Chapter III. – Pictish Period, Anno 446 to 843, pp.60-78.

[History of the Highlands Contents]

WE now enter upon what is called the Pictish period of Caledonian history, which embraces a course of three hundred and ninety-seven years, viz., from the date of the Roman abdication of the government of North Britain, in the year four hundred and forty-six, to the subversion of the Pictish government in the year eight hundred and forty-three. This interval of time is distinguished by two important events in the history of North Britain – the arrival and settlement of the Dalriads, or Scoto-Irish, on the shores of Argyle, in the year five hundred and three, and the introduction of Christianity by St. Columba into the Highlands, in five hundred and sixty-three, both of which events will be fully noticed in the sequel. 

Many conjectures have been hazarded as to the derivation of the term Pict, to which there seems no necessity to revert here; but of this there can be no doubt, that the Picts were Celts, and that they were no other than a part of the race of the ancient Caledonians under another name. Of the twenty-one distinct tribes which inhabited North Britain, at the time of the Roman invasion, as we have observed, the most powerful was that of the Caledonii, or Caledonians, who inhabited the whole of the interior country, from the ridge of mountains which separates Inverness and Perth on the south, to the range of hills that forms the forest of Balnagowan in Ross, on the north, comprehending all the middle parts of Inverness and of Ross; but in process of time the whole population of North Britain, were designated by the generic appellation of Caledonians, though occasionally distinguished by some classic writers, proceeding on fanciful notions, by the various names of Mæatæ, Dicaledones, Vecturiones, and Picti. 

At the time of the Roman abdication, the Caledonians, or Picts, were under the sway of a chieftain, named Drust, the son of Erp, who, for his prowess in his various expeditions against the Roman provincials, has been honoured by the Irish Annalists, with the name of Drust of the hundred battles. History, however, has not done him justice, for it has left little concerning him on record. In fact, little is known of the Pictish history for upwards of one hundred years, immediately after the Roman abdication. Although some ancient chronicles afford us lists of the Pictish Kings, or Princes, a chronological table of whom, according to the best authorities, is here subjoined:- 


Series. Their Names, and Filiations. Date of Accession. Duration of Reigns. Period of their Deaths. 
DRUST, the son of Erp   451 
TALORC, the son of Aniel 451 4 years. 455 
NACTON MORBET, the son of Erp 455 25 480 
DREST Gurthinmoch 480 30 510 
DADREST 522 523 
DREST, the son of Girom 523 524 
 DREST, the son of Wdrest, with the former 524 529 
 DREST, the son of Girom, alone 529 534 
GARTNACH, the son of Girom 534 541 
GEALTRAIM, the son of Girom 541 542 
10 TALORG, the son of Muircholaich 542 11 553 
11 DREST, the son of Munait 553 554 
12 GALAM, with Aleph 554 555 
 GALAM, with Bridei 555 556 
13 BRIDEI, the son of Mailcon 556 30 586 
14 GARTNAICH, the son of Domelch 586 11 597 
15 NEXTU, the nephew of Verb 597 20 617 
16 CINEOCH, the son of Luthrin 617 19 636 
17 GARNAD, the son of Wid 636 640 
18 BRIDEI, the son of Wid 640 645 
19 TALORC, their brother 645 12 657 
20 TALLORCAN, the son of Enfret 657 661 
21 GARTNAIT, the son of Donnel 661 6½ 667 
22 DREST, his brother 667 674 
23 BRIDEI, the son of Bili 674 21 695 
24 TARAN, the son of Entifidich 695 699 
25 BRIDEI, the son of Dereli 699 11 710 
26 NECHTON, the son of Dereli 710 15 725 
27 DREST, and Elpin 725 730 
28 UNGUS, the son of Urguis 730 31 761 
29 BRIDEI. the son of Urguis 761 763 
30 CINIOD, the son of Wredech 763 12 775 
31 ELPIN, the son of Bridei 775 3½ 779 
32 DREST, the son of Talorgan 779 784 
33 TALORGAN, the son of Ungus 784 2½ 786 
34 CANAUL, the son of Tarla 786 791 
35 CONSTANTIN, the son of Urguis 791 30 821 
36 UNGUS (Hungus), the son of Urguis 821 12 833 
37 DREST, the son of Constantine, and Talorgan, the son of Wthoil 833 836 
38 UUEN, the son of Urgus 836 839 
39 WRAD, the son of Bargoiy 839 842 
40 BRED 842 843 

But before proceeding further with the Pictish history, it is proper, in the order of time, to give some details concerning the settlement of the Dalriads, and the introduction of Christianity among the Highland Clans. And with regard to the first of these events we beg to refer the reader to the short notice given of the Scots in the first chapter, which will serve as a preliminary to what follows. 

The Scoto-Irish a branch of the great Celtic family, are generally supposed to have found their way into Ireland from the western shores of North Britain, and to have established themselves at a very early period in the Irish Ulladh, the Ulster of modern times. They appear to have been divided into two tribes or clans, the most powerful of which was called Cruithne or Cruithnich; a term said to mean eaters of corn or wheat, from the tribe being addicted to agricultural pursuits. The quarrels between these two rival tribes were frequent, and grew to such a height of violence, about the middle of the third century, as to call for the interference of Cormac, who then ruled as king of Ireland, and it is said that Cairbre-Riada, the general and cousin of king Cormac, conquered a territory in the north-east corner of Ireland of about thirty miles in extent, possessed by the Cruithne. This tract was granted by the king to his general, and was denominated Dal-Riada, or the portion of Riada, over which Cairbre and his posterity reigned for several ages, under the protection of their relations, the sovereigns of Ireland.2 The Cruithne of Ireland and the Picts of North Britain being of the same lineage and language, kept up, according to O’Connor, a constant communication with each other; and it seems to be satisfactorily established that a colony of the Dalriads or Cruithne of Ireland, had settled at a very early period in Argyle, from which they were ultimately expelled and driven back to Ireland about the period of the abdication, by the Romans, of the government of North Britain, in the year four hundred and forty-six. 

In the year five hundred and three, a new colony of the Dalriads or Dalriadini, under the direction of three brothers, named Lorn, Fergus, and Angus, the sons of Erc, the descendant of Cairbre-Riada, settled in the country of the British Epidii, near the Epidian promontory of Richard and Ptolemy, named afterwards by the colonists Ceantir or head-land, now known by the name of Cantyre. History has thrown but little light on the causes which lead to this settlement, afterwards so important in the annals of Scotland; and a question has even been raised whether it was obtained by force or favour. In proof of the first supposition it has been observed,3 that the head-land of Cantyre, which forms a very narrow peninsula and runs far into the Deucaledonian sea, towards the nearest coast of Ireland, being separated by lofty mountains from the Caledonian continent, was in that age very thinly peopled by the Cambro-Britons; that these descendants of the Epidii were little connected with the central clans and still less considered by the Pictish government, which, perhaps, was not yet sufficiently refined to be very jealous of its rights, or to be promptly resentful of its wrongs; and that Drest-Gurthinmoch then reigned over the Picts, and certainly resided at a great distance, beyond Drum-Albin. It is also to be observed, in further corroboration of this view, that Lorn, Fergus, and Angus, brought few followers with them; and though they were doubtless joined by subsequent colonists, they were, for some time, occupied with the necessary, but uninteresting labours of settlement within their appropriate districts. Ceantir was the portion of Fergus, Lorn possessed Lorn to which he gave his name, and Angus is supposed to have colonized Ila, for it was enjoyed by Muredach, the son of Angus, after his decease. Thus these three princes or chiefs had each his own tribe and territory, according to the accustomed usage of the Celts; a system which involved them frequently in the miseries of civil war, and in questions of disputed succession. 

There is no portion of history so obscure, or so perplexed as that of the Scoto-Irish kings, and their tribes, from their first settlement, in the year five hundred and three, to their accession to the Pictish throne in eight hundred and forty-three. Unfortunately no contemporaneous written records appear ever to have existed of that dark period of our annals, and the efforts which the Scotch and Irish antiquaries have made to extricate the truth from the mass of contradictions in which it lies buried, have rather been displays of national prejudice than calm researches by reasonable inquirers. The annals, however, of Tigernach, and of Ulster, and the useful observations of O’Flaherty and O’Connor, along with the brief chronicles and historical documents, first brought to light by the industrious Innes, in his Critical Essay, (a work praised even by Pinkerton,) have thrown some glimpses of light on a subject which had long remained in almost total darkness, and been rendered still more obscure by the fables of our older historians. Some of the causes which have rendered this part of our history so perplexed are thus stated by Chalmers in his Caledonia. “The errors and confusion, which have been introduced into the series, and the history, of the Scottish kings, have chiefly originated from the following causes: 1st. The sovereignty was not transmitted by the strict line of hereditary descent. There were, as we shall see, three great families, who, as they sprung from the royal stock, occasionally grew up into the royal stem; two of these were descended from Fergus I. by his grandsons, Comgal and Gauran; the third was descended from Lorn, the brother of Fergus. This circumstance naturally produced frequent contests, and civil wars, for the sovereignty, which, from those causes, was sometimes split; and the representatives of Fergus, and Lorn, reigned independently over their separate territories, at the same time. The confusion, which all this had produced, can only be cleared up, by tracing, as far as possible, the history of these different families, and developing the civil contests which existed among them. 2d. Much perplexity has been produced by the mistakes and omissions of the Gaelic bard, who composed the Albanic Duan, particularly, in the latter part of the series, where he has, erroneously, introduced several suppositious kings, from the Pictish catalogue. These mistakes having been adopted by those writers, whose subject was rather to support a system, than to unravel the history of the Scottish monarchs, have increased, rather than diminished the confusion.” 

Although the Dalriads had embraced Christianity before their arrival in Argyle, they do not appear to have been anxious to introduce it among the Caledonians or Picts. Their patron saint was Ciaran, the son of a carpenter. He was a prelate of great fame, and several churches in Argyle and Ayrshire were dedicated to him. The ruins of Kil-keran, a church dedicated to Ciaran, may still be seen in Campbelton in Cantyre. At Kil-kiaran in Ilay, Kil-kiaran in Lismore, and Kil-keran in Carrick, there were chapels dedicated, as the names indicate, to Ciaran. Whatever were the causes which prevented the Dalriads from attempting the conversion of their neighbours, they were destined at no distant period, from the era of the Dalriadic settlement, to receive the blessings of the true religion, from the teaching of St. Columba, a monk of high family descent, and cousin of Scoto-Irish kings. It was in the year five hundred and sixty-three, when he was forty-two years of age, that he took his departure from his native land, to Labour in the pious duty of converting the Caledonians to the faith of the gospel. On arriving among his kindred on the shores of Argyle, he cast his eyes about that he might fix on a suitable site for a monastery, which he meant to erect, from which were to issue forth the apostolic missionaries destined to assist him in the work of conversion, and in which also the youth set apart for the office of the holy ministry were to be instructed. St. Columba, with eyes brimful of joy, espied a solitary isle lying in the Scottish sea, near the south west angle of Mull, then known by the simple name I, signifying in Irish an island, afterwards changed by the venerable Bede into Hy, latinized by the monks into Iona, and again honoured with the name of I-columb-cil, the isle of St. Columba’s retreat or cell. No better station or one more fitted for its purpose could have been selected than this islet during such barbarous times; but events, which no human prudence could foresee, rendered the situation afterwards most unsuitable; for during the ravages of the Danes, in the eighth and ninth centuries, Iona was particularly exposed to their depredations, and suffered accordingly. 

In pursuance of his plan, St. Columba settled with twelve disciples in Hy. “They now,” says Bede, “neither sought, nor loved, any thing of this world,” true traits in the missionary character. For two years did they labour with their own hands erecting buts and building a church. These monks lived under a very strict discipline which St. Columba had established, and they recreated themselves, after their manual and devotional labours closed, by reading and transcribing the Holy Scriptures from the Latin or Vulgate translation. Having formed his infant establishment, the pious missionary set out on his apostolic tour among the Picts. Judging well that if he could succeed in converting Bridei, the son of Mailcon who then governed the Picts and had great influence among them, the arduous task he had undertaken of bringing over the whole nation to the worship of the true God would be more easily accomplished, he first began with the king, and by great patience and perseverance succeeded in converting him. Whether the Saint was gifted with miraculous powers as many excellent writers maintain, is a question on which we do not wish to enter; but we cannot subscribe to the remark of Chalmers, that “the power of prophecy, the gift of miracles, which were arrogated by Columba, and are related by his biographers, are proofs of the ignorance and simplicity of the age.” Doubtless the Picts at the time we are treating of were extremely ignorant; but if a belief in miracles is to be held as a proof of ignorance and simplicity, how are we to account for it amongst a highly refined and civilized people? The question whether miracles ceased after the Apostolic age, is a question not of opinion but of fact; for, assuredly, there is no limitation to be found in Scripture of the duration of miraculous gifts, which God in his good providence may grant whenever He may deem proper. The learned Grotius in his Commentary on Mark xvi. 17 and 18, says, “As the latter ages, also, are full of testimonies of the same thing, I do not know by what reason some are moved to restrain that gift (of miracles) to the first ages only. Wherefore, if any one would even now preach Christ, in a manner agreeable to him, to nations that know him not, I make no doubt but the force of the promise will still remain.” As it is not our intention to defend the alleged miracles of St. Columba, we shall merely quote the testimony of the celebrated Dr. Conyers Middleton, on the historical proofs in support of miracles, which we do the more readily as he stoutly maintained the cessation of miraculous powers after the Apostolic age: “As far as church historians can illustrate or throw light upon any thing, there is not a single point in all history, so constantly, explicitly, and unanimously affirmed by them all, as the continual succession of those (miraculous) powers through all ages, from the earliest father that first mentions them, down to the time of the Reformation; which same succession is still farther deduced by persons of the most eminent character, for their probity, learning, and dignity in the Roman church to this very day: so that the only doubt that can remain with us is, whether the church historians are to be trusted or not? For if any credit be due to them in the present case, it must reach either to all or to none, because the reason of believing them in any one age will be found to be of equal force in all.” 

The conversion of Bridei was immediately followed by that of his people, and St. Columba soon had the happiness of seeing the blessings of Christianity diffused among a people who had not before tasted its sweets. Attended by his disciples he traversed the whole of the Pictish territories, and even penetrated into the islands of Orkney, spreading every-where the light of faith by instructing the people in the truths of the Gospel. To keep up a succession of the teachers of religion, he established monasteries in every district, and from these issued, for many ages, Apostolic men to labour in that part of the vine yard of Christ. These monasteries or cells were long subject to the Abbey of Iona. Conal, the fifth king of the Scots in Argyle, the kinsman of St. Columba, and under whose auspices he entered on the work of conversion, and to whom it is said he was indebted for Hy, died in five hundred and seventy-one. His successor Aidan went over to Hyona in five hundred and seventy-four, and was there ordained and inaugurated by the Abbot according to the ceremonial of the liber vitreus, the cover of which is supposed to have been encrusted with chrystal. F. Martene, a learned benedictine, says in his work, De Antiquis Ecclesiæ Ritibus, that this inauguration of Aidan is the most ancient account that, after all his researches, he had found as to the benediction, or inauguration of kings. There can be no doubt, however, that the ceremony was practised long before the time of Aidan. St. Columba died on the 9th of June, five hundred and ninety-seven, after a glorious and well spent life, thirty-four years of which he had devoted to the instruction of the nation he had converted. His influence was very great with the neighbouring princes, and they often applied to him for advice, and submitted to him their differences which he frequently settled by his authority. His memory was long held in reverence by the Scots and Caledonians. 

To return to the history of the Picts, we have already observed that little is known of Pictish history for more than a hundred years after the Roman abdication; but at the time of the accession of Bridei in five hundred and fifty-six to the Pictish throne, some light is let in upon that dark period of the Pictish annals. The reign of that prince was distinguished by many warlike exploits, but above all by his conversion and that of his people to Christianity, which indeed formed his greatest glory. His chief contests were with the Scoto-Irish or Dalriads, whom he defeated in five hundred and fifty-seven, and slew Gauran their king. Bridei died in the year five hundred and eighty-six, and for several ages his successors carried on a petty system of warfare, partly foreign and partly domestic. Passing over a domestic conflict, at Lindores in six hundred and twenty-one, under Cineoch the son of Luthrin, and the trifling battle of Ludo-Feirn in six hundred and sixty-three among the Picts themselves, we must nevertheless notice the important battle of Dun-Nechtan, fought in the year six hundred and eighty-five, between the Picts under Bridei, the son of Bili, and the Saxons, under the Northumbrian Egfrid. The Saxon king, it is said, attacked the Picts without provocation, and against the advice of his court. Crossing the Forth from Lothian, the Bernicia of that age, he entered Strathern and penetrated through the defiles of the Pictish kingdom, leaving fire and desolation in his train. His career was stopt at Dun-Nechtan, the hill fort of Nechtan, the Dunnichen of the present times; and by a neighbouring lake long known by the name of Nechtan’s mere, did Egfrid and his Saxons fall before Bridei and his exasperated Picts. This was a sad blow to the Northumbrian power; yet the Northumbrians, in six hundred and ninety-nine, under Berht, an able leader, again ventured to try their strength with the Picts, when they were once more defeated by Bridei, the son of Dereli, who had recently mounted the Pictish throne. The Picts were, however, finally defeated by the Saxons, in seven hundred and ten, under Beorthfryth, in Mananfield, when Bridei, the Pictish king, was killed. 

The wars between the Picts and Northumbrians were succeeded by various contests for power among the Pictish princes which gave rise to a civil war. Ungus, honoured by the Irish Annalists with the title of great, and Elpin, at the head of their respective partizans, tried their strength at Moncrib, in Strathern, in the year seven hundred and twenty-seven, when the latter was defeated; and the conflict was again renewed at Duncrei, when victory declared a second time against Elpin, who was obliged to flee from the hostility of Ungus. Nechtan next tried his strength with Ungus, in seven hundred and twenty-eight, at Moncur, in the Carse of Gowrie, but he was defeated, and many of his followers perished. Drust, the associate of Elpin in the Pictish government, also took the field the same year against the victorious Ungus, but he was slain in a battle fought at Drumderg, an extensive ridge on the western side of the river Ila. Talorgan, the son of Congus, was defeated by Brude, the son of Ungus, in seven hundred and thirty; and Elpin, who, from the time of his last defeat, till that year, had remained a fugitive and an outlaw, now lost his life at Pit Elpie, within the parish of Liff, near the scene of his flight in seven hundred and twenty-seven. This Elpin is not to be confounded, as some fabulous writers have done, with the Scottish Alpin who fell at Laicht-Alpin in the year eight hundred and thirty-six. 

Having now put down rebellion at home, the victorious Ungus commenced hostilities against the Dalriads, or Scoto-Irish, in the year seven hundred and thirty-six. Muredach, the Scottish king was not disposed to act on the defensive but carried the war into the Pictish territories. Talorgan, the brother of Ungus, however, defeated him in a bloody engagement in which many principal persons fell. The Scots were again worsted in another battle in seven hundred and forty by Ungus, who in the same year repulsed an attack of the Northumbrians under Eadbert. In the year seven hundred and fifty, he defeated the Britons of the Cumbrian kingdom, in the well fought battle of Cath-O, in which his brother Talorgan was killed. Ungus, who was certainly by far the most powerful and ablest of the Pictish monarchs, died in seven hundred and sixty-one. A doubtful victory was gained by Ciniod the Pictish king over Aodh-fin, the Scottish king, in seven hundred and sixty-seven. Constantin, having overcome Canaul, the son of Tarla in seven hundred and ninety-one, succeeded him in the throne.4 

Up to this period, the pirate kings of the northern seas, or the Vikingr, as they were termed, had confined their ravages to the Baltic; but, in the year seven hundred and eighty-seven, they for the first time appeared on the east coast of England. Some years afterwards they found their way to the Caledonian shores, and during the ninth century they ravaged the Hebrides. In eight hundred and thirty-nine, the Vikingr entered the Pictish territories. A murderous conflict ensued between them and the Picts under Uen their king, in which both he and his only brother Bran, as well as many of the Pictish chiefs, fell. This event hastened the downfal of the Pictish monarchy: and as the Picts were unable to resist the arms of Kenneth, the Scottish king, he carried into execution, in the year eight hundred and forty-three, a project he had long entertained, of uniting the Scots and Picts, and placing both crowns on his head. The ridiculous story about the total extermination of the Picts by the Scots has long since been exploded. They were recognized as a distinct people even in the tenth century, but before the twelfth they lost their characteristic nominal distinction by being amalgamated with the Scots, their conquerors. 

The Scoto-Irish after their arrival in Argyle did not long continue under the separate authority of the three brothers, Lorn, Fergus, and Angus. They were said to have been very far advanced in life before leaving Ireland, and the Irish chroniclers assert that St. Patrick gave them his benediction before his death, in the year four hundred and ninety-three. The statement as to their advanced age derives some support from their speedy demise after they had laid the foundations of their settlements, and of a new dynasty of kings destined to rule over the kingdom of Scotland. Angus was the first who died, leaving a son, Muredach, who succeeded him in the small government of Ila. After the death of Lorn the eldest brother, Fergus, the last survivor, became sole monarch of the Scoto-Irish; but he did not long enjoy the sovereignty, for he died in five hundred and six. In an ancient Gaelic poem or genealogical account of the Scoto-Irish kings, Fergus5 is honoured with the appellation ard, which means either that he was a great sovereign or the first in dignity. 

Fergus was succeeded by his son Domangart or Dongardus, who died in five hundred and eleven, after a short but troubled reign of about five years. His two sons Comgal and Gabhran or Gauran, successively enjoyed his authority. Comgal had a peaceful reign of four and twenty years, during which he extended his settlements. He left a son named Conal, but Gauran his brother, notwithstanding, ascended the throne in the year five hundred and thirty-five without opposition. Gauran reigned two and twenty years, and, as we have already observed, was slain in a battle with the Picts under Bridei their king. 

Conal, the son of Comgal then succeeded in five hundred and fifty-seven, and closed a reign of fourteen years in five hundred and seventy-one; but a civil war ensued between Aidan, the son of Gauran, and Duncha, the son of Conal, for the vacant crown, the claim to which was decided on the bloody field of Loro, in five hundred and seventy-five, where Duncha was slain. Aidan, the son of Gauran, was formally inaugurated by St. Columba in Iona, in five hundred and seventy-four. Some years thereafter Aidan assisted the Cumbrian-Britons against the Saxons. He defeated the latter at Fethanlea, on Stanmore, in Northumberland, in five hundred and eighty-four, and again in five hundred and ninety, at the battle of Leithredh, in which his two sons, Arthur and Eocha-fin, were slain, with upwards of three hundred of his men; a circumstance which renders the supposition probable, that the armies of those times were far from numerous, and that the conflicts partook little of the regular system of modern warfare. Another battle was fought at Kirkinn in five hundred and ninety-eight, between Aidan and the Saxons, in which he appears to have had the disadvantage and in which he lost Domangart his son; and in six hundred and three he was finally defeated by the Northumbrians under Æthilfrid at the battle of Dawstane in Roxburghshire. The wars with the Saxons weakened the power of the Dalriads very considerably, and it was not till after a long period of time that they again ventured to meet the Saxons in the field. 

During a short season of repose Aidan, attended by St. Columba, went to the celebrated council of Drum-keat in Ulster, in the year five hundred and ninety. In this council he claimed the principality of Dalriada, the land of his fathers, and obtained an exemption from doing homage to the kings of Ireland, which his ancestors, it would appear, had been accustomed to pay. Aidan died in six hundred and five, at the advanced age of eighty, and was buried in the church of Kil-keran, the ruins of which are still to be seen in the midst of Campbelton. 

Aidan was succeeded in the throne by his son Eocha-bui, or Eocha the yellow-haired, who reigned sixteen years. In six hundred and twenty he got involved in a war with the Cruithne of Ulster. Kenneth-Caer, the tanist or heir apparent, was appointed to the command of the army destined to act against these Cruithne. A battle was fought at Ardcoran in which Kenneth was successful, and in which Tiachna, the son of the Ultonian monarch was slain. The same year was distinguished by another battle gained over the same people at Kenn, by Donal-breac, the son of Eocha’-bui. Eocha’ died soon afterwards, when his son Kenneth-cear, or the awkward, assumed the monarchical dignity; but he was killed in a battle against the Irish Cruithne, at Fedhaevin, in six hundred and twenty-one, after a short reign of three months. 

Ferchar, the son of Eogan, the first of the race of Lorn who ever mounted the throne, now succeeded. He was, according to Usher, crowned by Conan, the Bishop of Sodor; but neither his own reign nor that of his predecessor is marked by any important events. He died in six hundred and thirty-seven, after a reign of sixteen years. 

Donal, surnamed breac or freckled, the son of Eocha’-bui, of the race of Gauran, succeeded Ferchar in six hundred and thirty-seven. He was a warlike prince and had distinguished himself in the wars against the Cruithne of Ireland. Congal-Claon, the son of Scanlan, the king of the Cruithne in Ulster, having slain Suibne-mean, the king of Ireland, was attacked by Domnal II., supreme king of Ireland, who succeeded Suibne, and was defeated in the battle of Duncetheren, in six hundred and twenty-nine. Congal sought refuge in Cantyre, and having persuaded Donal-breac, the kinsman of Domnal, to join him in a war against Domnal, they invaded Ireland with a heterogeneous mass of Scoto-Irish, Picts, Britons, and Saxons, commanded by Donal and his brothers. Cealach, the son of Maelcomh, the nephew of the reigning king, and as tanist or heir apparent, the leader of his army, attacked Donal-breac in the plain of Moyrath in six hundred and thirty-seven, and completely defeated him after an obstinate and bloody engagement. Congal, the murderer of his sovereign, met his merited fate, and Donal-breac was obliged to secure his own and his army’s safety by a speedy return to Cantyre. St. Columba had always endeavoured to preserve an amicable understanding between the Cruithne of Ulster and the Scoto-Irish, and his injunctions were, that they should live in constant peace; but Donal disregarded this wise advice and paid dearly for disregarding it. He was not more successful in an enterprize against the Picts, having been defeated by them in the battle of Glenmoreson during the year six hundred and thirty-eight. He ended his days at Straith-cairmaic on the Clyde, by the sword of Hoan, one of the reguli of Strathcluyd, in the year six hundred and forty-two. The same destiny seems to have pursued his issue, for his son Cathasuidh fell by the same hand in six hundred and forty-nine. 

Conal II., the grandson of Conal I., who was also of the Fergusian race of Congal, next ruled over the tribes of Cantyre and Argyle; but Dungal of the race of Lorn, having obtained the government of the tribe of Lorn, questioned the right of Conal. He did not, however, carry his pretensions far, for Conal died, in undisturbed possession of his dominions, in six hundred and fifty-two, after a reign of ten years. To Donal-duin, or the brown, son of Conal, who reigned thirteen years, succeeded Maolduin, his brother, in six hundred and sixty-five. The family feuds which had long existed between the Fergusian races of Comgal and Tauran, existed in their bitterest state during the reign of Maolduin. Domangart the son of Donal-breac was murdered in six hundred and seventy-two, and Conal the son of Maolduin was assassinated in six hundred and seventy-five. 

Ferchar-fada, or the tall, apparently of the race of Lorn, and either the son or grandson of Ferchar, who died in six hundred and seventy-three, seized the reins of government upon the death of Maolduin, Donal, the son of Conal and grandson of Maolduin, was assassinated in six hundred and ninety-five, with the view, no doubt, of securing Ferchar’s possession of the crown, which he continued to wear amidst family feuds and domestic troubles for one and twenty years. On the death of Ferchar, in seven hundred and two, the sceptre passed again to the Fergusian race in the person of Eocha’-rineval, remarkable for his Roman nose, the son of Domangart, who was assassinated in six hundred and seventy-two. The reign of this prince was short and unfortunate. He invaded the territories of the Britons of Strathcluyd and was defeated on the banks of the Leven in a bloody conflict. Next year he had the misfortune to have his sceptre seized by a prince of the rival race of Lorn. 

This prince was Ainbhcealach, the son of Ferchar-fada. He succeeded Eocha’ in seven hundred and five. He was of an excellent disposition, but after reigning one year, was dethroned by his brother, Selvach, and obliged, in seven hundred and six, to take refuge in Ireland. Selvach attacked the Britons of Strathcluyd, and gained two successive victories over them, the one at Lough-coleth in seven hundred and ten, and the other at the rock of Mionuire in seven hundred and sixteen. At the end of twelve years, Ainbhcealach returned from Ireland, to regain a sceptre which his brother had by his cruelties shown himself unworthy to wield, but he perished in the battle of Finglein, a small valley among the mountains of Lorn in seven hundred and nineteen. Selvach met a more formidable rival in Duncha-beg, who was descended from Fergus, by the line of Congal: he assumed the government of Cantyre and Argail, and confined Selvach to his family settlement of Lorn. These two princes, appear to have been pretty fairly matched in disposition and valour, and both exerted them selves for the destruction of one another, a resolution which brought many miseries upon their tribes. In an attempt which they made to invade the territories of each other in seven hundred and nineteen, by means of their currachs, the novel scene of a naval combat ensued off Ardaness on the coast of Argyle, which was maintained on both sides with as determined perseverance and bravery, as were ever displayed in modern times by the English and the Dutch. Selvach though superior in skill, was overcome by the fortune of Duncha; but Selvach was not subdued. The death of Duncha in seven hundred and twenty-one, put an end to his designs; but Eocha’ III. the son of Eocha’-rineval, the successor of Duncha, being as bent on the overthrow of Selvach as his predecessor, continued the war. The rival chiefs met at Air Gialla in seven hundred and twenty-seven, where a battle was fought, which produced nothing but irritation and distress. This lamentable state of things was put an end to by the death of Selvach in seven hundred and twenty-nine. This event enabled Eocha’ to assume the government of Lorn, and thus the Dalriadian kingdom, which had been alternately ruled by chiefs of the houses of Fergus and Lorn, became again united under Eocha’. He died in seven hundred and thirty-three, after a reign of thirteen years, during nine of which he ruled over Cantyre and Argail, and four over all the Dalriadic tribes. Eocha’ was succeeded in the kingdom by Muredach, the son of Ainbhceallach of the race of Lorn, called by the gaelic bard Mure dhaigh Mhaith, or Muredagh the good. His reign was short and unfortunate. In revenge for an act of perfidy committed by Dungal, the son of Selvach, who had carried off Forai, the daughter of Brude, and the niece of Ungus, the great Pictish king, the latter, in the year seven hundred and thirty-six, led his army from Strathern, through the passes of the mountains into Lorn, which he wasted with fire and sword. He seized Dun-ola, the chief residence of the Lorn dynasty in Mid-Lorn, and burned Creic, another fortress, and having taken Dungal and Feradach, the two sons of Selvach, prisoners, he carried them to Forteviet, his capital, in fetters. Muredach collected his forces, and went in pursuit of his retiring enemy, and having overtaken him at Cnuic-Coirbre, a battle ensued, in which the Scots were repulsed with great slaughter. Talorgan, the brother of Ungus, commanded the Picts on this occasion, and pursued the flying Scots. In this pursuit Muredach is supposed to have perished, after a reign of three years. 

Eogban or Ewan, the son of Muredach, took up the fallen succession in seven hundred and thirty-six, and died in seven hundred and thirty-nine, in which year the Dalriadic sceptre was assumed by Aodh-fin, the son of Locha’ III. and grandson of Eocha’-rineval, descended from the Fergusian race of Guaran. This sovereign is called by the Gaelic bard, Aodh na Ardf-hlaith, or Hugh, the high or great king, a title which he appears to have well merited, from his successful wars against the Picts. In seven hundred and forty, he measured his strength with the celebrated Ungus; but victory declared for neither, and during the remainder of Ungus’ reign, he did not attempt to renew hostilities. After the death of Ungus in seven hundred and sixty-one, Aodh-fin declared war against the Picts, whose territories he entered from Upper Lorn, penetrating through the passes of Glenorchy and Braid-Alban. In seven hundred and sixty-seven, he reached Forteviot, the Pictish capital in Strathern, where he fought a doubtful battle with Ciniod the Pictish king. As the Picts had seized all the defiles of the mountains by which he could effect a retreat, his situation became extremely critical; but he succeeded by great skill and bravery, in rescuing his army from their peril, and leading them within the passes of Upper Lorn, where the Picts did not venture to follow him. Aodh-fin died in seven hundred and sixty-nine, after a splendid reign of thirty years. 

Fergus II., son of Aodh-fin, succeeded to the sceptre on the demise of his father, and died after an unimportant reign of three years. Selvach II., the son of Eogan, assumed the government in seven hundred and seventy-two. His reign, which lasted twenty-four years, presents nothing very remarkable in history. 

A new sovereign of a different lineage, now mounted the throne of the Scots in seven hundred and ninety-six, in the person of Eocha’ annuine, the son of Aodh-fin of the Guaran race. Eocha’ IV. is known also by the latinized appellation of Achaius. On his accession, he found a civil war raging in his dominions, which he took no means to allay, but the rival chieftains could not be kept in check, and probably Eocha’ thought he best consulted his own interest and the stability of his throne by allowing them to waste their strength upon one another. The story of the alliance between Achaius and Charlemagne, has been shown to be a fable, which, notwithstanding, continues to be repeated by superficial writers. He, however, entered into an important treaty with the Picts, by marrying Urgusia, the daughter of Urguis, an alliance which enabled his grandson Kenneth, afterwards to claim and acquire the Pictish sceptre, in right of Urgusia his grandmother. Achaius died in eight hundred and twenty-six, after a happy and prosperous reign of thirty years. He was succeeded by Dungal, the son of Selvach II. of the race of Lorn, being the last of that powerful family which swayed the Dalriadic sceptre. After a feeble reign of seven years, he died in eight hundred and thirty-three. Alpin, the last of the Scoto-Irish kings, and the son of Eocha’ IV. and of Urgusia, now mounted the throne. He was killed in eight hundred and thirty-six, near the site of Laicht castle, on the ridge which separates Kyle from Galloway. Having landed with a force on the coast of Kyle, within the bay of Ayr, he laid waste the country between the Ayr and the Doon, before the native chiefs could assemble a sufficient force to oppose him; but being met by them near the spot just mentioned, he met his fate, from the weapon of an enraged chief. The fiction that Alpin fell in a battle with the Picts, when asserting his right to the Pictish throne, has long been exploded. 

In eight hundred and thirty-six, Kenneth, the son of Alpin, succeeded his father. He is called, by the Gaelic bard so often alluded to, Chionasith Chruaidh, signifying Kenneth the hardy. He was a prince of a warlike disposition, and of great vigour of mind and body. He avenged the death of his father, by frequent inroads among the people dwelling to the south of the Clyde; but the great glory of his reign, consists in his achievements against the Picts, which secured for him and his posterity the Pictish sceptre. The Pictish power had, previous to the period of Kenneth’s accession, been greatly enfeebled by the inroads of the Danish Vikingr; but it was not till after the death of Uven, the Pictish king, in eight hundred and thirty-nine, after a distracted reign of three years, that Kenneth made any serious attempt to seize the Pictish diadem. On the accession of Wred, the last of the Pictish kings, Kenneth laid claim to the Pictish throne in right of Urgusia, his grandmother; and after an arduous struggle, he wrested the sceptre from the hand of Wred, in eight hundred and forty-three, after he had reigned over the Scots seven years. In noticing the opinion of those writers who suppose that the Picts rather subdued the Scots, than that they were subdued by their Scoto-Irish rivals, Chalmers observes that “there are two moral certainties, which forbid the adopting of this theory, or the believing of that system: it is morally certain, that the language which was spoken by the people, on the north of the Clyde and Forth, was Cambro-British, till the close of the Pictish period, in eight hundred and forty-three, A.D.: it is also morally certain that the prevailing language, within the same country, throughout the Scottish period, from eight hundred and forty-three to ten hundred and ninety-seven, A.D., was the Scoto-Irish, the speech of Kenneth, and his people.”6 

The history of the Scoto-Irish kings afford few materials either amusing or instructive; but it was impossible, from the connexion between that history, and the events that will follow in detail, to pass it over in silence. The Scoto-Irish tribes appear to have adopted much the same form of Government, as existed in Ireland at the time of their departure from that kingdom; the sovereignty of which, though nominally under one head, was in reality a pentarchy, which allowed four provincial kings to dispute the monarchy of the fifth. This system was the prolific source of anarchy, assassinations, and civil wars. The Dalriads were constantly kept in a state of intestine commotion and mutual hostility by the pretensions of their rival chiefs, or princes of the three races, who contended with the common sovereign for pre-eminence or exemption. The dlighe-tanaiste, or law of tanistry, which appears to have been generally followed as in Ireland, as well in the succession of kings as in that of chieftains, rather increased than mitigated these disorders; for the claim to rule not being regulated by any fixed law of hereditary succession, but depending upon the capricious will of the tribe, rivals were not found wanting to dispute the rights so conferred. There was always, both in Ireland and in Argyle, an heir presumptive to the Crown chosen, under the name of tanist, who commanded the army during the life of the reigning sovereign, and who succeeded to him after his demise. Budgets, and committees of supply, and taxes, were wholly unknown in those times among the Scots, and the monarch was obliged to support his dignity by voluntary contributions of clothes, cattle, furniture, and other necessaries. 

Among the Scots, the tenure of lands ceased with the life of the possessors, and women could not even possess an inch of ground under the Brehon law. So late as the reign of Alexander II., the Galloway-men rose, almost en masse, to support the pretensions of a bastard son against the claims of three legitimate daughters of their late lord, a revolt which it required all the power of the sovereign to put down. The portion allotted to daughters on marriage, and denominated Sprè in Irish, consisted of cattle. We have elsewhere observed, that writing, during the existence of the Druids, was unknown to the Celtic tribes, and that their history, laws and religion were preserved by tradition. There is reason to believe, that tradition supplied the place of written records for many ages after the extinction of the Druidical superstition. Hence among the Scots, traditionary usages and local customs, long supplied the place of positive or written laws. It is a mistake to suppose, as some writers have done, that the law consisted in the mere will of the Brehon or judge. The office of Brehon was no doubt hereditary, and it is quite natural to infer, that under such a system of jurisprudence, the dictum of the judge might not always comport with what was under stood to be the common law or practice; but from thence, to argue that the will of the judge was to be regarded as the law itself, is absurd, and contrary to every idea of justice. As the principle jurisprudence of the Celtic tribes had for its object, the reparation, rather than the prevention of crimes, almost every crime, even of the blackest kind, was commuted by a mulct or payment. Tacitus observes in allusion to this practice, that it was “a temper wholesome to the commonwealth, that homicide and lighter transgressions were settled by the payment of horses or cattle, part to the king or community, part to him or his friends who had been wronged.” The law of Scotland long recognised this system of compensation. The fine was termed, under the Brehon law, eric, which not only signifies a reparation, but also a fine, a ransom, a forfeit. Among the Albanian Scots it was called cro, a term preserved in the Regiam Majestatem, which has a whole chapter showing “the cro of ilk man, how mikil it is.”7 This law of reparation, according to O’Connor, was first promulgated in Ireland, in the year one hundred and sixty-four.8 According to the Regiam Majestatem, the cro of a villain was sixteen cows; of an earl’s son or thane, one hundred; of an earl, one hundred and forty; and that of the king of Scots, one thousand cows, or three thousand oras, that is to say, three oras for every cow. 

Besides a share of the fines imposed, the Brehon or judge obtained a piece of arable land for his support. When he administered justice, he used to sit sometimes on the top of a hillock or heap of stones, sometimes on turf, and sometimes even on the middle of a bridge, surrounded by the suitors, who, of course, pleaded their own cause. We have already seen, that under the system of the Druids, the offices of religion, the instruction of youth, and the administration of the laws, were conducted in the open air; and hence the prevalence of the practice alluded to. But this practice was not peculiar to the Druids; for all nations, in the early stages of society, have followed a similar custom. The Tings of the Scandinavians, which consisted of circular enclosures of stone without any covering, and within which both the judicial and legislative powers were exercised, afford a striking instance of this. According to Pliny,9 even the Roman Senate first met in the open air, and the sittings of the Court of the Areopagus, at Athens, were so held. The present custom of holding courts of justice in halls is not of very remote antiquity in Scotland, and among the Scoto-Irish, the baron bailie long continued to dispense justice to the Baron’s vassals from a moothill or eminence, which was generally on the bank of a river, and near to a religious edifice. 

In the rude state of Scoto-Irish society, learning and the arts could receive little encouragement. Architecture was but little regarded; the materials employed in the construction of houses consisting only of wattles, of which slight articles were built, even the celebrated Abbey of Iona, from which issued the teachers of religion for many ages. The comforts of stone and lime buildings were long unknown to the Scoto-Irish. As they were without manufacture, their clothing must necessarily have been very scanty. “The clothing even of the Monks,” says Chalmers, “consisted of the skins of beasts, though they had woollen, and linen, which they knew how to obtain from abroad by means of traffic: the variegated plaid was introduced in latter times. Venison, and fish, and seals, and milk, and flesh, were the food of the people. The monks of Iona, who lived by their labour, had some provision of corn, and perhaps the chiefs, who lived in strengths. But, it is to be recollected, that the monks were every-where, for ages, the improvers themselves, and the instructors of others, in the most useful arts. They had the merit of making many a blade of grass grow where none grew before. Even Iona had orchards, during the rugged times of the ninth century, till the Vikingr brutishly ruined all. Whatever the Scoto-Irish enjoyed themselves, they were willing to impart to others. The most unbounded hospitality was enjoined by law, and by manners, as a capital virtue.”10 

Of the various customs and peculiarities which distinguished the ancient Irish, as well as the Scoto-Irish, none has given rise to greater speculation than that of fosterage; which consisted in the mutual exchange, by different families, of their children for the purpose of being nursed and bred. Even the son of the chief was so entrusted during pupilarity with an inferior member of the clan. An adequate reward was either given or accepted in every case, and the lower orders, to whom the trust was committed, regarded it as an honour rather than a service. “Five hundred kyne and better,” says Campion, “were sometimes given by the Irish to procure the nursing of a great man’s child.” A firm and indissoluble attachment always took place among foster brothers, and it continues in consequence to be a saying among Highlanders, that “affectionate to a man is a friend, but a foster-brother is as the life-blood of his heart.” Camden observes, that no love in the world is comparable by many degrees to that of foster-brethren in Ireland.11 The close connexion which the practice of fosterage created between families, while it frequently prevented civil feuds, often led to them. But the strong attachment thus created was not confined to foster-brothers: it also extended to their parents. Spenser relates of the foster-mother to Murrough O’Brien, that, at his execution, she sucked the blood from his head, and bathed her face and breast with it, saying that it was too precious to fall to the earth. The family, which had been fortunate to bring up the chief, were greatly beloved and respected by him, and the foster-brothers were promoted in his household to places of trust and confidence. The remuneration for fosterage was often a matter of paction, and, in modern times, became, in some cases, the subject of an especial written agreement; but, in general, an understood practice prevailed in particular districts. “In Mull, the father sends with his child a certain number of cows, to which the same number is added by the fosterer; the father appropriating a proportionate extent of country, without rent, for their pasturage. If every cow brings a calf, half belongs to the fosterer and half to the child; but if there be only one calf between two cows, it is the child’s; and when the child returns to the parents, it is accompanied by all the cows given both by the father and by the fosterer, with half of the increase of the stock by propagation. These beasts are considered as a portion, and called macaladh cattle, of which the father has the produce, but is supposed not to have the full property, but to owe the same number to the child, as a portion to the daughter, or a stock for the son.”12 

It is unnecessary, at this stage of our labours, to enter upon the subject of clanship, as we mean to reserve our observations thereon till we come to the history of the clans, when we shall also notice some peculiarities or traits of the Highlanders not hitherto mentioned. We shall conclude this chapter by giving 



Series. Names and Filiations. Date of accession. Duration of Reigns. Demise. 
  A.D. Years. A.D. 
 LOARN, the son of Erc, reigned contemporary with Fergus In 503 In 506 
FERGUS, the son of Erc … … … 
DOMANGART, the son of Fergus 506 511 
COMGAL, the son of Domangart 511 24 535 
GAURAN, the son of Domangart 535 22 557 
CONAL, the son of Comgal 557 14 571 
AIDAN, the son of Gauran 571 34 605 
EOACHA’-Bui, the son of Aidan 605 16 621 
KENNETH-Cear, the son of Eoacha’-Bui 621 ¼ 621 
FERCHAR, the son of Eogan, the first of the race of Lorn 621 16 637 
10 DONAL-Breac, the son of Eoacha’-Bui 637 642 
11 CONAL II., the grandson of Conal I. 642 10 652 
12 DUNGAL reigned some years with Conal … … … 
13 DONAL-Duin, the son of Conal 652 13 665 
14 MAOL-Duin, the son of COnal 665 16 681 
15 FERCHAR-Fada, the grandson of Ferchar I. 681 21 702 
16 EOACHA’-Rineval, the son of Domangart, and the grandson of Donal-Breac 702 705 
17 AINBHCEALACH, the son of Ferchar-fada 705 706 
18 SELVACH, the son of Ferchar-fada, reigned over Lorn, from 706 to 729 … … … 
19 DUNCHA-Beg reigned over Cantyre and Argail, till 720 706 27 733 
20 EOCHA’ III., the son of Eoacha’-rinevel, over Cantyre and Argail, from 720 to 729; and also over Lorn from 729 to 733 … … … 
21 MUREDACH, the son of Ainbhcealach 733 736 
22 EOGAN, the son of Muredach 736 739 
23 AODH-Fin, the son of Eoacha’ III. 739 30 769 
24 FERGUS, the son of Aodh-fin 769 772 
25 SELVACH II., the son of Eogan 772 24 796 
26 EOACHA’-Annuine IV., the son of Aodh-fin 796 30 826 
27 DUNGAL, the son of Selvach II. 826 833 
28 ALPIN, the son of Eoacha’-annuine IV. 833 836 
29 KENNETH, the son of Alpin 836 843 

1  See Chalmers’ Caledonia Vol. I. p. 206. Innes’ Critical Enquiry, Vol. I. from p. 111 to 117, &c., &c. 

2  O’Flaherty’s Ogygia; Ogygia vindicated, pp. 163, 4 & 5. O’Connor’s Dissertation, pp. 196, 7. 

3  Chalmer’s Caledonia, Vol. I. p. 275. 

4  See the Ulster Annals where an account is given of all these conflicts. 

5  The proper Irish name it seems is Feargus, derived from the fearg of the Irish language, signifying a warrior or champion. Many Irish chieftains were so named. 

6  Caledonia, Vol. I. pp. 304 and 305. In proof of this opinion, he refers to the change by the Scots of the British word Aber into the Scoto-Irish Inver in ancient Chartularies. 

7  Lib. iv. cap. xxiv. 

8  O’Connor’s Dissert. 

9  Lib. viii. c. 45. 

10  Chalmers’ Caledonia, vol. 1. 

11  Holland’s Camden, Ireland, p. 116. 

12  Johnson’s Tour to the Hebrides.

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