The Academic Suppression of the native British or Pretani, the People of the Cruthin : Part 4 – Dalriada and the Cruthin

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” – Inferno: The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri

Ptolemy’s Map of the British Isles c150 AD.

A wonderfully arcane and self-contradictory article has appeared recently on the Internet. It is an unpublished paper by the English academic Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews) which he has given several times in different venues. It was originally written in about 2001 as a response to Ewen Campbell’s “Were the Scots Irish?‟  Antiquity 75 (2001), 285-92. Wolff spoke at at a Trinity College, Dublin Symposium (September 18/19th 2015)  entitled “The Irish-Scottish World in the Middle Ages”. which I attended  with my Pretani Associates colleague Helen Brooker. The Symposium was funded by The Ulster-Scots Agency, Trinity College and the Ministerial Advisory Group(MAG) Ulster-Scots Academy of the  Department of Northern Ireland Culture , Arts and Leisure. It marked the 700th anniversary of the invasion of Ireland (1315 -1318) by the mass murderers, the Bruce brothers, Edward and Robert.

Woolf says that he had never got around to finally writing it up for publication and although he hoped he would eventually do so he could not see himself getting it done anytime soon. Various people working in the field, such as the Canadian historian and Picticist James E. Fraser, formerly in the University of Edinburgh, now back in the University of Guelph in Canada and the Irish-American Thomas Clancy, now in the University of Glasgow, had seen it in draft and responded to it so he felt he should put it into the public domain and therefore posted it on on 9th April 2012. It had not been significantly updated since 2005.

Campbell had assumed an obviously Scottish Nationalist approach to propose that Scottish Gaelic Dalriada came first and Irish Dalriada was formed from it and not the other way round. Woolf accepts this on what he says are linguistic grounds, even though he knows Campbell’s archæological evidence is untenable and his own conclusions are convoluted and even bizarre, so that, on the flimsiest of evidence, the hypothesis has now established itself in the academic canon. Frazer downplays the Cruthin in Ireland in his work on the Picts, although it clearly worries him to do so. Clancy is responsible for promoting the fallacy that St Ninian and St Uinniau (Finnian of Moville) are one and the same person. Yet Clancy stated at the Dublin Symposium that onomastic studies indicated  that the Scottish Islands were not deeply Gaelic, thus indicating that Campbell’s thesis was nonsense.

Woolf’s article echoes the usual anti-intellectual and elitist approaches to my own work by politically motivated nationalistic “serious” academics, as my view that the Cruthin were the pre-Celtic inhabitants of these Islands, although they later spoke Gaelic (“Irish”) and Brittonic (“Welsh”), is completely misrepresented. And purposely so, to confuse and control the unwary.  I have transcribed his words with emphasis in red on a most remarkable and telling admission, which explains everYthing.

One of the most sensitive topics in the study of late prehistoric and early historical Ireland is that of the population group known as the Cruithin or Cruithni. Their name is the normal word used in medieval Irish for the Picts but it was also used for a group of túatha in the north of the country up until about AD 774. In origin this word is the Irish form of the British word for Britons, Pretani. In medieval Irish the Latin loan word Bretan was used for the Britons south of the Forth and Cruithni was reserved for the less Romanised peoples of the North who were termed Picti in Latin.

At one time some historians, including the great Eoin MacNeill, believed that the Pretani were the original inhabitants of both Britain and Ireland and that the Gaels had arrived at a late stage in prehistory displacing them from most of Ireland. According to this argument the Cruithni of northern Ireland were the last remnant of the pre-Gaelic inhabitants of the island. It has now become clear that this view is not supported by linguistic, historical or archaeological evidence. If British-speaking Celts ever did settle in Ireland they must have done so subsequently to the development, in situ, of the Gaelic language.  Unfortunately the idea that Northern Ireland was British ab origine has proved attractive to certain elements within the Unionist tradition during the political troubles of that province. As a result „Cruithni Studies‟, to coin a phrase, have become the preserve of Unionist apologists such as Ian Adamson whose most recent book on the Cruithni concludes with a chapter on the Scots-Irish experience in the Appalachians.

Serious historians of early Ireland, tending as they do to have nationalist sympathies or to be politically neutral have tended, understandably, to steer clear of the topic.  Jim Mallory is typical of most serious scholars when he summarises his brief discussion of the topic thus: “about the only thing the Cruthin hypothesis does emphasise are the continuous interactions between Ulster and Scotland. We might add that whatever their actual origins and ultimate fate, when the Cruthin emerge in our earliest texts they bear Irish names and there is not the slightest hint that they spoke anything other than Irish.”

In typically provocative style Professor Dumville alluding to this kind of statement in his, so far unpublished, British Academy Rhŷs Lecture in Edinburgh a few years ago (1997?), asked what the evidence for such an assertion might be. I can only imagine that Dumville was questioning whether we had any texts of Cruthnian provenance and whether we could be certain that Gaelic writers, clearly able to Gaelicise Pictish personal and place names were not doing the same for the Irish Cruithni. Mallory is of course right that there is not the slightest hint that the Cruithni spoke anything other than Irish just as Dumville is correct, if I understood him, that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but is this really all that can be said? St Patrick aside, contemporary literary witness in Ireland begins only in the course of the century between AD 550 and AD 650 and it is true that our sources, the chronicles and hagiography, give us only the name of the Cruithni, which appears periodically between 446 and 774, to suggest their foreignness.

At the beginning of the sixth century the western frontier of the Cruithni seems to have been in the neighbourhood of the Lough Foyle although by the 570s they had been pushed back beyond the river Bann by the northern Uí Néill. In the East the boundary of the Cruithni seems to have been somewhere in the region of Belfast Lough. Crudely speaking their territory at the dawn of history was equivalent to the modern day counties of Antrim and Londonderry. To the West were the Uí Néill, to the South the Airgialla and to the East the Ulaid. In the middle of this territory, pushed up between the Bush valley and the north coast lay the lands usually assigned to the Dál Riata in Ireland by modern scholarship. This enclave was entirely surrounded by Cruithni túatha .

Is it not odd that the most Irish people in Britain were, in their Irish territories, surrounded by those Irish people who were described by their countrymen as British? Can it be coincidence? The simplest explanation of this paradox would be to assume that, pace the later synthetic historians and genealogists the Dál Riata and Cruithni were in origin two parts of the same people, perhaps ultimately British in origin, who formed a political, cultural and linguistic bridge between the two islands.”

This is an incredibly poor piece of scholarship and it bothers me. Where is it “clear” that the Pretani presence throughout Ireland is not supported by linguistic, historical or archaeological evidence? Wolff seems to accept that “serious historians” of early Ireland to have “nationalist” sympathies but not “unionist” ones. For, certainly, the Englishman Richard “Indiana” Warner, with his Lost Crusade against the Cruthin, has stated publicly his sympathies are with the former. Warner and his colleague the Irish-American J P Mallory, formerly of the Queen’s University, Belfast, have spent  years following their Quest for the Holy Gael. Their definition of the first “Irishman” remarkably is someone who spoke the “Irish” language, that is Gaelic, thus misusing the term “Irish“. The bulk of the population before this are relegated to the term “Irelander”.

Again this is  incredibly poor scholarship and it also bothers me. One would like to say that only an Englishman or an Irish-American could say this with a straight face. But no…Woolf says that “Jim Mallory is typical of most serious scholars”. Yet Mallory has written, referring to the archæeological approach to the subject of portable objects of the La Tène period in Ireland, burials and settlements  that “we are appallingly ignorant of many other aspects of life in the Iron Age.” Woolf, by the way, amazingly leaves out the Iveagh Cruthin of Down to the south of Ulster as well as the Cenel Conaill to the west in his article, supporting the myth that the Cenel Conaill are “northern Ui Neill”. And by “British”, he means “from Great Britain”, since he seems to deny that epithet to “unionists” and the ancient Pretani people of Ireland, mesmerised as he is by the term “Irish”.

Actually the people of Scottish Dalriada were Gaelicised native Epidian Cruthin and spoke Brittonic before Gaelic and non-Indo-European before that, as is demonstrated by the pre-Celtic name Islay. They were Gaelicised from Antrim  by Gaelic speaking Robogdian Cruthin in the Late Roman period by a process of commerce and conquest, as the Venerable Bede has stated. And they now speak Gaelic, Scots or, universally, English, though they remain, as they have always been, essentially Epidian Cruthin, The truth is the truth and we are bound by it, as Professor Réne Fréchet of the Sorbonne University in Paris instructed me. Much of what I had written was new to him, and he was amazed and indeed apalled that he had never heard it before. He wanted to translate my work into French…the Irish academic elite wished to burn it.  But their “politically neutral” counterparts, friends and colleagues in Great Britain did nothing and in doing so supported them. And they are the most reprehensible of them all. As Woolf and Frazer seem totally unaware that the Donegal Cenél Conaill of the so-called “northern Ui Neill” were actually Cruthin, although also completely Gaelicised in the Late Roman period, it is to the Venniconian Cruthin Kingdoms of Donegal  that we will now turn.

To be continued

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