Niall Noigiallach was the first supreme high king of Ireland recognized by historians who ruled the island from 399 to 342. A pagan king, Niall would have been the last king before Ireland was evangelized by St. Patrick. Although very few traces of his existence remain, the history of this king sometimes seems to mix with Celtic Mythology and Legend. Indeed, some writings remain (the Lebor Gabála Érenn, the Annals of the Four Masters, the Foras Feasa ar Éirinn, The Adventures of the Sons of Eochaid Mugmedon and The Death of Niall with the Nine Hostages). But these works would have been created many centuries later, alternating historical truth with myths and legends. Here is what we know today about this king…
Niall Noigiallach was at the origin of a family that ruled Ireland for several centuries.
Also known as Niell, the origin of the name Niall Noigiallach is said to date back to a period of his life when he received 9 hostages as a gift from the 5 provinces of Ireland (Connacht, Leinster, Munster, Ulster and Meath), and the 4 provinces of Scotland.
The name remained with him then and was recorded in most of the writings mentioning the King and his existence.
Mythological writings tend to believe that Niall’s father (Eochaid Mugmedón) was himself a king who reigned over Tara, and that he named his fifth son (Niall) to succeed him. However, Niall was not the first child of Eochaid Mugmedón and would have had 5 children of 2 wives (Niall’s mother would have been Cairenn Chasdub, daughter of Sachell Balb, king of the Saxons) According to the writings, Niall’s brothers would have been instituted “Regional Kings” following his coronation.
Although we know little about Niall Noigiallach’s reign, there are many writings about his death, all with the same facts. History would have it that Niall came into conflict with Túathal Techtmar, King of Leinster, who refused to pay the compulsory tax (the “borama“). This tax consisted of donating livestock and food so that the Supreme King could then redistribute the wealth on the island.
Following this disagreement, Eochaid mac Enna Ceinnsealach, son of the King of Leinster, was ordered to assassinate Niall. The murder is said to have taken place in the English Channel, while Niall was on an expedition to invade Brittany.