Lady Agnes Campbell lived from 1526 to 1601. Born into Scottish nobility, she went on to play a leading part in Irish resistance to English rule. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Lady Agnes Campbell was a younger daughter of Colin Campbell, 3rd Earl of Argyll and Lady Jean Gordon. She was probably born at the family seat at Inveraray Castle and grew up destined to become the wife of a Scottish noble. Her sister, Lady Elizabeth married James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, an illegitimate son of James IV, and Agnes herself helped form an alliance between the Campbells and the MacDonalds when she married James MacDonald of Dunyvaig and the Glens in 1545.
Links between western Scotland and Ireland were very strong during this period, and in 1565 James MacDonald died while being held prisoner by the Irish chieftain Shane O'Neill, who at the time supported the English.
In 1569 Lady Agnes went to Ireland to marry Turlough Luineach O'Neill, who had succeeded Shane O'Neill, taking with her a dowry of 1,200 Highland troops. Gaelic tradition allowed her to direct these troops herself, which she did, against English occupying forces. Lady Agnes proved herself a formidable leader. Before long she had become the power behind Turlough Luineach O'Neill and played an important role in the unsuccessful Second Desmond Rebellion against the English from 1579 to 1583. She became responsible for raising Scottish support for the rebellion and impressed those on the English side with whom she negotiated with her fluency in English and Latin. For the rest of her life, Lady Agnes worked with her daughter, Finola O'Donnell, to mobilise Scottish support for the Irish.