Mounted on the north wall of the chancel within the ruins of the Medieval Franciscan Friary in Baileys New Street in the heart of The Viking Triangle Waterford are a number of tombstones dating to the 16th – 17th centuries. The majority of these commemorate various members of local merchant families that lived within the city, with surnames such as Walsh, Wise, Lombard and Skiddy appearing. However one of the stones originally marked the burial place of an Ulsterman – “Sir Neal O’Neille, Barronet of Killilag”.
Neal O’Neille was tasked by James II with defending the fords of Rosnaree during the Battle of the Boyne, the fear being that the Williamite troops would cross the river there and so outflank the Jacobite army positioned to the south. Under his command he had a regiment of dragoons, regarded as being amongst the finest of the troops in James II’s army. A Williamite force consisting of cavalry and infantry units (numbering almost 7,000 troops) under the command of Meinhard (Count Schomberg) reached the ford at around 8.00 a.m. on July 1st 1690. O’Neill and his men initially repulsed them.
Schomberg’s artillery arrived after about an hour and tragedy soon struck for the defenders with O’Neill’s thigh being shattered by roundshot. O’Neill was carried from the field and the position was abandoned. Following the defeat of the Jacobite forces that day James II and his forces fled south, O’Neill making it to Waterford before succumbing to his injuries and being buried in the chancel of the Medieval Franciscan Friary. Ironically (considering that Huguenot troops fought on the Williamite side at the Battle of the Boyne) the same chancel would be granted to Huguenot refugees for their services in 1693.
Neal O’Neill’s coat of arms is carved at the top of the tombstone and is quite visible but the inscription (depending on the light) can be difficult to make out. Beneath the inscription there is a stylised skull and crossbones, a memento mori or reminder of death (literally: remember you must die). The inscription in full reads as follows: “HERE LYES THE BODY OF S. NEAL // O NEILLE BARRONET OF KILLILAG // IN THE COUNTY OF ANTRIM WHO // DYED THE 8th JULY IN THE YEAR // 1690 AT THE AGE OF 32 YEARS // AND 6 MONTHS HE MARRIED THE // SECOND DAUGHTER OF THE LORD // VISCOUNT MOLYNEVX OF SEFTON // IN LANCASHIRE IN ENGLAND
This story was contributed by James Barry, a tour guide in Reginald’s Tower. Reginald’s Tower is the first in a trinity of museums that make up Waterford Museum of Treasures. This remarkable landmark 12th century building is the only monument in Ireland named in honour of a Viking. Situated at the apex of the Viking Triangle it houses the treasures of Viking Waterford.