Niall Noígíallach (or Niall of the Nine Hostages as he is more commonly known) is one of Ireland’s most historic kings, dating back to the mid-late 4th and early 5th century. He was also the ancestor of Ireland’s most famous dynasty, the Uí Néill’s, who ruled over much of Ireland, and particular the north of Ireland for almost 600 years until they were defeated by Brian Boru. Niall was the youngest son of Eochaidh Mugmedon who was the King of Connachta (an area that included parts of Ulster and Leinster). Niall is believed to have succeeded Criomthainn mac Fidaig as King of Ireland and is famous for his marauding raids and battles. His battles included taking on the British, Scottish, French and Romans, and can today lay claim to being the true father of Ireland, with scientific research revealing some three million Irish descendants can trace their roots to King Niall.
There are several tales of how Niall earned the name ‘Niall of the Nine Hostages’, but it is thought the name came about through his raids of the five ancient Irish provinces and one each from the Scots, Saxons, Britons and French. Legend even has it that one of Niall’s hostages was indeed St. Patrick. Niall’s sons, in particular, Lóegaire, Eóghan and Fiachu mac Néill played vital roles in the Uí Néill dynasty, with Lóegaire becoming the 128th High King of Ireland.
Discover the lands shaped by Niall and the Uí Néill dynasty with our Donegal to Tyrone itinerary below.
While the exact date of birth for Niall isn't known, it's thought he was born at some point in the middle of the 4th century and was the only son of Euchaid Muighmedon, and his mother was Caireann (most likely the daughter of an English King). Niall was born Niall Mór and is thought to have lived his early days in the north of Ireland as his father ruled the kingdom of Connachta. Niall had four half-brothers from his fathers first marriage and this resulted in Niall being an outcast in his early days as his mother is forced to work as a servant.
While little is known about Niall's early years, it is believed that he was rescued by a poet named Torna. When Niall came of age, Torna took him back to Tara where his journey towards kingship began. Upon his return, Niall would go on to reinstate his mother to her rightful place and go on to form one of the most famous dynasties in Irish history.
Niall was eventually named as the true successor to his father, who was replaced as King of Ireland by Crimthann mac Fidaig. Niall replaced Crimthann in approx. 376 and would rule until 405. Niall was crowned king at the Hill of Tara in Co. Meath, although some resources stat his crowning may have taken place in nearby Hill of Uisneach in Westmeath, the location at which the five ancient provinces met. The Mound of Hostages at the Hill of Tara is a tomb at which many high kings, including Niall, took important people hostage for hundreds of years.
As High King, Niall embarked on many raids with his brothers (Fiachrae and Ailill), and his sons, as he tried to build a vast kingdom. This included raids across Ireland, including the five provinces - Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Connacht and Meath - as well as raids across Europe including England, France, Italy and Scotland. These raids on foreign lands proved less successful than the raids across Ireland, although he did capture hostages along the way, thus earning the name Niall of the Nine Hostages, due to his exploits during the raids on these nine kingdoms.
Niall's death is unclear although it is thought he died during a raid of Britain or France and was most likely killed by Eochaid, the son of Énnae Cennsalach, the King of Leinster, whom Niall had previously gone to war with. While the exact date is unclear, many historians believe Niall died late 4th / early 5th century.
Niall's reign as King of Ireland was the start of the most famous dynasty of Irish high kings, with the Uí Néill dynasty ruling for some 600 years until Mael Sechnail mac Domnaill was dethroned by Brian Boru in 1002, although he did regain power following Boru's death in 1014 at the Battle of Clontarf. The Uí Néill dynasty had a stronghold in the north of Ireland and parts of Leinster, including Tara, Mide, Uisneach, Ailech, Tyrone, Tyrconnell and Brega - modern day Meath, Westmeath, Tyrone, Donegal and Dublin.
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