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NIALL MOR, Niall of the Nine Hostages

NIALL MOR. NIALL of the Nine Hostages. (Neill). [see CHART A6]. King of Ireland and Tara. He was the ancestor of the Uí Neill, and his descendants were to dominate the Irish high kingship.

He was born (about 335 AD-S13)(probably about 350AD). He was the son of Eochaid Mugmedón mac Muiredach and Cairenn Chasdubh. (S5,S6,S7,S11).

Niall is called in Irish Ard-rí na h'Éireann Niall Noígiallach mac Echach Uí Éremóin, High King of Ireland Nial of the Nine Hostages son of Echach (Eochaid) the Heremon. He is also called Niall Mor, Nial the Great.

There are various versions of how Niall gained his epithet Noígíallach.

He was called Niall of the Nine Hostages from the hostages taken from the nine counties which he subdued and made tributary to him, viz., Munster, Leinster, Connacht, Ulster, the Britons, the Picts, the Saxons and the Morini, a people of Gaul towards Calais and Picardy.(S4).

The saga "The Death of Niall of the Nine Hostages" says that he received five hostages from the five provinces of Ireland (Ulster, Connacht, Leinster, Munster and Meath), and one each from Scotland, the Saxons, the Britons and the Franks. Keating says that he received five from the five provinces of Ireland, and four from Scotland. O'Rahilly suggests that the nine hostages were from the kingdom of the Airgialla (literally "hostage-givers"), a satellite state founded by the Ui Néill's conquests in Ulster, noting that the early Irish legal text Lebor na gCeart ("The Book of Rights") says that the only duty of the Airgialla to the King of Ireland was to give him nine hostages. (S11).

The sources for 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, chronicles such as Geoffrey Keating'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".

A legendary account of Niall's birth and early life is given in the 11th century saga Echtra mac nEchach Muimedóin ("The adventure of the sons of Eochaid Mugmedón"). In it, Eochaid Mugmedón, the High King of Ireland, has five sons, four, Brión, Ailill, Fiachrae and Fergus, by his first wife Mongfind, sister of the king of Munster, Crimthann mac Fidaig, and a fifth, Niall, by his second wife Cairenn Chasdub, daughter of Sachell Balb, king of the Saxons. While Cairenn is pregnant with Niall, the jealous Mongfind forces her to do heavy work, hoping to make her miscarry. She gives birth as she is drawing water, but out of fear of Mongfind, she leaves the child on the ground, exposed to the birds. The baby is rescued and brought up by a poet called Torna. When Niall grows up he returns to Tara and rescues his mother from her labour. (S11).

Although it is anachronistic for Niall's mother to have been a Saxon, O'Rahilly argues that the name Cairenn is derived from the Latin name Carina, and that it is plausible that she might have been a Romano-Briton. Indeed, Keating describes her not as a Saxon but as the "daughter of the king of Britain". Mongfind appears to have been a supernatural personage: the saga "The Death of Crimthann mac Fidaig" says the festival of Samhain was commonly called the "Festival of Mongfind", and prayers were offered to her on Samhain eve. (S11).

He was a stout, wise, and warlike prince, fortunate in all his conquests and achievements and therefore called "Great". (S4). He was described with these physical characteristics: hair as "yellow as the primrose."(S5).

Seeing Niall's popularity among the nobles, Mongfind demands that Eochaid name a successor, hoping it will be one of her sons. Eochaid gives the task to a druid, Sithchenn, who devises a contest between the brothers, shutting them in a burning forge, telling them to save what they can, and judging them based on which objects they choose to save. Niall, who emerges carrying an anvil, is deemed greater than Brión, 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 refuses to accept the decision. (S11).

Sithchenn takes the brothers to the smith, who makes them weapons, and sends them out hunting. Each brother in turn goes looking for water, and finds a well guarded by a hideous hag who demands a kiss in return for water. Fergus and Ailill refuse and return empty-handed. Fiachrae gives her a quick peck, but not enough to satisfy her. Only Niall kisses her properly, and she is revealed as a beautiful maiden, the Sovereignty of Ireland. She grants Niall not only water but her name, Alexi, and the kingship for many generations - twenty-six of his descendants will be High Kings of Ireland. Fiachrae is granted a minor royal line - two of his descendants, Nath Í and Ailill Molt, will be High Kings. (S11).

This "loathly lady" motif appears in myth and folklore throughout the world. Variations of this story are told of the earlier Irish high king Lugaid Loígde, 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 — and in John Gower's Middle English poem Confessio Amantis. (S11).

In another story, the succession is not settled when Eochaid dies, and Mongfind's brother Crimthann takes the high kingship. But while he is away on a tour of his lands in Scotland, Mongfind's sons seize Ireland. Crimthann returns to Ireland intending to give battle. Mongfind, purporting to make peace between her brother and her sons, holds a feast, at which she serves Crimthann a poisoned drink. Crimthann refuses to drink it unless she does too; they both drink, and both die. Niall succeeds to the High Kingship, and Brión becomes his second in command. Another version has Mongfind try to poison Niall, but she takes the poison herself by mistake. (S11).

While Niall is high king, his brothers establish themselves as local kings. Brión rules the province of Connacht, but Fiachrae makes war against him. Brión defeats Fiachrae and hands him over as a prisoner to Niall, but Fiachrae's son Nath Í continues the war and eventually kills Brión. Niall releases Fiachrae, who becomes king of Connacht and Niall's right hand man. Fiachrae and Ailill then make war against Crimthann's son Eochaid, king of Munster. They defeat him and win great spoil, but Fiachrae is wounded in the battle and dies of his wounds shortly afterwards. The Munstermen renew the battle, capture Ailill and cut him to pieces, and war continues between Munster and Connacht for many years. (S11).

Keating credits Niall with just two wives: Inne, daughter of Lugaid, who bore him one son, Fiachu; and Rignach, who bore him seven sons, Lóegaire, Éndae, Maine, Eógan, Conall Gulban, Conall Cremthainne and Coirpre. (S11-quoting Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn).

Note that other sources list more sons, but these may have been later creations at attempts to create family authenticity.

He married (1) Indíu ingen Lugdach Dál Fiatach (Inne-S11), daughter of rí Uladh Lugaid Lorc mac Áengusa Dál Fiatach.(S8). NOTE: The source A Descent from Adam (DfAdam) claims that she was Ine ingen Dubthaig, daughter of Dubthach mac Moindach, and that she was the mother of Eogan instead of Fiachu.(S3).

He married (2) Rígnach ingen Meadaib (Rioghnach), daughter of Meadaib mac Ros.(S9).

He became the High King (126th Monarch) of Ireland in 379AD. The Annals of the Four Masters 379, says: An céd-bhliadhain do Niall Naoighiallach, mac Eathach Moighmhedhoin, h-i righe n-Ereann.. (The first year of Niall of the Nine Hostages, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhoin, in the sovereignty of Ireland.) (S6).

He is sometimes credited, among his other hostages, with the capture of St. Patrick, along with his two sisters, during a during a raid along the coast of Britain.(S3). This is said to have occurred in 388 AD. (S13). Others give this credit to his son Lóegaire.

Chronicon Scotorum 384: "Niall of the Nine Hostages reigned twenty-seven years."(S10).

He died in 405AD. Niall was ambushed and shot by an arrow by Eocha (Eochaid), son of Enna Caennselaigh, King of Leinster, while in Gaul (France) in a ford of the river Leon (now called Lianne)(Loire-S1) that spot is now called the Ford of Niall near Boulogue-sur-mer. (S1,S3,S4).

Annals of the Four Masters 405 says: Iar m-beith seacht m-bliadhna fichet 'na righ ós Erinn do Niall Naoighiallach mac Eathach Moighmhedhoin, do-rochair la h-Eochaidh, mac Enna Cendsealaigh, occ Muir n-Iocht .i. an mhuir edir Franc & Saxain." . (After Niall of the Nine Hostages, son of Eochaidh Muighmheadhoin, had been twenty seven years in the sovereignty of Ireland, he was slain by Eochaidh, son of Enna Ceinnseallach, at Muir nIcht, i.e. the sea between France and England.).

Chronicon Scotorum 411 says: Niall of the Nine Hostages died, after being wounded by Eochaidh, son of Enna Cennsealach, at the Ictian Sea.

The Lebor Gabála Érenn says there was war between Niall and Énnae Cennsalach, king of Leinster, over the bórama or cow-tribute first imposed on Leinster by Tuathal Techtmar.[10] Énna's son Eochaid is named as Niall's killer in all sources, although the circumstances vary. All sources agree he died outside Ireland. The earliest version of the Lebor Gabála says Eochaid killed him on the English Channel, later versions adding that Niall was invading Brittany when this happened. Keating, quoting a Latin Life of Saint Patrick, says that Niall led Irish raids on Roman Britain, and in one of those raids Patrick and his sisters were abducted. Keating associates these raids with those mentioned by Gildas and Bede, and deduces that, since some Irish sources say Patrick was abducted from Brittany, that Niall's raids must have extended to continental Europe as well. (S11).

In the saga "The Death of Niall of the Nine Hostages", Eochaid's enmity with Niall begins when he is refused hospitality by Niall's poet, Laidcenn mac Bairchid. He makes war and destroys the poet's stronghold, killing his son Leat. (Keating has it that Laidchenn was a druid, and that Eochaid killed his son after he used defamatory language towards him). Laidchenn responds by satirising Leinster so that no corn, grass or leaves grow there for a year. Then Niall makes war against Leinster, and peace is concluded on the condition that Eochaid is handed over. Niall chains Eochaid to a standing stone, and sends nine warriors to execute him, but Eochaid breaks his chain and kills all nine of them with it. He then kills Laidchenn by throwing a stone which lodges in his forehead. Niall exiles him to Scotland. The story then becomes confused. Niall makes war in Europe as far as the Alps, and the Romans send an ambassador to parlay with him. Abruptly, the tale then has Niall appearing before an assembly of Pictish bards in Scotland, where he is killed by an arrow shot by Eochaid from the other side of the valley. Keating has Eochaid shoot Niall from the opposite bank of the river Loire during his European campaign. His men carry his body home, fighting seven battles on the way, and his foster-father Torna dies of grief. His body is said to have been buried at Ochann, now known as Faughan Hill at Jordanstown, a few miles west of Navan in County Meath. He is succeeded by his nephew Nath Í. (S11).

Byrne suggests that Niall's death took place during a raid on Roman Britain. Irish tradition had forgotten that the Romans once ruled Britain, and relocated his remembered confrontations with the Empire to continental Europe, with Alba, the ancient name for Britain, being confused with Elpa, the Alps, or being understood with its later meaning of Scotland.[4] A poem by the 11th-century poet Cináed Ua Hartacáin in the Book of Leinster credits Niall with seven raids on Britain, on the last of which he was killed by Eochaid "above the surf of the Ictian Sea"; a poem attributed to the same poet in Lebor na hUidre credits him with going to the Alps seven times. (S11).

His sons are the eponymous ancestors of the various Uí Néill dynasties: Eógan of the Cenél nEógain and Conall Gulban of the Cenél Conaill, making up the northern Uí Néill; Fiachu of the Cenél Fiachach dynasty, Lóegaire (the king who Saint Patrick is said to have converted) of the Cenél Lóegaire, Maine of the Uí Maine, Eógan of the Cenél nEógain, Conall Cremthainne of the Clann Cholmáin and the Síl nÁedo Sláine, and Coirpre of the Cenél Coirpri, making up the southern Uí Néill. (S11).

In January 2006, geneticists at Trinity College, Dublin suggested that Niall may have been the most fecund male in Irish history. The findings of the study showed that within the north-west of Ireland as many as 21% of men (8% in the general male population) were concluded to have a common male-line ancestor who lived roughly 1,700 years ago. The geneticists estimated that there are about 2-3 million males alive today who descend in the male-line from Niall. However, more recently some reservations have been expressed, as the subclade, which is defined by the presence of the marker R-M222, is found in a belt from Northern Ireland across southern Scotland and is not exclusively associated with the Uí Néill. It is now more commonly referred to as the Northwest Irish/Lowland Scots variety. (S11).

WIFE (1):
Inne ingen Lugaid. (S11). Indiu ingen Lugdach Dal Fiatach.
Daughter of rí Uladh Lugaid Lorc mac Áengusa Dál Fiatach. (S8,S11).

CHILD of Niall Noígiallach and Indíu (Inne):

WIFE (2):
RIOGHNACH. (Rignach ingen Meadaib)(Rignach-S11).
Daughter of (Medabh-S1)(Meadaib mac Ros-S9).

CHILDREN of Niall Mor (Noígiallach) and Rígnach ingen Meadaib:
  1. Coirpre mac Neill. (Cairpre mac Néill Noígiallach Uí Éremóin)(Cairbre)(Coirpre macNeill)(Coirpre-S11)(Cairbre)(Cairpre). King of Ireland. (flourished about 485–493). Coirpre was perhaps the leader of the conquests that established the southern Uí Néill in the midlands of Ireland. The record of the Irish annals suggests that Coirpre's successes were reattributed to Muirchertach Macc Ercae. Coirpre is portrayed as an enemy of Saint Patrick in Bishop Tirechán's hagiography and his descendants are said to have been cursed by Patrick so that none would be High King of Ireland. Coirpre is excluded from most lists of High Kings, but included in the earliest. In later times Coirpre's descendants, the Cenél Coirpri, ruled over three small kingdoms—Cairbre Drom Cliabh in north County Sligo, an area in modern County Longford and at the headwaters of the River Boyne—which may be the remains of a once much larger kingdom stretching 100 miles (160 kilometres) from Donegal Bay to the Boyne. In a year given as 485, Coirpre was credited with a victory at Grainert, perhaps modern Granard, where the chief church of Cenél Coirpri Mór of Tethbae was in later times. In the addition, which notes that the battle was won by "Mac Ercae as some say," the annal adds that Fincath mac Garrchu of the Dál Messin Corb, perhaps king of Leinster, was killed there. A second battle at Grainert is recorded under the year 495, repeated under 497, and here Fincath's son Fráech is said to have been killed by Coirpre's son Eochu. Under the year 494, duplicated under 496, the annals record a victory by Coirpre over the Leinstermen at Tailtiu, in later times site of an important óenach, the óenach Tailten. Two further victories are reported, one under 497 at Slemain of Mide, probably near modern Mullingar, County Westmeath, and one under 499, at Cend Ailbe, perhaps somewhere in modern County Carlow.
  2. Eogan macNeill. (rí Ailech Éogan Find mac Néill Noígiallach Uí Éremóin)(Foghan Owen)(Eoghan macNeill)(Eógan-S11). He died in 465AD.
  3. Conall Gulban. (rí Tir Conaill Conall Gulban mac Néill Noígiallach Uí Éremóin)(Conall macNeill)(Conall Gulban-S11). He died in 464AD
  4. Maine. (Maine mac Néill Noígiallach Uí Éremóin). (S11). He died in 440AD. Medieval genealogists provided Niall with a large number of sons, some of very doubtful historicity. Maine, ancestor of the Cenél Maini is generally presumed to be a late addition
  5. Loegaire mac Neill. (Ard-rí na h'Éireann Lóegaire mac Néill Noígiallach Uí Éremóin)(Laeghaire)(Leoguire macNeill)(Lóegaire-S11). King of Ireland. He acceded in 454AD. He died in (463-S1)(458-S2).
  6. Conall Cremthainne mac Neill. (rí Mide Conall Cremthainne mac Néill Noígiallach Uí Éremóin)(Connall Cremthainne macNeill)(Conall Cremthainne-S11). He died in 475AD or 480AD. His half-brother Fiachu then became King of Uisnech in Mide.
  7. Éndae. (S11). According to the Tripartite Life of Saint Patrick, Saint Patrick visited Fiachu and his brother Éndae at Uisnech. (S12).