Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The History of Ireland (Author: Geoffrey Keating)

Section 51


We read in a Life of Patrick, which we found written in an old vellum book, together with the Life of Mochuda and Abban, and other saints, that Patrick was a Briton. These are the words of the old book: Patrick, (it says,) a Briton, born in the town called Nemptor, in the Plain of the Tabernacles, of pious and religious parents. {Patricius Brito natus in oppido Nemptor in Campo Taburno .i. tabernaculorum, ex parentibus devotis et religiosis ortus.}’’

In the same place it uses these words: After the Scots from Ireland, together with their king Niall Naoighiallach, had plundered many territories in opposition to the Roman sovereignty, they severely pillaged Britain—the northern portion of it at first; and when they had banished the old tribes from it, they themselves dwelt in it. {Cum Scoti de Hibernia sub rege suo Niall Naoighiallach diversas provincias Britanniae contra Romanum imperium multum devastabant, contendere incipientes aquilonalem Britanniae plagam tandem, ejectis veteribus colonis, ipsi Hibernenses eam occupaverunt et habitaverunt.}’’

The same author says in the same place that it followed from this that there were three kingdoms in Great Britain, namely, Scotia, Anglia, and Britannia. The same author states that it was at this time, when Niall Naoighiallach was on this expedition planting the Dal Riada in Alba, an Irish fleet went to the place where Patrick dwelt. These are the author's words: An Irish fleet, (he says,) went at this time to the place where St. Patrick was, to pillage the country, and, as was the custom with the Irish, they brought a large number of captives with them, together with St. Patrick, then aged sixteen years, and his two sisters, namely Lupida and Darerca; and St. Patrick was brought as a captive to Ireland in the ninth year of the reign of Niall, king of Ireland, who held strenuously the sovereignty of Ireland twenty-seven years,


and who pillaged Wales and Anglia to the sea that lies between Anglia and France. {Hoc autem tempore quaedam classis Hibernica depredavit patriam in qua morabatur D. Patricius et, consueto Hibernorum more, multi inde captivi ducti sunt, inter quos erant D. Patricius aetatis suae anno decimo sexto et duae eius sorores Lupida et Darerca; et ductus est Patricius in Hiberniam captivus anno nono Néill regis Hiberniae qui potenter 27 annis regnavit ac Britanniam et Angliam usque ad mare quod est inter Angliam et Galliam devastavit.}’’

From the above words we may believe that Niall Naoighiallach entered Great Britain, and that he made conquests there.

I am also of opinion that it was while Niall was making conquests in Great Britain that he sent a fleet to pillage the borders of France, to the country which is called Armorica, which is now called Little Britain, and that it was thence Patrick and his two sisters were brought as captives. I am the more convinced of the truth of this from the fact that Patrick's mother was sister to Martin, who was bishop of Tours in France, and because I read in an old book, in which is the Life of Patrick in Irish, that it was from Armorica Patrick and his two sisters were brought into captivity.

It is moreover likely that, since Niall was making conquests in Great Britain at that time, it was from Britain he sent a fleet to the borders of France, where Patrick and those who came with him into captivity resided. And besides I read in the old books of the seanchus that hostages were brought from France to Niall, and amongst these I believe was Patrick.

Now as to Niall, having taken many captives from Britain, he arrived in Ireland with a large host of Britons and of Irish; and he assembled additional forces, and sent word to Alba, to the chief of Dal Riada, requesting him to follow him with all his host to France.

Niall proceeded forthwith to France with a numerous host; and the chief of Dal Riada with his host overtook him as he was plundering France in the neighbourhood of the river Loor. And at that time the king of Leinster, having been banished by Niall to Alba, was under the protection of Gabhran son of Domhanghurt, chief of Dal Riada; and when this Gabhran went after Niall to France, Eochaidh (the king of Leinster) accompanied him. But Eochaidh did


not dare to go into Niall's presence; and when Niall had sat down on the brink of the river, Eochaidh went to the other side of the river, into an oak grove which was there, and got ready an arrow in his bow, and cast it at Niall, and sent it through his body, so that he immediately expired.

The enmity between Eochaidh and Niall arose from Eochaidh's conspiring to settle down in Tara as king in the room of Niall; and when he had been nine days in Tara, a learned druid came into his presence and said to him that it was not lawful for him to violate the geasa of Tara; ‘for it is one of his geasa,’ said he, ‘that no king should settle down in Tara with a view to assuming the sovereignty of Ireland till he should first wear the nasc niadh round his neck.’ This was the same as to say that he should have received the degree of Knight of Chivalry. For as the Knight of Chivalry is called Miles Torquatus, so also Nia Naisc is applied in Irish to the champion who wore a nasc or chain round his neck. For nia means 'champion' or 'valiant man', and nasc means 'a chain'.

As to Eochaidh, when he heard the druid's instruction, he quitted Tara and relinquished the sovereignty. Niall came after that and settled down in Tara, and assumed the sovereignty of Ireland; and he banished Eochaidh to Alba after he had met him in several engagements; and it was for this reason that Eochaidh slew Niall as we stated above. Another cause of enmity between them was that when Eochaidh was going from Tara to Leinster, he went into the house of Laidcheann son of Bairrchidh, Niall's druid; and while he was there, the druid's son used defamatory language towards him, and on that account Eochaidh slew him.

Now, the druid made a complaint of this to Niall, and asked him to come and avenge the death of his son on the men of Leinster; and incited by the druid, Niall went into Leinster with a strong and imposing host to waste Leinster. And when they reached Leinster, the druid would not consent to Niall's accepting gifts or cattle from the


Leinstermen until they had delivered the person of Eochaidh into the hands of Niall. And, to prevent the spoiling of Leinster, Eochaidh put himself in the power of Niall; and the druid ordered him to be tied to a pillar-stone which is to be seen to the west of the Slaine, between Cill Brighde and Tulach O Feidhlimidh; and that stone is in a standing position; it is high and broad, and perforated near the very top; and Eochaidh was obliged to stand with his back against the stone and an iron chain round his waist, with both ends of the chain passing through a hole that was in the pillar, and a stout iron spindle-bolt stuck through the two loops at the ends of the chain; and when the druid observed him in this position, he got ready nine warriors to put him to death.

When Eochaidh perceived the warriors approach, with intent to slay him, he stoutly shook himself in champion fashion, and forthwith strained the chain and broke the bolt, and escaped from the warriors with difficulty, after he had slain some of them; and no account is given of his proceedings till he reached Alba, under the protection of Gabhran son of Domhanghart, as we have said. And this was the second reason why he was at enmity with Niall.