wanted their soldiers to help him against the O’Donnells. The negotiations went fine for a day or two; but on the third night, a row broke out and turned murderous. Shane was killed with most of his guards. He was hastily buried and the Scots quickly fled Ireland.
Shane’s wife, Countess Catherine MacLean and her children fled back across the Bann River and were given protection by the people living in the forests and valleys at the base of mountain, Slieve Gallion. That desperate meeting of Countess and kinsmen was the spark that became our clan; and from then on, those family groups that inhabited the large forest of Glenconkeyne were referred to as the “Clan of Shane” owning to the fact that they had helped Shanes’ widow and children escape their enemies. The Countess was the daughter of the Chief of the MacLeans and the clan secreted the family to the coast and returned to her native Scotland with her youngest children, raising them at the Court of her brother, the Lord of Duart. That assistance also cemented a permanent relationship between the members of Shane’s family and the somewhat removed members of the forest dwelling family.
The news of Shane’s death traveled fast and his enemies rejoiced. They quickly moved against his lands, rights, and family. Sir Turlough O’Neill from Strabane, and a cousin of Shane, became the O’Neill Mor; but at a much reduced level of power. As Shane had died before he was officially created the Earl of Tyrone, and was then attainted of his lands in 1568, his children lost all inheritance and any claim to all lands and title. Shane’s defeat was absolute.
Throughout the 1570s and into the early 1580s Ulster suffered under bad leadership and English incursions. Rival O’Neill factions battled against each other for control; including the various grandsons of Conn Bacach. The result was a war-torn, much depleted Tyrone. The eldest surviving son of Ferdocha O’Neill, Hugh Rua, fought for the English in Munster for a few years and then returned to Ulster to make an attempt to gain his grandfather and father’s estates back. He raised an Army and began to battle the Sir Turlough O’Neill and various other O’Neill septs. It was Hugh’s aim to claim his grandfather’s vacant title of Earl of Tyrone and the lands throughout Tyrone.
The year 1585 was one of the most formative of Clan McShane. That was the year that sons of Shane united to claim their inheritance and the year that Hugh Rua the new Baron of Dungannon, was made the 2nd Earl of Tyrone, essentially taking from the sons of Shane that same collective inheritance.
In reaction to the elevation of their cousin Hugh, nine sons of Shane O’Neill united in Scotland under the protection of Lochlan MacLean, their uncle. This confederation of Shane O’Neill’s sons by his various ex-wives was known collectively as and written by English and Irish observers alike as being the "MacShanes."
Once organized, the MacShanes invaded eastern Ulster with an army of 3000 Scots, quickly moving through the Antrim glens and across the Bann River into the mountains of eastern Tyrone. Civil war broke out between the MacShanes, Sir Turlough, and the newly minted Earl Hugh Rua O’Neill. The battles raged for five years with the MacShanes holding sway over Antrim, Glenconkeyne, Killetragh, and Slieve Gallion in eastern Tyrone. Sir Turlough held the west of Tyrone and Donegal, and the Earl held Dungannon and the south of Tyrone and Armagh. Hugh Rua had the support of England and received their official help, but the MacShanes were courted secretly by the English as well. In 1587 Hugh Rua was seated in Parliament as the 2nd Earl of Tyrone, his son as the 3rd Baron of Dungannon; and he was granted new arms and his traditional Ulster lands and estate . This infuriated the MacShanes and Sir Turlough, driving them into an alliance against the Earl and making the war that much worse.
In 1589, the leaders of each side went to London and made a case of who was supreme in Ulster before the privy council of Queen Elizabeth. They argued for months, but no deal could be brokered and the two sides returned to Ulster to resume the civil war. Not long after, disaster struck the MacShane as two of the brothers were captured by the Maguires and sold to the Earl Hugh and for a price. Ignoring all requests for clemency, the Earl Hugh hung Hugh Gaveloch and Edmond McShane by his own hand, as no other man was willing to kill so high born royal. The death of the brothers caused great turmoil across Ulster, but the MacShanes had faltered.
In 1590 Conn MacShane raised a group of O’Neill lords strong enough to have himself crowned The O’Neill Mor at Tullahogue, but within six months he’d been defeated by the Earl’s forces and made to recant his claim to being King of the O’Neills. That act cemented the power of the Earl over his rivals. He began to exert his authority over all of Ulster and eventually over all of Ireland. The MacShanes always laid claim to their grandfather’s estate throughout their lives but never recovered the Earldom. After many years of war, various MacShane brothers were granted Lordships throughout Ireland, and they were even made heirs of the title by the 3rd Earl in 1640, but the MacShanes were never able to return to being The O’Neills of Tyrone.
Conn MacShane was left as the leader of the MacShanes upon the death of his brothers. He had a son also named Hugh who had been living and fighting with the “Clan of Shane” in the forest over the time of the civil war and as the Earl pressed his consolidation, Conn and his family again took refuge with the clan in the forests along the Bann River. From the forest, Conn MacShane and his sons Hugh and Ever maintained an uneasy peace with the Earl Hugh, as he was the one who had killed three of his brothers, and imprisoned two more, eventually putting Conn himself in prison.
The Earl Hugh Rua’s independent rule eventually went awry with Queen Elizabeth and a declared war broke out for nearly nine years laying waste to much of Ireland. Finally, two days after her death in 1603, Hugh Rua, submitted for peace to the English. The war was so costly the English could not enforce articles and the earl went unpunished, but also left in charge of a much depleted earldom. The constant sniping and intrigue back and forth between the Earl and the new government of King James I caused the Hugh Rua more pain than he had imagined. Thus in 1607 he fled Ireland with his heirs, retainers, and family in an event that is now known as “The Flight of the Earls”.
Back in Ulster, Conn and Hugh MacShane capitalized on the departure of their cousin and the leadership vacuum it caused, the MacShanes became completely independent of any O’Neill sept bonds. Ulster underwent the “Plantation” of English and Scottish settlers and some Irish nobles were allowed to maintain lands. Conn MacShane was granted a large lordship in County Fermanagh called Clabby, his remaining brother in Armagh, and Hugh MacShane was granted lands north of Dungannon and took over the Lordship of the McShane clan’s entire region. During the early 1600s Hugh MacShane rose to be lord of three territories: Glenconkeyne, Killetra, and the Feeva, today Loughinshollin Barony, some of Antrim, and much of southeastern Tyrone.
Sometimes Hugh, also now known as MacShane, worked with the English, as in 1608 when he and his clan captured and handed over his rival O’Cahan chieftain for pardons and new land grants. And occasionally he worked against them, as in 1615 when he was one of the leaders of a rebellion that had as its goal, the capture of the English garrisons in Ulster and the release of all O’Neill hostages. Hugh MacShane and his clan became the unrivaled leaders of central Ulster well beyond his death in 1622, and prevented any significant Plantation of that part of Ulster for another twenty years. The English eventually declared him an outlaw, but left him alone in the forests. His father Conn MacShane died a very old man in 1630.
Then in 1641 the family was again in the spotlight when Ulster went back into rebellion. The fighting actually began on MacShane lands and soon cousins were pooring in from around Ireland, Flanders, France and Spain to fight. Eoghan Roe O’Neill, a nephew of the Earl Hugh Rua, and an officer with years of experience fighting in Flanders, returned to Ireland and assumed command of the Catholic Confederation and its Armies from his cousin Sir Phelim, whose father was a MacShane. The MacShanes fought next to their cousins from that point forward in various Ulster regiments. That rebellion evolved into the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell brought his New Model Army over from England and expanded the fight into Ireland.
The bitter war style of Cromwell united the MacShanes who firmly moved into the royal camp, with King Charles I and continued to fight through Ireland until the surrender of the Royal Army and the execution of King Charles. At the departure of Prince Charles of Wales, the now Captain Brian McHugh McShane was offered and took a commission in the Spanish Army and departed for the Continent and into exile, serving in Spain, Flanders, and France.
From 1650 to 1660 Captain Brian (now Don Bernardo) served in Irish regiments in service to the Spanish crown, and still acted as the Chief of the MacShanes. When King Charles II was restored to the throne of England in 1660, he gave many of the exiled the opportunity to go back to Ireland. Captain Brian McShane had some of his old lands restored to him, and he rejoined his family in Ulster. For a few decades, the McShanes lived in relative peace and spread out from their farms “Moneyneana” and “Moydamlagt” in their territory now called after the parish of Ballinascreen.
In the late 1680s, the King of England (James II) was embroiled in a civil war with his daughter and son-in-law. William of Orange invaded, with his wife Mary, at the request of Parliament. The second English Civil War ensued and eventually spread to Ireland where James II made a stand in 1689. The present Chief of the McShane-O’Neills was the son of Brian, and thus called Brian McShane Og of Ballinascreen. This Brian and his son Hugh Boy (the Fair) also took commissions in the King’s Army and served as a Captain and an Ensign in his cousin Cormac O’Neill’s regiment of Foot. Captain Brian fought in the all the major battles of the “Williamite” war as it was called, including the famous, Battle of the Boyne. Brian stayed with King James until the end through his loss and exile. Captain Brian Og McShane of Ballinascreen, and Ensign Hugh “Boy” O’Neill were both attainted in 1693 as Jacobites and lost all lands. Brian Og’s son-in-law also went into exile with the King to France as a soldier and helped form the famous “Wild Geese” Irish regiment in France. Colonel Brian Og McShane served in the Irish Regiment of France until his death in 1708.
By the year 1700 the family was in a state of flux. The newly enacted Penal Laws which were meant to separate the old Irish nobility from their lands and destroy their hold over the Ireland was eroding any in the ‘old order’ ability to adjust. At that point it was dangerous to even have a Gaelic last name, so the grandsons of Shane an Diomas were laying low so as not to be thrown in jail. In doing so, the new chief, Hugh Boy, was able to get some of the lands back in Ballinascreen, and he survived into the early 1700s as a quiet farmer. His son Owen McShane, was the first to introduce the name Johnson or the English translation of MacShane as a last name. Maintaining a dual use of MacShane and Johnson allowed him to stay on the Ballinascreen property through his death in the 1740s. Owen’s son Neal “Clochna” McShane further camouflaged the family using the last name to Johnson throughout the 1700s and holding different properties at the same time . “Clochna” moved to the neighboring property of Desertmartin mid-century. Whether that was due to economics or law, they lived on the mountain of Slieve Gallion for two generations.
The poor economic conditions for the small Catholic farmer of Ulster caused groups of McShanes to spread out into Donegal, and Armagh looking of new lands. The new Chief, James MacNeill McShane held his father’s lands and passed them off this his four sons. But in 1819 the brothers were involved in a row with the British Army and two were removed and their lands lost. Their brother, Patrick McShane/Johnson, moved the family back to the ancestral farms of Moneyneana and Carnamoney returning the family to Ballinascreen.
The Industrial Revolution significantly affected the clan and as farms became smaller for every generation, and many chose to leave our glens for factory work in the cities. The result was that by 1850, there were branches of Conn MacShane’s original family spread across Ulster in Strabane, Belfast, and Crossmaglen. Even more had left for places like Glasgow, Scotland, Hobart, Australia, and the coal fields of Pennsylvania, USA. Though very difficult in those times, the chief’s family stayed connected to Ballinascreen over the centuries and maintained the lineage by sending letters, money, siblings, and even tombstones back and forth from country to country. The leadership of the clan continued to pass between the grandsons of Patrick McShane/Johnson. Bernard Johnson served as the Chief as did his son from 1839 to 1904 in Ireland. His cousin Norbert McShane of Broadmarsh, Tasmania then served as the Chief until his death in 1948. It then passed to he and Bernard’s cousin, James Johnson of Pennsylvania, where it remains to this date.
Proudly, the clan has stayed united and slowly rebuilt its holdings outside Draperstown, on the slopes of Slieve Gallion. Today, the McShanes still own and occupy the very lands their grandfathers ruled for more than 400 years, even still possessing the actual tract of land that is legally titled “TYRONE”, our ancestral home.
Known Resident McShane Parishes, Townlands and Villages
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Interesting Clan Facts
Various McShanes and Johnsons with titles - modern and historic
Notable McShanes & Johnsons
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