Also shown in the Chronicles as Gud, Gilgidi, and Gede Olgudach, he is presented as the first true king after the sons of Cruithne. It has been suggested that his name might simply signify that he was the first in the line, as the Gaelic word for ‘first’ is the similar sounding ‘ceud’’. E.g. ‘an ceud fhear’ – the first man.
However, there is no real reason to suppose him not to have been an actual person. He is believed, according to the Chronicles, to have reigned for a staggering one hundred and fifty years. It is likely though that the figure of 150 says more about this king’s importance, or standing in the community, than it does about an imagined healthy life span. We know next to nothing about King Gede for the reasons discussed earlier, i.e. lack of documentation, yet, in spite of that, and against all the odds, we may have found his final resting-place.
High on a rise in the eastern end of the Ochil hills can be found the remains of a cairn, shown on the Ordnance Survey maps as ‘Cairn Geddes’. (O.S. Landranger 58. Grid Ref. NO.120.131). Gede, along with its other forms such as Ged, Geddes, Geddie and Geddis is a very old name in Scotland and is possibly derived from the Gaelic word ‘gead’, meaning a measure of land. It may be a ‘Q’ Celtic version of the Pictish word ‘Pit’ or ‘Pett’, meaning the same thing
The remains of this cairn are rather sparse. A small heap of stones about five feet high (one metre fifty) has been gathered in the middle of the cairn by occasional visitors, but by far the greater part was robbed for building material sometime in the early 19th century, apparently for the construction of drains and dykes. It was noted at the time of the plunder (some might say desecration), that the cairn was found to contain “a rude stone coffin”. Sadly, no archaeological work appears to have been carried out at the site and no mention was made of any bones or metal or other items of interest being discovered. There is every likelihood anyway that, given the landowner’s obvious disrespect for the past, all such items would have been discarded as worthless or simply pocketed as souvenirs.
What happened to the coffin is not recorded, but it is not impossible that the labourers reburied it when the bulk of the stonework had been removed. Let us hope so.
The approximate dimensions of the cairn can still be traced on the ground and enough of the base has been left for us to make an intelligent guess as to its original size. It appears to have been ellipsoid (oval) in shape, and lay along a N.N.E. to S.S.W. axis with the southern end pointing to the mid-winter sunset. The length measures roughly 66 feet (20.3 metres) and the width measures 54 feet (16.6 metres). It is of course impossible to say for sure the height of the original cairn, but it is likely to have been at least a quarter of its length which would have made it about 15 feet (4.6 metres) high. We don’t know the depth of the foundations so they haven’t been taken into consideration in any of the following calculations.
These dimensions have been appraised by a mathematician, and his calculations, when rounded, give an approximate volume of 28,000 cubic feet (815 cubic metres). Allowing for 25% spacing due to the irregular shape of the stones and boulders used in the cairn’s construction, this gives us a volume of 21,000 cubic feet (600 cubic metres) of solid stone. As sandstone weighs about 150 lbs. (68 kilos.) per cubic foot, this cairn would therefore have weighed at least a whopping one thousand four hundred tons. Imagine the organisation and the logistics involved in its creation. You have got to be someone pretty important to get a cairn like that raised to your memory and the first High King of the Picts would have been just such a person.
Nearby, to the south of the cairn, nestles lonely Loch Whirr, whose scored rocks bear testimony to the rigours of the Ice Age and whose calm waters now provide a pleasant home for a family of swans. Whirr is an unusual name, and its descent may be of some interest to students of Toponymy, (place-name research). There is little doubt that ‘Whirr’ has derived from the Scottish pronunciation of a Perthshire Gaelic word ‘Uir’, meaning a grave, mound or tomb, in the same manner that a Scottish mother’s instruction to her bairns to ‘Wheesht!’ has come from the Gaelic command, ‘Isd’, meaning ‘Be Quiet!’ Loch Whirr simply means the loch of the burial mound.
At mid-day, as the mid-winter sun gradually sets, Loch Whirr turns golden when observed from the cairn. We can assume that this spectacular phenomenon was taken into the consideration of the people who raised the mound, for the site was obviously chosen with some care. Although it sits only 900 feet (278 metres) above sea level, the views from this ancient tomb are absolutely stunning.
To the east can be seen the whole range of the Lomond Hills in Fife and to the far south can be seen the Pentlands. To the west lies Craig Rossie, proud and prominent above the ancient towns of Dunning and Auchterarder. The view then sweeps across the Crieff Hills with the peaks around Glen Almond showing clearly on the horizon and carries on through the mountains north of Dunkeld and Pitlochry, leading one to the Braes above the Carse of Gowrie. The observer’s eye then moves north east, towards the hills of Angus, before finally settling on distant Dundee, across the river Tay.
Some places are said to reek of history, but the area surrounding Cairn Geddes positively marinades in it. Nearby runs the ‘Wallace Road’, so called because Sir William Wallace used this track in his campaigns against the English, though it is believed to be much older, having been used originally by the Romans as a marching route to their fort at Carpow near Abernethy. The route later became a coach road and was travelled by Sir Walter Scott who mentioned the view in the opening pages of his book, ‘The Fair Maid of Perth’.
There is much evidence of Bronze Age settlement in the area, including a cup marked boulder and a Druid’s ‘Rocking Stone’ (though, somewhat depressingly, neither rocking nor rolling since sometime in the nineteen-sixties), and the author has personally found two flint tools, dated to around 5000 years old, within a quarter mile of the cairn. Prehistoric forts dot the surrounding landscape.
The Irish ‘Book of Lecain’, tells us that a certain Gede, King of the Cruithne, ruled over Ireland as well as Alba. “The voices of all sounded as the music of the harp to each other, so great was the peace in his reign.” If this was the same Gede he must have been some King. We will probably never know for sure if Cairn Geddes was King Gede’s burial tomb, but it is surely a great pity that this cairn, which could very well be the final resting place of the first true King of the Picts, lies today so neglected and forsaken by modern Scots.
Tharain, it has been suggested, may be a corrupted form of the Gaelic word ‘dara’, as in ‘an dara aon’ – the second one; but it is more likely to be cognate to a Gaulish word meaning thunder.
|3) –23) Inclusive.
We have no information on these kings apart from their names and supposed lengths of reign. As stated above, other writers have made various suggestions as to their meanings, but mostly without much sign of success. The names are just too obscure.
24) Drust son of Irb
Known as ‘Drust of the Hundred Battles’, who lived a hundred years, this hero king probably became a legend in his own lifetime. He was born around 407 A.D. when the Romans were leaving Britain. A true leader, he took control during the ensuing disruption and united all the Southern Picts under his banner, (which probably depicted a wild boar), and is thought to have set up safe harbours to protect his coastline from invasion by the Britons.
What is believed to be his fort, known as Trusty’s (i.e. Drust’s) Hill, lies at Anwoth near Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway in Southwest Scotland. The ruins of this fort still exist, along with Pictish symbols comprising a double disc and ‘Z’ rod, a sea serpent, a geometric symbol which it has been suggested looks like a dagger, and what appears to be an insect’s head, all carved on an outcrop of rock near the fort’s entrance. This fort was partially excavated in 1960 by Charles Thomas and was found to date from pre-Roman times. Apart from the carvings no other evidence of Pictish occupation was discovered, so it is possible that Drust occupied the fort for a relatively short time before moving further north, probably to Abernethy in Perthshire.
A fresh water spring, thought to commemorate him, or his mysterious name-sake, St. Drostan, lies on the slopes of Dumbarrow Hill just south of Abernethy. This spring, known as the ‘Katie Thirsty Well,’ (note. not Katie’s), gives the visitor beautiful extensive views across to the Lomond Hills in Fife, but is sadly neglected, and is now nothing more than a group of four or five large stones showing where the water flows out of the ground. The name Katie is believed to be in remembrance of St. Katherine of Alexandria, thought to have been martyred early in the fourth century by the Emperor Maxentius who supposedly had her tied to a revolving wheel set with knives. The Catherine Wheel firework is named after her. Interestingly, Abernethy’s northern namesake, Abernethy on Spey, absorbed an ancient parish that was dedicated to this same St. Katherine.
Drust himself can be found in the second word ‘Thirsty’ which is a corruption of his name; similar to that of ‘Trusty’, but incorporating a linguistic phenomenon known as metathesis, where two letters inside a word switch places, altering the sound. If there is any truth at all in this old legend then the Katie Thirsty well must be one of the oldest Christian sites in the whole of Scotland. Drust son of Irb died in 478 A.D.
|25) Tholarg son of Anile
We have no information on this king apart from his length of reign, which was of either two or four years.
26) Nechtan Morbet son of Irb
Unless his supposed brother Drust (No.24) beat him to it, this king was the first to introduce Christianity to his people, c.485 A.D. Note that this was 80 years before St. Columba’s mission to the Northern Picts in 565 A.D. Nechtan dedicated Abernethy church in Perthshire to St. Brigid, the first abbess of Kildare, whom he had met in Ireland while apparently banished there by King Drust. We are not told the reason why Nechtan was sent to Ireland by his elder brother, and in fact they may not even have been brothers. The age difference between the two seems too great to be realistic as Nechtan reigned for another 10, or possibly even 24 years. It is possible however that they both came from the same family tree and this could account for them both being sons of ‘Irb’, without them having the same father.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Nechtan’s exile in Ireland seems to have affected him greatly, and he took very much to the new religion. He granted the land around Abernethy to Brigid’s favourite pupil Darlugdach, who was on a Christian mission to the Picts and Britons at the time. Darlugdach became the second abbess of Kildare when St. Brigid died around 500 A.D.
The 10th century round tower of the Abernethy Celtic church, where many of the Pictish Chronicles and other important documents relating to the Picts and Scots were written, still stands to this day, as does its twin tower in Kildare, Ireland. The only other round tower in Scotland, dating from around the period of the Celtic Church, is in Brechin, Angus.
At the foot of the Abernethy tower is a fine example of an early pre-Christian Pictish carved stone, badly damaged but still fascinating. On it can be seen a hammer, an anvil, part of a ‘Crescent and V rod’ symbol, and an enigmatic object, called by some a tuning fork, but believed by several archaeologists to be a representation of a burial chamber. There is also a fine set of iron ‘Jougs’ (probably from an old French word, Joug, a yoke) hanging on the wall where those proven guilty of some misdemeanour or other would have found themselves secured by having one of these iron collars clamped around their throat. This old Scottish form of pillory doesn’t date from the time of the Picts however, but is of post-reformation date and belongs to an age when our Scottish fore-fathers believed that public opprobrium was enough to cause a person to desist from their evil ways. Doubtless the Pictish kings had their own slightly more direct methods of dealing with miscreants, malefactors and other sorts of malcontents. (“Put him in the Jougs you say? Aye right! He should be so lucky”.)
Stairs within the tower, which is 72 feet (22 metres) in height, allow access to the roof, thereby giving the visitor excellent panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The big iron key that opens the door to the tower is kept in the nearby tea-room. (It is called the ‘Pitblae’-a truly Pictish name if ever there was one). Be prepared for a wee surprise, however, when you attempt to open the lock. Upon your first efforts to do so, you may be reminded that this splendid tower was built according to Irish specifications.
27) - 37) Inclusive
On these kings we have almost no information whatsoever, except that one of the kings called Drust sent his daughter Dusticc to be educated by Mugint, the abbot of Whithorn in Galloway.
W.A. Cummins, in his influential work, “The Age of the Picts”, (1995) suggests that the name Drust or Drostan may be cognate with the Welsh name Tristan, from trystau, meaning thunder. He posits that the well known Pictish symbol of the double disc and Z rod may represent thunder and lightning, as the double disc could be a depiction of clashing cymbals, and the Z rod a bolt of forked lightning. Certainly, at Trusty’s hill fort in Galloway (see No.24), this symbol is carved near the fort’s entrance.
Regarding the name ‘Gurum’, an interesting tradition of the Graham Clan is that their progenitor was a Caledonian chieftain called ‘Greme’ or ‘Girim’ who, according to legend, was the first Pict to breach the Roman Antonine Wall. This wall, built in 142 A.D., crossed Scotland for a remarkable 37 miles from Old Kilpatrick in the West to Bridgeness in the East. Is it possible that Gurum, the father of Drust, (Nos.29 and 31) Garthnac (No.32) and Cailtran (No.33) was a descendant of this man? Gurum is a very old word whose interpretation we can only guess at. There is, however, an obsolete Gaelic word ‘Griom’, meaning ‘War’ and ‘Battle’, so can we speculate that ‘Gurum’ might possibly be understood to signify ‘The Warrior’?
On the old maps of Scotland, Antonine’s Wall is named as Grim’s, or Graham’s, Dyke, in honour of this hero.
38) Brude son of Mailcon
A strong and powerful leader, this king, also known as Brude Mac Maelchon, was almost certainly the son of Maelgwn, the famous king of Gwynedd in North Wales. Maelgwn, whose name means the ‘white stone’, was a great patron of the arts and more can be found out about him in the writings of St. Gildas, a 6th. century monk from the west of Britain. We do not know the name of Brude’s Pictish mother.
Brude united the Northern and Southern Picts and repelled an invasion of Scots from Dalriada (Argyll) in 560 A.D.
He adopted the Christian faith and was baptised by St. Columba in 565 A.D. near Inverness. The story is fully told in “The Life of Saint Columba”, a hagiography written in the 7th century by St. Adamnan, the ninth abbot of Iona. Also included are accounts of how St. Columba bested Brude’s chief druid Broichan in a contest of Christian versus pagan magic, and of how he drove off a monster that was lurking in the depths of the River Ness. Note that it was recorded as being by the River Ness that the event took place, and not Loch Ness, as is often supposed. This monster (whatever it was) wasn’t benign by any manner or means and could probably best be described as a beast with attitude. It had already killed one of the local inhabitants, “ the barbarous heathens,” as Adamnan called them, by giving him a nasty bite, and was all for having a second helping of human flesh, only this time from one of Columba’s companions, when ‘the blessed man’ intervened. Part of the text, translated in 1856 by Dr. W. Reeves, Canon of Armagh, is given below.
‘But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster saying, “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes.’
Scotland, and in particular the Highlands, is full of stories about water dwelling monsters similar to this one, which are better known as ‘Kelpies’ or ‘Water Horses’. The Gaelic word is ‘Each Uisge’. It is more than probable that the Picts had their own tales about them and there is a good likelihood that many of the tales told in the Highlands today have sprung from indigenous Pictish folklore.
Perhaps it is worth mentioning here that a great many of the Pictish carved stones portray a strange creature which nobody has as yet been able to identify. It has been given the eponymous nick-name of ‘The Beastie’ by enthusiasts of these carved stones, for it bears no resemblance to any known animal, either living or dead. Its head somewhat resembles a duck, and its ‘legs’ appear to be some kind of rounded fins or flippers. It has a mane and a tail, and its eyes, depending on which particular stone you are examining, vary from round to oval shaped, and can put you in mind of everything from a lizard to a porpoise. Every flowing aspect of the ‘Beastie’ gives one the impression of its being an aquatic animal.
If this monster ever existed beyond the confines of fertile imaginations and carved stones then it’s hardly surprising that the Romans didn’t linger long in the land of the Caledonians.
Adamnan, throughout his biography of St. Columba, gives us a whole lot of information similar to that contained in this story about the monster in the river Ness. He even tells us the name of the lucky man whose life was saved from the monster. It was a certain Lugne Mocumin. What a pity space couldn’t be found to tell us a little more about the Picts themselves. We should love to have known what sort of houses they lived in and the colour of the clothes they wore. What kind of folk tales did they tell one another while sitting round their cosy fireside hearths and what were their songs about? We shall never know. Even knowing the colour of Brude’s hair would be something worth having.
Brude, son of Mailcon, ruled for 30 years. He died in 584 A.D. supposedly in the battle of ‘Sreith’ (Strathmore?) in ‘Circin’ (Angus).
|39) Gartnait son of Domnach
This king had it pretty tough. Throughout his reign of 11 years (some scribes say 20), he was battling constantly with Aedan Mac Gabhran, King of the Dalriadan Scots who, with his four (some say five) sons, never ceased attacking Gartnait’s kingdom. It is possible that Gartnait fell under Aedan’s sword as Aedan is reported in the 11th century document “Scelo Cano Meic Gartnain” to have killed a certain Gartnan with whom he had been at war.
The names Gartnait and Gartnan look similar enough for us to conclude that they were for one and the same person; King Gartnait, son of Domnach.
|40) Nechtan, grandson or nephew of Uerb
This king is credited with establishing a church at Abernethy. It is likely that he has been confused with Nechtan Morbet son of Irb (No.26), as the king lists become very complex at this point and the various Chronicles are often at odds with one another as to who was ruling what, where and when, and for how long.
|41) Cinioch son of Lutrin
Nothing is known of this king and nothing is known of his father Lutrin. Cinioch is an early form of the name Kenneth, generally held to be a Scottish name, so he may have been of Dalriadan origin.
42) – 44) Gartnait, Brude and Talorg, all sons of Uuid
These three kings, all brothers, are also recorded in the king lists under other names. Respectively: Nechtan son of Fochle, Brude son of Fochle, and Tolarg son of Fethar.
The name Nechtan, often spelt Naiton, can be found in the second syllable of the name Gartnait. The name Uuid would probably have been pronounced ‘Fid’, (hence Fethar), and may be from the same root as Fidach, the wood dwelling son or clan of Cruithne. The Gaelic word for wood is ‘fiodh’, but it may be worth pointing out that Uuid or Fid may equally derive from the word ‘fiadh’, meaning a deer. The Picts often portrayed deer on their carved stones. This is, of course, mere speculation. We have no info on these kings.
|45) Talargan son of Anfrud
Talargan came to the throne in 653 A.D. He led the Picts to victory in a battle against the Scots at Strath Ethairt the next year, and this seems to have brought about a breathing space, as there was a lasting peace and no major skirmishes between these two peoples for several decades. Talargan died in 657 A.D. No sooner had he died than the English, under their King Oswy (he was Talargan’s uncle), ‘subdued and made tributary’ most of Southern Pictland. This subjugation was to last for almost 30 years.
|46) Gartnait son of Donnel
Gartnait took over kingship around 657 A.D. in the part of Pictland that was not under the control of the English King Oswy. He died in 663 A.D. His father is believed to have been Donnel Brecc (freckled Donald), the famous king of Dalriada who was killed in a battle with the Britons of Strathclyde in 642 A.D.
47) Drust son of Donnel
Drust, Gartnait’s brother, was crowned in 664 A.D. the very same year that the infamous ‘Synod of Whitby’ took place. This was the scene of the great debate about the correct dating of Easter, and the attempt (ultimately successful), by the Roman church to assert its ascendancy over the Celtic church.
It was during this acrimonious debate that Wilfred, the Roman envoy, who was obviously not a man to mince his words said;
“The only people stupid enough to be in disagreement with the whole world are those Scots and their obstinate allies the Picts and the Britons who live on two islands at the ends of the ocean.”
Oswy, the Northumbrian king, who up until then had preferred the Celtic church, came down in favour of the Roman faction, and Pictish blood began to boil. King Oswy died in 672 A.D. and was succeeded by King Ecgfrith who immediately sought to bring the Picts more directly under his control.
Drust led a rising against Ecgfrith in around 672 A.D, “determined to free themselves forever from subjection to the Saxons”, according to Eddius Stephanus in his “Life of Wilfred”. The Picts suffered a terrible slaughter, and Eddius recorded that two rivers were so filled with Pictish dead that the English were able to cross over dry-shod to pursue the fugitives. The Picts were then, according to Eddius, “reduced to slavery and remained subject under the yoke of captivity”.
Shortly afterwards, King Drust was banished from the land of the Picts. He died around 677 A.D., probably from a broken heart. It is not recorded whether it was the English or his own people that had expelled him.
48) Brude son of Bile
Usually called Brude Mac Bile, this king, believed to have been the son of a king of Strathclyde, must surely rank alongside Robert the Bruce as one of Scotland’s most capable commanders and patriotic leaders. Like King Robert six centuries later, upon ascending the throne Brude immediately set out to bring his kingdom firmly under his control. His first task was to bring the troublesome sub-kings of Pictland to heel.
Advancing northwards with a force of trusted veterans he tackled one rebellious stronghold after another. In 681 A.D. he besieged and overthrew the mighty fortress of Dunottar on the eastern seaboard. By 682 A.D. he had equipped a navy of such strength that he was able to sail north and lay waste the insubordinate Orkney Isles. One year later he completed his hat-trick by attacking and subduing the Scots’ Dalriadan capital of Dunadd. Brude had, in a few masterful years, secured his northern, eastern and western boundaries. He now looked to the south. The year was 685 A.D.
The English King Ecgfrith had marched into Pictland with a thundering army of cavalry and infantry in order to further subjugate the Picts and force the Roman church upon them as the state religion. As we have already seen, the Picts preferred the teachings and form of the Celtic church. Unluckily for Ecgfrith, King Brude Mac Bile, unlike his predecessor Drust, was a brilliant tactician. Using his knowledge of local terrain, the English were lured into a mire where their whole army, along with its king and his personal bodyguard, was routed and utterly destroyed in a furious orgy of bloody revenge and unleashed nationalist rage at Dunnichen Hill in Angus. Only a few survivors managed to struggle back to England where their dire news and story of the battle was listened to by a numbed and shocked populace.
In England, this battle became known as Nechtansmere. Among the Britons, who, in consequence of the Pictish victory were at last able to reclaim their own independence, it became known as ‘Gueith Lin Garan’, the Battle of the Heron Pool. Among the Scots it became known as ‘Cath Duin Neachtain’, the Battle of Dun Nechtan. Nechtan’s fort, which was shamefully quarried away in the 19th century for building material, stood nearby. Regrettably, we do not know what the Picts themselves called the battle.
The clash was well documented by contemporary Irish and English scribes, and we are generously informed that the engagement took place at around 3 p.m. on Saturday 20th of May, 685 A.D. This is a date that should surely be taught to, and memorised by, every Scottish school child together with that of Bannockburn in 1314, for it is likely that without the Pictish victory at Dunnichen Hill, the Nation of Scotland would never have come about, and our world would be a very different place.
It was recorded that Ecgfrith was given a royal burial by the Picts on ‘St. Columba’s Isle,’ which was either Iona, on the west coast of Scotland, a journey of several days duration, or, much more likely in the circumstances, Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth, just a day or so away from Dunnichen Hill.
No matter where King Ecgfrith was buried however, his royal inhumation shows that the Picts were obviously magnanimous in victory; a sure sign of a highly civilised people. Brude died in 693 A.D. and was buried on the sacred Isle of Iona, sorely lamented by his kinsmen. St. Adamnan, Columba’s biographer, was reportedly much affected by Brude’s death and is reported, in a very ancient Irish document called the ‘Life of St. Adamnan’, to have made this short statement;
|“Mor do inganta do ni
In ri genair o Muire
Betha scuab an im muili
Ecc do Bruide mac Bile
Iar mbeith ir righe tuaithe
Ceppan caue crin dara
Im mac rig Ala Cluaithi”.
| “Many wonders He performs
The King who was born of Mary
He takes away life
Death of Brude son of Bile
It is strange (or, it is a desolation)
That after ruling in the north
A withered hollow oaken stick covers
The son of the king of Alcluaith.”
(The ‘withered hollow oaken stick’ is Brude’s wooden coffin)
This same document tells a very unusual tale about how Adamnan attempted to bring Brude back to life, and that, just as Brude’s body began to move and his eyes began to open, ‘a certain pious man came to the door of the house and said, “If Adamnan’s object be to raise the dead, I say he should not do so, for it will be a degradation to every Cleric who shall succeed to his place, if he too cannot raise the dead.”
Adamnan agreed and said, “Therefore let us give our blessing to the body and the soul of Brude.” Then Brude resigned his spirit to Heaven again, with the blessing of Adamnan and the congregation of Iona.’
An Irish cleric, Riaguil of Bennchor, was in Pictland at the time of the battle, and wrote the following lines which are preserved in the Annals of MacFirbis, the celebrated Irish ‘seanachaidh,’ or ‘keeper of records.’ The Old Irish here is very difficult to translate with accuracy.
“Iniu feras Bruide cath, in forba a senathar,
Manad algas la mac De, conide ad genathar
Iniu ro bith mac Ossa a ccath fria claidhme glasa
Cia do rada aitrige, is hi ind hi iar nassa.
Iniu ro bith mac Ossa, las ambidis duba deoga
Ro cuala Crist ar n-guidhe roisaorbut Bruide bregha”.
“This day Brude fights a battle
For the heritage of his grandfather,
Unless the Son of God wills it otherwise,
He will die in it”.
This day the son of Oswy (i.e. Ecgfrith) has been struck down
In a battle against blue swords,
Although he has spoken penitence,
It is penitence too late.
This day the son of Oswy, he who drank the black ale,
Has been struck down.
Christ heard our supplications,
They spared Brude the brave.”
A Pictish carved stone, which is believed to commemorate the battle of Dunnichen Hill, can be seen in Aberlemno village churchyard in Angus. It is a truly outstanding piece of Pictish art, showing on the one side horsemen and infantrymen engaged in battle, and, on the other, a huge highly decorated Celtic cross, surrounded by various fantastic animals, including a pair of stylised sea horses complete with fins and hooves. It is a shame that in view of its importance it is being allowed to weather away out of doors except for a period during the winter when it is enclosed. Scotland now has its own Parliament. Let us hope and pray that it will give some assistance to help conserve monuments such as these to protect the Nation’s culture.
|49) Taran son of Entifidich
Taran succeeded Brude son of Bile in 693 A.D. He appears to have been unpopular as he was banished only four years later, and had to make his way to Ireland where he found sanctuary. In all likelihood the Picts regarded him as weak in their dealings with the English.
In other words, like John Baliol 600 years later, he was deemed to be a ‘Toom Tabard’ (empty coat), and judged unfit to be a King.
|50) Brude son of Derili (Brude Mac Derile)
The English attempted another invasion in 698 A.D. and were again soundly beaten. As with Ecgfrith, an English sub-king, Bertred son of Bernith was slain. Unfortunately, it was not recorded where this battle took place, nor what it was called.
Brude Mac Derile is also remembered for ratifying St. Adamnan’s “Law of the Innocents”, which protected women, children and the clergy from the horrors of war. A sure indication again that the Picts were a civilised people. Brude died in 706 A.D. to be succeeded by his brother, Nechtan. Nobody could possibly have imagined at the time, the bloody chaos that this new king’s religious opinions were about to bring to the land of his forefathers.
51) Nechtan son of Derili (Nechtan Mac Derile)
Most of what we have on King Nechtan comes from the pen of ‘The Venerable Bede’, (673 – 735 A.D.) a monk at Jarrow in Northumberland who wrote “The Ecclesiastical History of the English People” in 731 A.D. In it we are told that Nechtan preferred the Roman religion to that of the Celtic church. Nechtan believed that the Roman church had the rights of it with regard to the dating of Easter, and wrote to Ceolfrid, abbot of Jarrow, in 710 A.D. asking for details in order that he could introduce their system to his people. Following Ceolfrid’s reply, he sent out a decree to all the churches in Pictland demanding that they accept the Roman method for calculating Easter. This is the system that we use today. He also instructed the clergy to have their hair tonsured in the Roman style and had a new church built using English architects to ensure that it was built according to Roman convention and conformity.
It has been suggested that Restenneth Priory near Forfar was the church that was built to this decree but it is now believed that the Priory is of a much later date, possibly 10th -11th.century. The entrance doorway resembles that of the round tower in Abernethy, itself a construction believed to date from this period, so perhaps the same team of masons were employed in the creation of the two buildings.
Nechtan’s intrigue with England’s higher clergy began deepening around 715 A.D. What was he up to? The Picts had, unfortunately, suffered a sore defeat in a battle with the English at a place called the Plain of Manau, possibly near Grangemouth, only four years earlier. Was Nechtan a pragmatist who believed in peace at any cost and reckoned that if you couldn’t beat the English, you should join them? The Celtic church changed over to the Roman system for dating Easter in 716 A.D., yet despite this, Nechtan still expelled the ‘family of Iona’ across ‘the spine of Britain’ the very next year, 717 A.D.
This inclination to Rome instead of the traditional Western orientation towards Iona would doubtless be seen by many Picts as a move towards English control, and Nechtan would, whether he liked it or not, be perceived as a treacherous Anglophile who would have to be removed. He was, however, a strong king and maintained a firm grip on his subjects until 724 A.D., when he gave up his crown and retired to the church. It is possible he had been ‘advised’ to abdicate.
The discontent that had been simmering below the surface now erupted into five years of some of the most bitter and bloody internecine religio-political civil warfare that this country has ever seen. Nechtan himself came out of retirement briefly and took part for nine anarchic months before being flung into prison in 726 A.D. by Drust son of Talorgen (No.57). Drust was himself ousted by Alpin son of Engus (See Nos.56 & 57) the same year. At this point the lists become somewhat chaotic and it is difficult to tell who was in charge at any one time and for how long. Alpin was defeated in a battle at Moncrieff near Perth by Oengus son of Uurguist (No.58) in 728 A.D. Nechtan, now somehow free from prison, gathered together an army and also took on Alpin at a place called Castle Credi, crushing him completely. The Annals of Tighernac, compiled in the early 11th. century from much older documents, tell us that, “victory went against Alpin, and his territories and all his men were taken in a wretched battle”. Nechtan in turn was challenged by Oengus son of Uurguist, and suffered a humiliating defeat at the Cairn o’ Mount pass in 729 A.D.
These civil war battles took place at sea as well as on land and were often massive in scale. We can get some idea of their size from this extract, again from the Annals of Tighernac.
“ Kl. 729. Tri. L. long Piccardach do brisidh irrois Cuissine sa bliadhna cetna”.
“729 A.D. Three times fifty ships of the Picts were destroyed on the Ross of Cuissine this year”.
One hundred and fifty ships! Can it really have been so many? Remember that in the 8th.century roads were practically non-existent and the easiest way of getting around Scotland was by sea and river. Neither should the reader make the mistake of believing these ships to have been small hide covered curraghs, similar to the one in which St. Columba with his twelve attendants arrived on Iona in 563 A.D. These vessels, similar to Viking Longships, were of sturdy wooden construction, fitted with tall masts and wide, spreading, canvas sails. Hulls were held together with strong iron bolts. Scotland was covered in huge swathes of forest in the 8th.century and wood was in plentiful supply. Again in the Annals of Tighernac we are told, (in an odd mixture of Latin and Gaelic in the original), that;
|“In the year 737 A.D. Failbhe MacGuaire, the successor
of Maelrubha (the Red Priest) in Apurcrossan (Applecross)
was drowned in the open sea with all his sailors, to
the number of twenty-two”.
This ship had at least 23 persons on board, and 22 of them were sailors, possibly oarsmen. It is to be presumed that Failbhe MacGuaire had brought several of his belongings with him, as we are told that they were all drowned in the open sea, that is, he was on mission duty, so this must have been a craft of substantial size.
Yet again, this time in the ‘Historia Britonum,’ we are informed that one Pictish fleet of nine ships carried 309 persons. In other words, about 35 per ship. So it’s probably fair to suggest that the 150 ships sunk on the Ross of Cuissine (an ancient place-name which, unfortunately, has never been identified) had a total complement of between three thousand and four thousand men. It’s hard to imagine the bursting timbers and the screams and yells of the sailors as they struggled to stay alive. It must have been awful. We aren’t informed as to which king, or kings, these ships belonged but 729 A.D. was the same year that Nechtan was forced to capitulate to Oengus son of Uurguist, so it’s a fair bet that it was Nechtan’s fleet that was sunk.
Nechtan retired to the church once more and died peacefully in 732 A.D., probably a very saddened man. Why did he lean so much towards England and its Roman orthodoxy? Did he believe the Scots of Dalriada were more of a threat to Pictland than were the English? Remember, it was only around thirty years since the battle of Dunnichen Hill, when Ecgfrith and his Roman religion had been so firmly rejected. Now, barely a generation later, Nechtan was asking for advice from an English abbot on Roman church habit and customs.
There must have been much more to it than the mere question of the correct dating of Easter. Had he been promised a cushy after-life by the Church of Rome if he agreed to the expulsion of the Celtic Church? Was money at the back of it? Was a woman involved? An unusual and ancient tale called ‘The Legend of Triduana’, properly ‘Tri di h-Aoine’, which means ‘the three days fasting’, informs us that Nechtan had a lover of this name who is believed to have been an abbess attached to the group of advisors dispatched to Pictland by Ceolfrid. Perhaps it was as simple as that, for it wouldn’t be the first time that an ancient kingdom had been torn asunder over a king’s infatuation with a beautiful woman.
Forthcoming centuries would also show that neither would it be the last time.
It is doubtful if we will ever know why Nechtan behaved as he did, for he took his reasons with him to the grave, though the truth is probably a combination of all of these mentioned above. How ironic it would be if he ended up in a Celtic heaven instead of a Roman one.
|52) – 57) Carnach son of Ferach, Oengus son of Uurguist, Nechtan son of Derili, Oengus son of Brude, Alpin son of Engus, and Drust son of Talorgen.
What a mixter-maxter of kings there was during the period of civil war. One military coup followed hard upon the heels of another as each king tried to gain the upper hand during the conflict. One wonders what the average Pict, trying to scratch a living from his small patch of land, would have made of it all.
Carnach son of Ferach is reported as having ruled for 24 years, yet we seem to have no other information regarding his reign. It is likely that he was a sub-king tucked away somewhere in the far north of Scotland; content to be a wee fish in a big stormy pond and keeping his head well below the surface. Who could blame him?
58) Oengus son of Uurguist
King Oengus was ruthless and as hard as they come. One king after another had come and gone since Nechtan son of Derili, and no one seemed to be able to get a grip of the situation in this theatre of civil war. On to the blood-soaked stage strode Oengus, “the tyrannical murderer who, from the beginning to the end of his reign, persisted in the performance of bloody crime”, according to Bede.
Oengus took control amid the general chaos and disorder by employing the simple expediency, as he no doubt saw it, of drowning his enemies in a large tank filled with water. In one case, according to the Annals of Tighernac, the victim being a certain Talorgan son of Congus in 734 A.D. and in another case, this time in 739 A.D. a prince called Talorgan, son of Drostan, the king of Atholl. (Did Oengus have something against people named Talorgan? It’s not likely. He had however, as we shall see, a brother of that name with whom he may not have been best pleased). A nice illustration of what appears to have been one of these terminal exercises in fluid dynamics being carried out is shown on a Pictish carved stone in the garden of Glamis manse in Angus. Carved on the left-hand side of the stone two pairs of legs are clearly seen protruding from the top of a capacious cauldron. Immediately beneath this is a depiction of two men battling it out with axes. Dare we ask – one lump or two?
Once Oengus had gained overall control, he turned his face towards Dalriada. He invaded in 734 and again in 736 A.D. when he “laid the country waste”, and captured the huge fortress of Dunadd, capital of the Scots. In a little under ten years he had conquered the whole of Scotland North of the Forth and Clyde. The carving of a Pictish boar on the summit of Dunadd may have been the responsibility of Oengus, and we may surmise the message implied by this carved graffiti: “Picts rule, and don’t you forget it!”
Oengus then took on the Britons in a battle in 750 A.D. at a place called Mocetauc, believed to be Mugdock near Milngavie. This time, however, he lost. To his apparent dismay, his brother Talorgan, believed by some authorities to have been fighting on the side of the Britons, was killed.
Somewhat chastened, Oengus retreated to his capital at Forteviot in Perthshire to lick his wounds, and remained there as king of the Picts until his death eleven years later in 761 A.D. He had ruled for thirty long years. As well as stabilising the country after years of civil war, he was able to take on the Scots in Dalriada and remind them who really was the boss. Quite an achievement.
(One suspects there were a few nervous glances in his palace, however, whenever his servants were told to get a bath ready!)
|59) Brude son of Uurguist
A brother of Oengus, he ruled for only two years.
60) Engus son of Brude
This king is likely to be a scribe’s confused combination of the reigns of Oengus son of Uurguist (No.58) and Brude son of Uurguist (No.59) who were brothers. We have no information on this king apart from the length of his reign, 36 years, which is similar to the 32 years duration of the reigns of Oengus (No.58) and Brude (No.59).
(Remember that the king lists were taken down from oral tradition, and mistakes would certainly occur due to imperfect recollection.)
|61) Brude son of Engus
Presumably confusion with King Brude (No.59) above. However it may be a reference to a son of Oengus, son of Uurguist (No.58) called Brude who was killed in the siege of Dunadd in 736 A.D. Oengus was reportedly devastated by this loss.
|62) Alpin son of Engus
This is the same king (No.56) who was defeated by Necton son of Derili at Castle Credi during the civil war. His position here is an error in the original king list, and is quite misplaced.
|63) Ciniod son of Wredech
During Ciniod’s reign, the Scots of Dalriada re-established their independence under their leader Aed Find by defeating the Picts in a fierce battle in 768 A.D. in the province of Fortriu (Southern Perthshire). Aed Find was the son of Echdach, King of Dalriada, who died in 778 A.D. and Aed is believed to have been the paternal grandfather of Kenneth Mac Alpin, the future King of the Picts and Scots who was crowned in 843 A.D. Upon regaining their freedom, the Scots threw out the Pictish laws of Oengus son of Uurguist, and substituted them with the ‘Laws of Aed’.
Ciniod died in 775 A.D.
|64) and 65) Elpin son of Wroid and Drust son of Talorgen
Both of these kings reigned within a very short period of time; approximately four years in total. The only things we know about them are their names.
|66) Talorgan son of Drustan
This is probably the same king who was called ‘Dubthalorg’, i.e. Black Talorgan in the Irish Annals of Ulster. He reigned for four or five years, and is recorded as ‘A king of the Picts on this side of the Mounth’. He died in 782 A.D.
The adjective ‘dubh’ normally means black. However, when it precedes a noun or name instead of following it, as is more usually the case in Gaelic, it can also mean sad, mournful, gloomy or wicked. Hence the ‘black’ in regard to Talorgan is more likely to have been an indication of a dark personality rather than the colour of his hair. To put it another way, his nick-name was ‘Talorgan the Surly’.
|67) Talorgan son of Engus
Depending on which scribe you believe, this king reigned for either, two and a half, five, or twelve and a half years. His father, Engus, may have been the same Oengus son of Uurguist (No.58) who took command during the civil war. If this is indeed a case of a son following his father onto the throne, it suggests that the matrilinear system of choosing a king was beginning to break down.
|68) Canaul son of Tarl’a
Civil war had again broken out among the Picts, and King Canaul, son of Tarl’a, according to the Irish annalists, was defeated in a battle with Constantin son of Wrguist (No.69) in 789 A.D. Probably trying to strengthen his position, Canaul invaded Dalriada in 807 A.D., only to be killed by Conall Mac Aedan, leader of the Dalriadans.
Canaul son of Tarl’a, although described as a Pictish king in the oldest lists, i.e. those written in the 10th century, was probably not a king as such, but a sub-king who was chancing his luck with the big boys like Constantin. He shouldn’t have bothered. He just ended up dead!
69) Constantin son of Wrguist
Constantin, unlike his hapless predecessor, was a true Pictish king, and had come to the throne sometime around 780 A.D. Information on him is quite scanty, but we know that he defeated Conall Mac Aedan in 809 A.D. and ruled over the whole of Scotland, including Dalriada. He was the first king who not only united the Picts and Scots, but was recognised by the Scots as their ‘Ard Righ’ – their High King.
Constantin is also remembered for having founded a church at Dunkeld in Perthshire. He died in 820 A.D.
The Dupplin Cross, a 9th century monument long believed to have been raised to his memory, can be seen in St. Serf’s church in Dunning in Perthshire. Using laser technology, seven lines of script were discovered on what was previously thought to have been a blank panel on the cross. Their message, almost indecipherable, confirmed that the cross was indeed dedicated to the memory of Constantin. It reads; CU(…)NTIN / FILIUS FIRCUS / S. (Constantine son of Fergus).
It is unfortunate, in a way, that the text is written in Latin. Shall we ever find anything written in Pictish that we can actually read? The Pictish Ogam inscribed around the edge of the rectangular base of the cross is impossible to decipher due to the effects of Scotland’s weather, the trampling of feet and the hooves of cattle, when it stood upon a rainswept hillside for centuries upon centuries. It is so infuriatingly frustrating! Yet it is somewhat gratifying to know that many other inscriptions, perhaps similar to this one, may still be lying out there somewhere, waiting to be discovered, on Scotland’s carved stones.
70) Unnuist son of Wrguist
Brother of Constantin (No.69), and known to us today as Angus son of Fergus, this devoutly Christian king left an indelible mark on the pages of Scotland’s story. A deeply religious man, he is believed, according to legend, to have brought the relics of Saint Andrew to Kilrymont, the ancient name for St. Andrews in Fife. However, a certain Greek monk by the name of St. Regulus is usually credited with this. He is supposed to have brought the relics with him from Constantinople in the 8th century. Whatever the truth of the matter, King Angus established St. Andrews, which had previously been of relatively minor religious importance, as a principal seat of religious learning among the Picts.
Regarding the defence of the realm, Angus, in 832 A.D., like almost every king in Scotland’s history, was faced with the task of repelling an English invasion. This particular onslaught was being planned by a ruler called Athelstan, an English warlord who was gathering an army on ‘The Plain of Merc’, probably Mercia, near the River Tyne. (We can almost hear Angus sighing, “Here we go again! Will they never leave us alone?”)
The legend goes that, after praying fervently for some days before the battle, St. Andrew appeared to Angus in a dream and promised him victory if he dedicated a tenth part of his inheritance to God. On the day of the engagement, believed to have taken place at Athelstaneford in East Lothian, Angus and his army arose to be greeted by the spectacular sight of coruscating white clouds forming a huge St. Andrews cross which gleamed blindingly against the azure blue of the morning sky. How their hearts must have lifted at that sight. From Angus’ combined force of Picts and Scots the cry went up, “For God and Saint Andrew!” (in their own languages of course) and with a great cheer, they drew their swords and charged the Saxons, slaughtering them to a man. The English king’s head was impaled on a stake and planted on an island, probably Inchcolm in the Firth of Forth, and no doubt facing South.
We note that this English king wasn’t given the same sort of respect as that accorded to King Ecgfrith 147 years earlier when he was interred by the Picts after the battle of Dunnichen Hill. We have no idea as to why that should be. It somehow doesn’t tie in with what we have learned about Angus’ character. Was it because this Athelstan may not have been a ‘bona fide’ English king?
It is unclear who the English war leader was that died in this battle. Some say Athelstan (possibly meaning the Noble Stone), but he did not reign until the early 10th century. An alternative version of the story of the Saltire gives the credit to another ‘Angus,’ Oengus son of Uurguist (No.58), who is supposed to have defeated an English army under the command of Athelstane, a general of King Eadbert of Northumbria around 750 A.D.
The confusion may have derived from the place name Athelstaneford, which appears to be a tautology of the Gaelic words ‘Ath Ail’, meaning the stone ford, and their equivalent in English. The battle may therefore have been named after its location, as Bannockburn was, rather than an English king.
Legends are notoriously slack on details, but it is a fact that around this time St. Andrew became the Patron Saint of Scotland, (replacing St. Columba) and the blue and white saltire became our National Flag.
In consequence of this early date, Scotland’s is the oldest National Flag in the world. Just think about that! (If you are Scottish you may be allowed a wee smug smile.)
|71) and 72) Drust son of Constantin and Talorgen son of Wthoil
These kings are reported to have ruled Pictland together for four years. The patrilinear method seems to be taking over now, and it may be that Drust son of Constantin was deemed too young to rule alone. Talorgen son of Wthoil may, then, have been more of a National Guardian, or Regent, than an actual King.
|73) Uuen son of Unuist
We do not have much information on King Uuen. His reign lasted only around three years, but he appears to have been a good enough patriot and managed to co-ordinate and organise a joint force of Picts and Scots in an attempt to repulse an army of invading Norsemen.
Unfortunately, Uuen, together with his brother Bran and a sub-king from Dalriada called Aed were slain along with their combined army “in numbers beyond counting”. This disaster took place in 839 A.D., somewhere in Strathearn.
|74) Ferach son of Bacoc
Ferach took over the kingdom when Uuen was killed in 839 A.D. He ruled for three years.
|75) Brude son of Ferach
After his father Ferach was either killed or deposed, Brude reigned for either one month or one year. It is unclear which.
|76) Kineth son of Ferach
Kineth also reigned for only one year. It is likely that he ruled jointly with his brother, Brude.
|77) Brude son of Fokel
Ruled for two years.
These four kings, (Nos. 74 to 77), are unlikely to have ruled consecutively. Pictland was in a state of considerable turmoil during this period, and they may have been ruling and defending different parts of the kingdom at the same time, fighting the invading Norsemen as well as the Scots, ever looking to expand from Dalriada.
78) Drust son of Ferach. Died circa 842 A.D.
Following the death of King Uuen son of Unuist, (No. 73), the Pictish kingdom began to suffer the most terrible onslaughts imaginable from both land and sea. Norse incursions were becoming increasingly frequent and savage, and the pressing task of uniting the country and organising its government fell to Drust son of Ferach. A man can only take so much, and we can only guess at what was going on in Drust’s head. His country was under siege and he had lost his father Ferach and his two brothers Brude and Kineth in the space of only a few years. Needing friends desperately, he turned to the Scots of Dalriada, just as King Uuen son of Unuist had done previously in 839 A.D.
A joint council was urgently called. In an Irish document called the ‘Braflang Scoine’ (The Pitfall of Scone), we read that Drust and his nobles were invited to a feast at Scone where they were treacherously murdered. The story goes that, while the Picts sat at table drinking, the Scots removed wooden pegs from under their benches, causing them to fall into traps set beneath them. Unable to defend themselves, the Pictish lords were systematically butchered to a man. The Prophecy of St. Berchan (11th.cent.) alludes to this singular act of treachery in the following verse;
“Is lais brectair thair na buirb
Tochlait talmhan, tren an chard
Brodlainn bodhbha, bas, n-airgne
For lar Scoine sciath-airde”.
“ By him are deceived in the east the fierce ones
He shall dig in the earth, powerful the art
Dangerous goad blades, death, pillage
On the middle of Scone of high shields.”
As a tale of broken trust and betrayal, it must rank among the worst in our nation’s history, yet it may just be a fable, as the story had been used time after time in previous accounts to demonstrate a complete reversal of fortune. For example, in a similar story, Herodotus, (the ‘Father of History’, born circa 484 B.C.), tells us (Book 1.Ch.106) how the Medes overcame their Scythian overlords by inviting them to a banquet, there getting them drunk with wine before slaughtering them all.
Whether an ancient fable or not, it was at just about this time that Kenneth Mac Alpin made his grab for power. Two centuries of constant invasions and warfare had taken a dreadful toll. The Picts were leaderless and their people exhausted. Drust, son of Ferach, the last true Pictish king, was out of the way, probably murdered, and the Realm of the Picts was ripe for the plucking. A new King was coming.
79) Cináed son of Alpin (Kenneth Mac Alpin)
King Cináed, known to us today as Kenneth, ruled from 843 to 858 A.D. Everything about this man is an enigma. In the annals he comes across as ruthless, strong willed, daring, cultured and religious all rolled into one person. He is often claimed to be the first king of both Picts and Scots, but as we know, this is false as the Dalriadan Scots had accepted King Constantin (No.69) as their ‘Ard-Righ’, or High King, thirty four years previously. Also, King Kenneth was not crowned as King of Scots, but as ‘Rex Pictorum’, King of the Picts.
He is often claimed to be a Scot, but upon examination of his first name, Cináed (emphasis on the second syllable), we find that it is most probably Pictish and not Scottish, although frustratingly we cannot be sure what Cináed means. There is some similarity with the Gaelic name Coinneach and the Old Irish name Cainneach (‘an amiable man’), but it is judged too slight to be more than coincidental. There was a Dalriadan Scots name, ‘Aed’, however, so as regards his Christian name at any rate it is unclear whether Kenneth’s roots were Scots or Pictish. His father’s name, Alpin, is unquestionably Pictish as it contains the letter ‘P’ and therefore cannot be of Q-Celtic origin, i.e. Scots or Irish Gaelic. It is quite similar to the Welsh name Elffin, and Welsh is of course of P-Celtic origin.
So was Kenneth a Pict or a Dalriadan Scot? The answer is probably a combination of both. It has been tentatively suggested that his paternal great-grandfather was Aed Find, King of Dalriada, who died around 778 A.D. (see Ciniod son of Wredech, No.63), and that his maternal grandfather was Constantin son of Wrguist (No.69) who died in 820 A.D. Unfortunately there is no conclusive proof and we simply cannot be sure of his ancestry, but there is a reasonable argument for his suggested dynastic lineage in that he gave one of his sons, Aed, a Dalriadan Scots name, and a Pictish one, Constantin, to the other. Here was a man who was proud of his joint heritage.
Being a descendant of the two royal houses of Pictland and Dalriada would make Kenneth Mac Alpin acceptable to both Picts and Scots, while having royal connections on both sides of the Scots/Pictish border would bring obvious advantages to each country. There would be cultural exchanges and a form of co-operation, never properly experienced before between the two peoples, would take place.
The oft recounted military overthrow of the Pictish kingdom, with its almost gleeful description of the subsequent wholesale genocide of the Pictish people, now appears to be just so much propaganda. Later Irish chroniclers appear on this occasion to have been more interested in establishing a fatuous Irish/Scots provenance for King Kenneth, with absolutely no compelling evidence at all, than they were with merely reporting the facts. Mac Alpin was able to unite the Scots and the Picts because he himself was a mixture of both royal houses, with a legitimate claim to either throne. He simply could not have accomplished this fusion without the co-operation of the Picts.
The situation in both Dalriada and Pictland had become critical as the two countries were suffering badly from unceasing attacks by Viking pirates. A strong leader was called for who had the ability and authority to form a permanent coalition and who would command the respect of both nations. Mac Alpin was the obvious choice.
Starting with the Scots, Kenneth took a force of battle hardened warriors westward to claim the crown of the Dalriadans. They had been without a proper High King since 729 A.D. and over the next two years he established his own government and rule of law among them. He then turned East and proceeded to Perth, reportedly bringing the Lia Fail, the Scots’ ‘Stone of Destiny’, with him from Dunstaffnage castle in Argyll to Scone, ancient capital of the Picts. He also brought the Holy relics of Saint Columba from Iona to the church of Dunkeld in Perthshire that had been founded by Constantin son of Uurguist (No.69). Kenneth was crowned in 843 A.D., probably at Scone
He did not have it all his own way of course, as there was some fierce resistance from several contumacious Pictish sub-kings who regarded him as an arrogant usurper. They would have to be dealt with before he could give his full attention to ousting the English from southern Scotland, which they had been overrunning for some years.
Yet deal with the obdurate sub-kings he did, and, with his base secure, he turned his combined army of Picts and Scots southwards to tackle the English. He burned Dunbar, captured Melrose and expelled the English from most of southern Scotland, extending his control as far south as the river Tweed. Consolidating his rule over the whole kingdom is reckoned to have taken around eight years to complete, but at the end of it all Mac Alpin had achieved more than any king of Scots or Picts before him.
Kenneth Mac Alpin was an extremely capable captain of men who not only won battle after battle but, like a latter day Caesar, appears to have been an accomplished politician besides, and it was in this field, more than any other, that his true genius showed. He took the copper that was the Picts and the tin that was the Scots, and forged them together into the hard burnished Bronze that was to eventually become the new Nation of Scotland: a nation and culture that has lasted through storm and tempest and every form of vicissitude for 1,200 years. Surely a remarkable achievement by any standard.
A 10th century fragment from the Irish Annals of Gillananaemh MacEgan, collected and transcribed in 1650 by Duald MacFirbis (the same admirable Irish seanachaidh who collected and preserved the poem on Brude son of Bile), carries the date of Kenneth Mac Alpin’s death in Latin and a short eulogy in Irish.
‘858 Kal (ends). Cionaodh macAilpin rex Pictorum moritur; conadh do ro raidheadh an rann.’
“Nad mair Cionaodh go lion sgor,
Fo dhera gol in gach taigh
Aon ri a logha fo nimh,
Go bruinne Romha ni bhfail.”
‘Year 858. Kenneth Mac Alpin King of the Picts died;
on whom this verse was composed.’
“That Kenneth of the several steeds no longer lives
Is the cause of weeping in every house
One king of his renown under Heaven,
To the borders of Rome there is not.”
With the death of King Kenneth Mac Alpin it could probably be argued that we have come to the end of the History of the Pictish Kings. History, at least as far as the Picts are concerned, had turned a new page, for after a period of adjustment that lasted a couple of generations, the ancient kingdom of Alba was to begin a process of fundamental change, both politically and culturally, that would eventually transform itself from being a fiercely independent Dark Age society with its own ancient customs and laws, into the modern Nation of Scotland that we know today.
What would have happened if the metaphorical dice that roll so randomly and seem to land unfairly on so many occasions had fallen another way? What language, or languages, might we speak in Scotland today? Imagine having a passport that described your country of origin as Pictland and was magnificently emblazoned with a Wild Boar and a Saltire on its front cover.
Frankly, I think I would like it.
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