Altmore House

 

Altmore House

More recently, that is to say 400 years ago, the district and the Altmore House building itself was linked with some of the greatest of Irish Celtic chiefs, Hugh O’Neill, ruled his kingdom from Dungannon, six miles away. As a young man, Hugh had been trained in statecraft at the court of Queen Elizabeth I and , when he became Earl of Tyrone, he brought over to this country an English adviser called Henry Hovenden. Shortly after, Henry married Hugh’s sister and in exchange for his services and as his wife’s dowry received a large estate which extended for nearly three miles in the direction of Donaghmore . On this estate he built the original Altmore House. All this took place towards the end of the 16th Century. Hugh O’Neill had another faithful retainer in the person of James O’Sheale, a Leinster man and Captain of Irish horse during the Elizabethan Wars. (Elizabeth had become jealous of Hugh’s power and popularity) When at the end of these wars, Hugh went into exile in Rome (1607), Sheale was allowed to retain his lands in the Donaghmore area by the plantation commissioners as the Hovendens did in Altmore.

Another period of war ended in 1652. The Hovendens on this occasion had supported the losing side. Their lands were confiscated and Thomas Morris an English man was appointed by Cromwell as High Sherrif of Tyrone and given the estate and house at Altmore. The O’Sheale family continued at Donaghmore.

Not for long however, however, during the Williamite-Jacobite Wars of 1689-9 it was the turn of the O’Sheales’ to support the losing cause and Neil O’Sheil (spelling his name differently) then the head of the family, had to emigrate to France. Almost fifty years later, the name (again modified) cropped up once more in the district. A Catholic gentleman, Patrick Shields was appointed Keeper of Altmore Barracks. This was a post of considerable trust and how any Catholic gentleman would ever come by in those troubled times could only be explained by some extraordinary quirk of fate. This was how it happened:

Shields’ father had, contrary to the terms of his exile, returned to the land of his fathers for some reason unknown. He was bathing one day in the woods near to Lough Neagh when he saw a small boat with two young ladies on board suddenly capsize in a gust of wind. Forgetting his dangerous situation as an outlaw he swam to the wreck and brought the two ladies safely ashore. That was the start of a romance. Shields’ only punishment was the hand of one of the ladies in marriage. And who were these ladies? They were non less than the daughters of Thomas Morris of Altmore, the High Sheriff of Tyrone, a protestant English man whose duty it was to round up disturbers of the peace. It was through his good offices that young Patrick ultimately became keeper of the Altmore Barracks.