Niall of the Nine Hostages

Niall of the Nine Hostages

Irish King Niall Noigiallach – Illustration by Miles Kelly


My Connection to Niall

In December of 2012 I had my DNA tested by Family Tree DNA and was surprised to find that I was a direct descendant of an ancient high king of Ireland named Niall Noigiallach. Family Tree DNA noted that a recent study was conducted at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, which found that a striking percentage of men in Ireland (and quite a few in Scotland) share the same Y chromosome, suggesting that the 5th-century warlord known as “Niall of the Nine Hostages” may be the ancestor of one in 12 Irishmen. Niall established a dynasty of powerful chieftains that dominated the island for six centuries. In the Trinity College study scientists found an area in northwest Ireland where they claim 21.5 % carry Niall’s genetic fingerprint, says Brian McEvoy, one of the team at Trinity. According to McEvoy this area was the main powerbase of the Ui Neills, which literally translated means “descendants of Niall” (Family Tree DNA Report 2013).


The origin of Niall’s name

Niall of the Nine Hostages received his name from the taking of hostages as a strategy for playing mental havoc upon his opponent chieftains. He is known in folklore as a raider of the British and French coasts. The chronology of Keating’s Foras Feasa ar Éirinn broadly agrees, dating his reign from 368-395 CE, and associating his raiding activities in Britain with the kidnapping of Saint Patrick. Niall was supposedly slain either in the English Channel or in Scotland. His descendants were the most powerful rulers of Ireland until the 11th century (Family Tree DNA Report 2013).

Modern surnames tracing their ancestry to Niall include (O’)Neill, (O’)Gallagher, (O’)Boyle, (O’)Doherty, O’Donnell, Connor, Cannon, Bradley, O’Reilly, Flynn, (Mc)Kee, Campbell, Devlin, Donnelly, Egan, Gormley, Hynes, McCaul, McGovern, McLoughlin, McManus, McMenamin, Molloy, O’Kane, O’Rourke and Quinn (Family Tree DNA Report 2013).

I started doing research on Niall and found he was both a king in Ireland who also held the title the king of Tara. The title king of Tara represented a very old ideal of sacred kingship in Ireland. It had a mythical quality stretching back deep into the ancient times. The following story is a fictional account inspired by the traditions and legends passed down from ancient Ireland.

The legends about Niall were so interesting that I wrote a series of books about him.