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Niall of the Nine Hostages

Find out the story behind Niall's nickname "Nial and the 9 Hostages" and how he came to be known as one of Ireland's most legendary kings.

Early 340sAD

376 - Late 400AD

5th Century - 1002AD

Niall of the Nine Hostages


Niall Noígíallach (or Niall of the Nine Hostages as he is more commonly known) is one of Ireland’s most historic kings, living through the late 4th – early 5th century. He was the ancestor of Ireland’s most famous dynasty, the Uí Néill’s, who ruled over much of Ireland (particularly the north of Ireland) for almost 600 years before being defeated by Brian Boru and his army.

Niall was the youngest son of Eochaidh Mugmedon, the King of Connachta (an area that included parts of Ulster and Leinster).

Early 340sAD Niall Mór is Born

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 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 father’s first marriage. With Niall's position in the family and his mother being sent away by Euchaid, it is no surprise that Niall struggled to find his place in the family.

Early 340sAD Rescued by Torna

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.

376AD Crowned High King at Tara

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 state 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.

376 - Late 400AD Capturing Hostages Across Ireland and Europe

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.

Late 400 - Early 500AD Killed by Eochaid

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.

5th Century - 1002AD Uí Néill Dynasty

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.