Niall (715-778) (DNB00)

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NIALL (715–778), king of Ireland, surnamed Frassach, born in 715, was son of Ferghal mac Maelduin, king of Ireland, (711–22), and younger brother of Aodh Ollan, king of Ireland (734–43), was directly descended from Muircheartach (d. 533) [q. v.] and from Niall (d. 405) [q. v.] He became king of Ireland on the death of Domhnall mac Murchadha in 763. Niall's reign was a period of famine and pestilence; he fought no great battles, but exacted tributes from Connaught, Munster, and Leinster. In 770 he resigned his throne and entered the religious community of Icolmcille, where he died in 778 and was buried. There is a copy of a poem of four lines on his reign by Gilla Modubhda in the ‘Book of Ballymote,’ a fifteenth-century manuscript, another poem of twelve lines in the ‘Annals of Ulster,’ and a shorter one in the ‘Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland.’ The two last refer only to his cognomen, Frassach. Fras is the Irish for a shower, and frassach or frossach means ‘of showers,’ and is translated ‘nimbosus’ by O'Flaherty (Ogygia, p. 433). The ‘Annals of Ulster’ explain the word by a story of the king with seven bishops praying in a season of famine and drought for rain, and three showers of silver, of honey, and of wheat following, but the ‘Book of Ballymote’ (f. 49 a, l. 37) says ‘tri frassa le gein,’ three showers at his birth. The translation of the ‘Annals of Clonmacnois’ gives another variant of the tale, and the ‘Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland’ (i. 362) a fourth. The lateness of the fable is shown by the mention of money (Annals of Clonmacnois), which was not in general use in Ireland in the eighth century, but it is perhaps worth note that a deep snow of three months' duration is mentioned in the annals as occurring in the first year of his reign.

He married Ethne, daughter of Breasal Breagh; she died in 768, leaving a son, Aedh Oirnidhe, who became king of Ireland in 798, and whose son Niall (791–845) [q. v.] succeeded him.

[Book of Ballymote, facsimile; Annala Rioghachta Eireann, ed. O'Donovan, vol. i.; Annals of Ulster, ed. Hennessy, vol. i.]

N. M.