Do You Carry Niall of the Nine Hostages DNA?
Do you have a relative with the name Niall (or maybe Neil or Neal)? Did you know that the name Niall means "champion" in old Irish? It's a name with an important place in Irish culture. Let's take a closer look.
Today we’ll have a look at a very old Irish boy’s name used by the fearsomely names “Niall of the Nine Hostages”. It’s one that has worked it’s way around the world as both a given name and a surname. The name is “Niall” (pronounced “Nile” in Ireland). Do you have a relative with the name Niall (or maybe Neil or Neal)? Did you know that the name Niall means “champion” in old Irish? It’s a name with an important place in Irish culture. Let’s take a closer look.
“Niall of the Nine Hostages” was a semi-historical Irish king who reigned sometime during the 5th century. The legend goes that Niall received his “hostage” nickname when he conquered the five provinces of Ireland as well as some provinces in Britain and Scotland to become king. He then took a hostage from each province, nine in total, to ensure that there would be no trouble from any of them.
The clan descendants of Niall become known as the “Uí Néill” tribe in Ireland (meaning “descendants of Niall) and they later divided into two main branches: the “Northern Uí Néill” of Ulster and the “Southern Uí Néill” around what is now County Meath in the midlands. Indeed, a recent DNA study carried out by Trinity College in Dublin established that the descendants of Niall may reach far beyond these two groups. He is likely to be the direct ancestor of three million men living today. This helps us to understand just how his name and legend proliferated in Ireland and abroad down through the centuries.
Indeed, when the Vikings arrived in Ireland in the 800s, they liked this Irish name “Niall” so much that they took it back to Scandinavia where it became “Njall”. This Scandinavian form of the name was then re-exported to places like England – eventually becoming “Nigel” and working its way into surnames like Neilson and Nelson.
THE O’NEILL SURNAME.
When Irish surnames came into use from about the 9th century onwards, the surname “O’Neill” (meaning “descendant of Niall”) came to prominence in many different parts of Ireland. However, the surname is most associated with the Uí Néill dynasties.
As a result, the O’Neill surname is prominent in counties Tyrone, Antrim and Derry (linked with the Northern Uí Néill) as well as different O’Neill groupings in County Kerry, Kilkenny, Waterford, Carlow and Cork.
A real “all-Ireland” surname!
However, O’Neill is not the only surname to have come from the boy’s name Niall. The “McNeill” surname, with roots in both Ireland and Scotland, is a Gaelic patronymic meaning “son of Niall.” The first immigrants to Ireland with the McNeill surname came as Gallowglasses (mercenary soldiers) to the north-east of Ireland in the 15th century. The surname is still found there in quantity to this day.
And so it has turned out that the ancient Irish surname O’Neill, made famous by a semi-historical Irish King called “Niall of the Nine Hostages”, has found its way through Irish, Scottish, European and world culture.
How about you? Do you have a “champion” in your Irish family tree? Maybe a Niall, a Neal or a Nigel? Or an O”Neill or McNeill”? Maybe you’ve tested for DNA and the results show a connection with “Niall of the Nine Hostages”?
That’s it for this week. As always, do feel free to share the Irish surnames and stories in your own Irish family tree.
Slán for now,