Niall of the Nine Hostages

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Niall of the Nine Hostages (Irish: Niall Noigíallach) was a High King of Ireland who was active in the early-to-mid 5th century, dying - according to the latest estimates - around 450-455. He is said to have made raids on the coastlines of Britannia and Gaul: according to some hagiographical sources, he is said to have kidnapped Saint Patrick and brought him to Ireland as a boy during these raids.

The fourth and youngest son of Eochaid Mugmedon, an Irish High King, and Cairenn, the enslaved daughter of a British king, he was the eponymous ancestor, through his sons Conall Gulban, Endae, Eogan, Coirpre, Lóegaire, Maine of Tethba, Conall Cremthainne and Fiachu Fiachrach, of the Uí Néill dynasties.


[edit] Sources

The sources for the details of Niall's life are genealogies of historical kings; the "Roll of Kings" section of the Lebor Gabála Érenn; Irish annals such as the Annals of the Four Masters and chronicles such as Seathrún Céitinn's Foras Feasa ar Éirinn; and legendary tales like The Adventure of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon and The Death of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

[edit] Early life

According to legend, Niall was the son of the High King Eochaid Mugmedon and his second wife, Cairenn, daughter of Sachell Balb, king of Britain in the year 385. When Cairenn became pregnant, Eochaid's first wife, Mongfind, was consumed with jealousy and made Cairenn do heavy work in the hope of forcing her to miscarry. Out of fear of Mongfind, Cairenn exposed her baby, but he was rescued and fostered by Torna the poet. Niall returned to Tara as an adult and rescued his mother from the heavy labour Mongfind had imposed on her.

Mongfind demanded that Eochaid name a successor, hoping it would be one of her sons. Eochaid gave the task to a druid, Sithchenn, who devised a contest between the brothers, shutting them in a burning forge, telling them to save what they could, and judging them based on the objects with which they emerged. Niall, who emerged carrying an anvil, was deemed greater than Brion, with a sledgehammer, Fiachrae with bellows and a pail of beer, Ailill with a chest of weapons, and Fergus with a bundle of wood. Mongfind refused to accept the decision.

Sithchenn made the five brothers weapons and they went out hunting. Each brother in turn went looking for water, and found a well guarded by a hideous hag who demanded a kiss in return for water. Fergus and Ailill refused and returned empty-handed. Fiachra gave her a peck, but not enough to satisfy her. Only Niall kissed her properly, and she was revealed as a beautiful maiden, the Sovereignty of Ireland. She granted Niall not only water but the kingship for many generations. Fiachra was granted a minor royal line. After that, Mongfind's sons deferred to Niall.

This "loathly lady" motif appears in myth and folklore throughout the world. Variations of this story are told of the earlier Irish High Kings Lugaid Laigde and Conn Cétchathach, and recur in Arthurian legend. One of the most famous versions appears in both Geoffrey Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Tale and the related Gawain romance, The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell. The "loathly lady" theme can also be found in the stories of Percival and the Holy Grail.

Another tale tells of Mongfind's attempt to poison Niall; she died after accidentally taking the poison herself.

[edit] King and High King

There are various versions of how Niall gained his epithet Noígiallach. The oldest is that he took a hostage from each of the nine tuatha or petty kingdoms of the Airgialla. The later, better known story is that he took a hostage from each of the five provinces of Ireland (Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Meath), and one each from the Scots, Saxons, Britons, and French (or one each from Dál Riata, Caledonia, Strathclyde and Northumbria).

Irish sources describe Niall's expeditions to Britain and France, and his reign, as given in the Irish Annals, is roughly contemporaneous with the foundation of Dál Riata in Scotland by Irish migrants and the raids by "Scots" on late Roman and sub-Roman Britain.

[edit] Niall and Saint Patrick

According to later tradition, during one of his many raids on Britain, Niall captured the future Saint Patrick and brought him in bondage to Ireland. Many years later Patrick succeeded in escaping to Britain, but he eventually returned to Ireland and played an important early role in the conversion of the Irish to Christianity.

[edit] Death

The Year for Niall's death is about 450 or 455. There are various traditions regarding the circumstances of his death. The earliest has him dying at sea in the English Channel, at the hands of the Leinster king Eochaid mac Enna, as he was attempting a raid on Armorica (modern Brittany) in Roman Gaul. Other sources say he died in battle against the Picts in Scotland, or even in the Alps. All traditions agree that he died outside of Ireland. According to legend his followers carried his body back to Ireland, fighting seven battles along the way, and whenever they carried Niall's body before them they were unbeatable. The graveyard of St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Eskaheen, Inishowen, bears a plaque laying claim to be the burial site of Niall of the Nine Hostages. No particular grave is specified.

[edit] Descendants

The Northern and Southern Uí Néill dynasties, which provided most of the High Kings for centuries, descended from Niall. Other famous descendants include Saint Columba, Niall's great-great grandson and later kings of Scotland.

In January 2006, scientists suggested that Niall may have been the most fecund male in Irish history, and second only to Genghis Khan worldwide. In northwest Ireland as many as one-fifth of men have a common Y chromosome haplotype that lies within the haplogroup R1b.

This haplotype was shown to be especially common among family names which claim a descent from Niall, e.g. O'Neill, McNeal, McNiall. [1]

Up to 20% in some regions are thought to be descended from Niall[2]

The profile (also see Genetic Results List):


[edit] Family tree

                Conn Cétchathach
                 Art mac Cuinn
                Cormac mac Airt
               Cairbre Lifechair
               Fiachu Sraibtine
               Muiredach Tirech
               Eochaid Mugmedon
          + Mongfind        + Cairenn
             |                  |
    _________|_________         |
    |        |        |         |
    |        |        |         |
  Brion  Fiachrae  Ailill     Niall
      (The Connachta)           |
      |          |       |             |           |        |             |            |
      |          |       |             |           |        |             |            |
Conall Gulban  Endae   Eogan        Coirpre    Lóegaire  Maine  Conall Cremthainne  Fiachu
                         |             |           |              ________|________
                         |             |           |              |               |
                    Muirdeach     Cormac Caech  Lughaid     Fergus Cerrbel       Ardgal
                         |             |                          |
                         |             |                          |
                  Muirchertach      Tuathal      Diarmait mac Cerbaill
                    mac Ercae     Maelgarb 
                   (d.536)   (d.544)             (d.565)
      (Northern Uí Néill)                         (Southern Uí Néill)
Preceded by:
Crimthann mac Fidaig
High King of Ireland
AFM 377-405
FFE 368-395
Succeeded by:

[edit] Sources

Niall of the Nine Hostages

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