It is well known in Ireland that St Patrick was actually born in Wales, and was brought here by an Irishman by the remarkable name of Niall of the Nine Hostages….
Back in Fifth Century Tara, surnames were not as they are now.
For aeons they had been unnecessary, the size of the village meaning that there tended to be only one holder per name, so everybody needed just that name, such as Fionn, or Gráinne, or Cher.
Over time, though, some names became more fashionable than others, and a way had to be found of distinguishing between the many Seáns and Noras. A descriptive second name was therefore added.
These took two forms. One related to possessions, so that Tara was now home to Rory Of The Big Field and Emer Of The Brown Horse. The other derived from one’s occupation, giving the village Brendan The Carpenter, Lorcan The Weaver, and the local lady of the night, Ellen The Generous.
It was very late one evening when village ne’er-do-well Niall Nojob crept up to the village tavern, The Old Storehouse. He pried open the door, planning simply to take whatever coins were in the till and slip quietly away.
He had forgotten about the Irish tradition of the lock-in, where a hostelry shuts its doors at closing-time but leaves its most favoured customers inside.
Thus upon opening the door he found himself looking into the faces of eight customers and the barmaid. They looked shocked, then relaxed visibly.
“Ah, it’s only Niall,” said one.
By that he was simply expressing relief that it wasn’t Conn Of The Slow Walk, the local policeman. To Niall, though, it sounded like a sneer, a dismissal, and though armed robbery had never been among his many petty transgressions, he drew his sword.
“Give me all your money,” he snarled.
The bar’s occupants stared at him in disbelief. “Ah, here, Niall,” said Bridget, the barmaid. “That’s not like you.”
Niall stared wildly at her, then lowered his sword, and his head. “You’re right,” he said, blushing. “I’m sor-”
There was a loud rap at the door. “Is there anyone in there?” came Conn’s voice.
“No,” said Niall, before he could stop himself.
“That’s you, Niall, is it?” laughed Conn, and again Niall felt the wither of withering contempt. Again his anger rose. He slid his hand down and up the handle of his sword, a move that looked, though he didn’t know it, as if he was pumping the handle of a shotgun.
“It is, Conn,” he said, “and I’ve got nine hostages.”
It was an hour later.
A crowd had gathered outside, including the local journalist, Aengus The Telltale.
“Aren’t you going to do anything, Conn?” asked Aengus.
“I am doing something,” replied Conn. “I’m letting him sweat.”
This was working. Inside the inn Niall was finding out just how whiny hostages can be. They were complaining that the fire was going out. They were demanding organised toilet trips, though this simply meant walking to the bucket in the corner. They were asking could at least Bridget be allowed continue serving drink.
After a further thirty minutes, Conn picked up a bull-horn. This was merely the horn of a bull and had no acoustic qualities, but he felt it made him look important.
“Niall Of The Nine Hostages!” he called out.
Niall unaccountably found himself filling with pride. “Yes?” he replied.
“Release the pregnant woman,” said Conn.
There was a brief silence.
“Er, what pregnant woman?” asked Niall eventually.
“In all hostage situations,” replied Conn, “there’s a pregnant woman. Trust me on this.”
Niall looked around the bar. A woman raised one hand and smiled sheepishly.
Niall thought for a few moments, then sighed. “Ok,” he said, “but in return we want pizza.”
Outside, Conn looked questioningly around at the crowd.
“It’s just flat bread with cheese and bits of pig on it,” said Pat The Baker. “Give me twenty minutes.”
The pizza was duly delivered and the woman released. After another hour Conn raised the bull-horn again.
“Niall Of The Eight Hostages!” he yelled.
“Dammit,” said Aengus. He started to scribble out the ‘Nine’ in his report, then shrugged. “Nah, I’m leaving it,” he thought.
This time Niall agreed to release the old man. Over the next four hours he also said apologetic goodbyes to the honeymoon couple, the man who had run out of his medication (blood of bat), the priest who was needed to say morning mass, the farmer who had to milk his cows, and a woman who was just getting on Niall’s nerves.
Now there was just him and Bridget.
“They’ll storm the place eventually, you know,” said Bridget. “You’ll be killed.”
“I know,” said Niall quietly, “but I don’t know how to get out of it now.”
To his surprise Bridget took his hand. To her own surprise she had found that she had fallen in love with him. This would in time become known as Storehouse Syndrome, and later Stock Home Syndrome.
“I do,” she said, and told him her plan.
“Are you sure?” he said. “It could be dangerous.”
Bridget smiled at him. “Danger is my middle name,” she said.
Niall calculated quickly in his head. “Mine’s ‘The’,” he replied.
She looked into his eyes. “Where will you go?” she asked, quietly.
“Wales, probably,” he said. He squeezed her hand, then stood. “But I’ll come back one day.”
Minutes later he yelled out “I’m letting Bridget go.” The bar door opened and a figure ran out, weeping, shawl wrapped tightly around its head.
Conn raced past, ignoring it, as it fled through the crowd. He burst into the inn, sword in hand. He found Bridget tied to a chair, but loosely, almost as if she’d done it herself.
“What the -?” he said.
Bridget stared at him defiantly.
“He’s gone,” she said.