O'NEILL, Hon. John Bruce Richard (1780-1855), of Tullymore Lodge, co. Antrim

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1802 - 25 Mar. 1841

Family and Education

b. 30 Dec. 1780, 2nd s. of John, 1st Visct. O’Neill [I] (d. 1798), of Shane’s Castle, co. Antrim and Henrietta, da. and h. of Charles Boyle, Visct. Dungarvan, MP [I], 1st s. of John, 5th earl of Cork [I]. educ. Eton 1793. unm. suc. bro. as 3rd Visct. O’Neill [I] 25 Mar. 1841. d. 12 Feb. 1855.

Offices Held

Ensign 2 Ft. Gds. 1799, lt. and capt. 1800; capt. 18 Drag. 1804; maj. 19 Drag. 1807; lt.-col. Chasseurs Britanniques 1808; lt.-col. 19 Drag. 1810; brevet col. 1814; lt.-col. 2 Ft. Gds. 1816; maj.-gen. 1825; lt.-gen. 1838; gen. 1854.

Constable, Dublin Castle Apr. 1811-d.; vice-adm. Ulster.

Rep. peer [I] 1843-d.


O’Neill’s grandfather and father had both represented the family borough of Randalstown in the Irish Parliament, and the latter had subsequently sat for county Antrim before being raised to the peerage as Baron (1793) and Viscount O’Neill (1795). Killed during the Rebellion in 1798, he was succeeded by O’Neill’s elder brother Charles Henry St. John, who was given an Irish earldom at the time of the Union, became a representative peer in 1801 and was grand master of the Orange Order. It was on his interest that O’Neill had sat for Antrim since 1802.1 He was again returned at the general election of 1820, when nothing came of an expected challenge.2 An Irish placeman like his brother, he continued to give sporadic and silent support to the administration of Lord Liverpool, whose offer of a marquessate was declined by Lord O’Neill in July 1820.3 No trace of parliamentary activity has been found during the 1820 session, but he voted against censuring ministers’ conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. An Orangeman and sometime member of the committee of the grand lodge, he divided against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. 1821, and the Catholic peers bill, 30 Apr. 1822.4 He voted against more extensive tax reductions to relieve distress, 11 Feb. 1822, and repeal of the assessed taxes, 18 Mar. 1823. His brother failed in his application to ministers to have him appointed custos rotulorum of Antrim in 1822.5

O’Neill sided with opposition for information on the plot to murder the Irish lord lieutenant, 24 Mar. 1823, and was apparently ready to resign his place in order to vote for Brownlow’s intended motion on the use of ex-officio informations against the Orangemen implicated in the affair.6 That did not come to a division, but he voted for inquiry into the legal proceedings against the Dublin Orange rioters, 22 Apr. He presented the county Antrim anti-Catholic petition, 16 Apr., when he voted against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, and he paired against parliamentary reform, 24 Apr.7 On 3 Sept. 1823 Thomas Wallace I*, a junior minister, reported to John Herries* from Dublin that he had heard of a

serious representation made or to be made to Lord Liverpool by some of the Irish Members against the system of reform now happily proceeding in this country on the ground of its interfering with the patronage, the continuance of which in its full extent was a condition of their support in carrying the Union and threatening that if it is persisted in they will withdraw their assistance from government ... I am told too it is to be presented by Col. O’Neill ... Lord L. will know how to deal with it and with pretensions of such incomparable absurdity.8

He divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. He was promoted major-general in May, but in October 1825 ministers declined to promise a peerage to Lord O’Neill with a special remainder to him.9 Despite having apparently been inactive or absent during the 1826 session, O’Neill was returned for Antrim at the general election that year, when a contest was again avoided.10

He attended an Antrim county meeting to agree an address of condolence on the death of the duke of York, 6 Feb. 1827, and that month signed the Irish Protestants’ anti-Catholic petition. Bringing up the county’s anti-Catholic petition, 2 Mar., his colleague MacNaghten stated that he was absent through illness but supported its plea.11 He paired against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and complained about the unequal treatment accorded to Orange processions, 11 Apr.12 Lord O’Neill, who approved but did not follow the resignation of the anti-Catholics from Canning’s new government, again unsuccessfully applied to ministers for a promotion in the peerage as marquess of Ulster.13 Unless it was Augustus O’Neill, Member for Hull, O’Neill voted against the Coventry magistracy bill, 11 June 1827, and he may have divided for Fyler’s amendment in the committee on the Customs Acts which was carried with government support, 14 July 1828. He again voted against Catholic relief, 12 May. Offended by the curt refusal of the new prime minister, the duke of Wellington, to consider his renewed application for a peerage, Lord O’Neill hinted in August to Peel, the home secretary, that he might take the ‘most painful’ step of separating himself from government. Peel commented that ‘as he has a great name in the north of Ireland, I think his resignation would have a bad effect’, but Wellington would not relent.14 One of the vice-presidents of the Ulster Brunswick Club in September 1828, John O’Neill was elected president of the club at Ballymena and was the first signatory of its anti-Catholic petition, which was got up in January 1829.15 Listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as ‘opposed to the principle’ of ministers’ emancipation bill, he voted against them, 6 Mar. He apparently tendered his resignation, but this was refused by Wellington, who also turned a blind eye to Lord O’Neill’s hostile votes that session.16 He divided against the bill, 18, 27, 30 Mar., the related franchise bill, 19, 20 Mar., and to exclude Catholics from Parliament, 23 Mar. 1829.

O’Neill was granted one month’s sick leave, 5 Mar. 1830, and must have missed most or all of that session. He offered again at the dissolution in July, when his brother’s adroit switch of allegiance from Lord Hertford to Lord Donegall was considered enough to ensure his return with the latter’s son, Lord Belfast.17 Complaining that neither of the O’Neills had attended Parliament since the settlement of the Catholic question and that they had continued to stir up religious unrest in Ireland and were now opposing government in Antrim, Wellington ordered them both to be dismissed. Lord O’Neill, who was duly removed from his office as joint Irish postmaster-general, angrily rebutted these charges, stating that he had been commanded to attend his official duties in Dublin and that his brother had succumbed to gout at Cheltenham and so had also been unavoidably absent, but Wellington was unforgiving.18 However, partly because of the nature of O’Neill’s tenure as constable of Dublin Castle and the receipt of a report that he would support government, his removal was delayed pending any further vote with opposition.19 He was returned for county Antrim at the head of the poll after a contest, during which he confirmed that his inactivity had been caused by indisposition, and at a dinner in his honour in Belfast on 12 Oct. he promised to make up for it in the following session.20 Although he was counted as ‘pro-government’ in Pierce Mahony’s† analysis of the Irish elections, he was listed by ministers among the ‘violent Ultras’ and was absent from the division on the civil list which led to their resignation, 15 Nov. 1830. In February 1831 he signed the requisition for an Antrim county meeting against repeal of the Union.21

Aware of the need to maintain popularity in Belfast, he came round to supporting parliamentary reform and promised to support the Belfast and county petitions in its favour.22 He duly voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He offered on the basis of these votes at the ensuing general election, when another attack of gout nearly prevented him from being present, but he was elected unopposed.23 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and steadily for its details (pairing during August), and he paired for its passage, 21 Sept. He was disappointed in his aspirations for a coronation peerage that month, while his brother declined the offer of a marquessate, as it would not have had a special remainder to him, and the following month abstained on the reform bill in the Lords.24 Grey concluded that Lord O’Neill had ‘been gained by the enemy’, and Lord Anglesey, the viceroy, exclaimed ‘would to God that I could dispossess’ him, but he was eventually confirmed as lord lieutenant of Antrim that autumn.25 O’Neill paired for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and voted for schedules A and B, 20, 23 Jan., against giving the vote to all £10 ratepayers, 3 Feb., and for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. His only other known votes that session were with government for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., and against the production of papers on Portugal, 9 Feb. He presented three petitions against the ministerial plan of national education in Ireland, 23 Mar., and in his absence on account of ill health, Lord Belfast brought up two more in favour of the Kildare Place Society, 18 Apr. 1832.26

That month, when he applied to ministers for a military or colonial position, the duke of Richmond commented that ‘he is a real Irishman and expects a reward’ and that Lord O’Neill ‘only supported the government to secure either a peerage or employment for his brother’; nothing came of it.27 In an address dated 1 Oct. he stated that he had supported reform because ‘it was the only means of averting that general disorder which menaced England at that moment’, but he distanced himself from government and, explaining that his recent absences were caused by a family tragedy, he was elected as a Conservative for county Antrim after a contest at the general election in December 1832.28 He sat until he succeeded to his brother’s viscountcy and Antrim estates in 1841.29 The last of the celebrated line of the O’Neills, he died in February 1855, when his titles became extinct.30 He was succeeded by his second cousin twice removed (the nephew of Sir Arthur Chichester*), the Rev. William Chichester (1813-83), prebend of Christ Church, Dublin, who changed his name to O’Neill and was created Baron O’Neill [UK] in 1868. His eldest son Edward (1839-1928) was Conservative Member for Antrim, 1863-80.31

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Hist. Irish Parl. v. 406, 408-11; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 691.
  • 2. Eg. 3261, ff. 51, 57; Belfast News Letter, 24 Mar. 1820.
  • 3. Black Bk. (1823), 180; Add. 38283, f. 198; 38289, f. 269; 40296, ff. 45-46.
  • 4. PRO NI, Leslie mss MIC606/3/J/7/21/4.
  • 5. Add. 37299, f. 271; 40347, f. 303.
  • 6. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 446.
  • 7. The Times, 17 Apr. 1823.
  • 8. Add. 57401, f. 149.
  • 9. Add. 40382, ff. 102, 104.
  • 10. Belfast Commercial Chron. 21 June 1826.
  • 11. Add. 40392, f. 5; Belfast News Letter, 9 Feb., 16 Mar. 1827.
  • 12. The Times, 12 Apr. 1827.
  • 13. Add. 40393, f. 231; PRO NI, Hill mss D642/A/13/8-11.
  • 14. Add. 40397, ff. 226, 248; Wellington mss WP1/947/31; 950/14; 984/7.
  • 15. Belfast Guardian, 30 Sept.; Belfast News Letter, 24 Oct. 1828, 2, 9, 30 Jan. 1829.
  • 16. G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 174
  • 17. Belfast News Letter, 9 July 1830; Eg. 3261, f. 248.
  • 18. Wellington mss WP1/1126/31; 1131/20, 31; 1133/32, 40; 1134/13, 14; 1135/2; 1137/21, 34, 51; 1138/62; Add. 40388, ff. 241, 256; 40401, ff. 91, 93, 94, 96, 115, 118, 123, 143.
  • 19. Wellington mss WP1/1140/28; Add. 40313, f. 45.
  • 20. Belfast News Letter, 13, 17 Aug., 15 Oct. 1830.
  • 21. Ibid. 11 Feb. 1831.
  • 22. Ibid. 25 Mar., 26 Apr. 1831; PRO NI, Emerson Tennent mss D2922/C/1/3.
  • 23. Belfast News Letter, 29 Apr., 24 May 1831.
  • 24. W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss, Richmond to O’Neill, 11 Sept., to Lord O’Neill, 11, 25 Sept., to Grey, 25 Sept. 1831; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 233-4.
  • 25. Derby mss 920 Der (14) 117/5, Grey to Smith Stanley, 18 Sept.; 119/1/2, Anglesey to same, 18 Sept. 1831.
  • 26. Belfast Commercial Chron. 24 Apr. 1832.
  • 27. Goodwood mss, Richmond to Grey, 21 Apr., to Goderich, 23 Apr. 1832.
  • 28. Belfast News Letter, 5 Oct., 28 Dec. 1832, 4 Jan. 1833.
  • 29. Gent. Mag. (1841), i. 535.
  • 30. The Times, 14 Feb.; Belfast News Letter, 14 Feb. 1855; Gent. Mag. (1855), i. 521-2.
  • 31. DNB; Oxford DNB.