Peoples of Northern Britain according to Ptolemy’s map

Caledonia is the Latin name given by the Romans, from 69 to 597 AD, to that land of North Britain, Prydein or Pretania in today’s Scotland. It lay north of their province of Britannia and beyond the frontier of their Empire. The etymology of the name is Pretanic. Its modern usage is as a romantic or poetic name for Scotland as a whole, comparable with Hibernia for Ireland and Brittannia for the whole of England and Wales.

The original use of the name, by Tacitus, Ptolemy, Lucan and Pliny the Elder, referred to the area (or parts of the area) later known as Pictavia, Pictland or Tuath Cruithnech (“Land of the Cruthin”) north of Hadrian’s Wall. The name comes from the large central Pretanic tribe, the Caledonii, one amongst several in the area and  the dominant tribe, which would explain the binomial Caledonia/Caledonii. Ptolemy’s account also referred to the Caledonia Silva, an idea still recalled in the modern expression “Caledonian Forest”, although the woods are much reduced in size since Roman times.

According to Historia Brittonum the site of the seventh battle of the mythical Arthur was a forest in what is now Scotland, called Coit Celidon in early Welsh. It was also the home of the legendary Merlin

The exact location of what the Romans called Caledonia in the early stages of Britannia is uncertain, and the boundaries are unlikely to have been fixed until the building of Hadrian’s Wall. From then onwards, Caledonia stood to the north of the wall, and to the south was the Roman province of Britannia (consisting of most of what is now England and Wales). During the brief Roman military incursions into central and northern Scotland, the Scottish Lowlands were indeed absorbed into the province of Britannia, and the name was also used by the Romans, prior to their conquest of the southern and central parts of the island, to refer to the whole island of Great Britain. Once the Romans had built a second wall further to the north (the Antonine Wall) and their garrisons advanced north likewise, the developing Roman-Britons south of the wall had trade relations with the Pretani north of the wall, as testified by archaeological evidence, much of it available at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

The name “Scotland” is ultimately derived from Scotia, a Latin term first used for Ireland (also called Hibernia by the Romans) and later for Scotland, the Scoti peoples having originated in Ireland and resettled in Scotland. Another, post-conquest, Roman name for the island of Great Britain was Albion, which is cognate with the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland: Alba.

The name of the Caledonians may be found in toponymy, such as Dùn Chailleann, the Gaelic word for the town of Dunkeld meaning “fort of the Caledonii”, and in that of the mountain Sidh Chailleann , the “fairy hill of the Caledonians”.

The north-west ridge of Schliehallion – the “fairy hill of the Caledonians”

The name Caledonia has played a prominent role in the life and career of Sir Van Morrison, and demonstrates a deep interest in his Ulster and Scottish roots, as well as a love of the ancient countryside of the British Isles.  It is his daughter Shana’s middle name, the name of his first production company, his studio, his publishing company, two of his backing groups, his parents’ record store in Fairfax, California in the 1970s, and he also recorded a cover of the song “Caledonia” in 1974. Van used “Caledonia” in what has been called a quintessential Van Morrison moment in the song, “Listen to the Lion ” with the lyrics, “And we sail, and we sail, way up to Caledonia”. As late as 2008, he used “Caledonia” as a mantra in the live performance of the song, “Astral Weeks” recorded at the two Hollywood Bowl concerts. There could be no finer tribute to this ancient land of our ancestors.

Genesis: Chaipter Twa…. The Ullans Academy Version

1 An the heiven an the yird a aa things in thaim wus hale.

2 An on the seivent day God feenished aa his darg; an on the seivent day he restit frae aa the wark that he haed duin.

3 An God giein his sainin tae the seivent day an made it haly: acause on that day he restit frae aa the wark that he haed made an duin.

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Genesis: Chaipter Yin….The Ullans Academy Version

24 An God sayed, Lat the yird bring furth aa kin o leevin things, kye an aa thing muivin on the yird , an beast o the yird efter their kin: an sae’t wus.

25 An God made the beast o the yird efter its kin, an the kye efter their kin. an aathing muivin  on the face o the yird efter its kin: an God seen that it wus guid.

26 An God sayed, Lat us mak man in oor eemage, like us: an lat him rule ower the fish o the seas an ower the birds o the lift an ower the kye an ower aa the yird an ower ilka leevin thing that crowls on the yird.

27 An God made man in his eemage, in the eemage o God he made him: man-body an wumman-body he made thaim.

28 An God gien thaim his sainin an sayed tae thaim, Be growthy an hae eiken, an mak the yird fou an be maisters o’t; be rulers ower the fish o the sea an ower the birds o the lift an ower ilka leevin thing muivin on the yird.

29 An God sayed, See, A hae gien ye ilka plant gien seed, on the face o aa the yird, an ilka tree that haes fruit gien seed: they wull be fur yer meat:

30 An tae ilka beast o the yird an tae ilka bird o the lift an ilka leevin thing muivin on the face o the yird A hae gien ilka green plant fur meat: an sae’t wus.

31 An God seen aathing that he haed wrocht, an it wus uncoo guid. An the war forenicht an the war forenuin, the saxt day.

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Genesis: Chaipter Yin….The Ullans Academy Version

20 An God sayed, Lat the watters be hotchin wi leevin things, an lat birds flee ower the yird unner the airch o heaven.

21 An God made muckle sea beasts, an ilka kin o leevin an muivin thing that the watters wus fu wi, an ilka kin o weengit bird: an God seen that it wus guid.

22 An God gien thaim his sainin, sayin, Be growthy an hae eiken, makkin aa the watters o the seas fu, an lat the birds be eikit ower the yird.

23 An the war forenicht an there war forenuin, the fift day.


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Genesis : Chaipter Yin….The Ullans Academy Version.

14 An God sayed, Lat thair be lichts in the airch o heiven, fur tae sinder the day an the licht, an lat thaim be fur taikens, an fur merkin the saisons o the yeir, an fur days an fur yeirs.

15 An lat thaim be fur lichts in the airch o heaven fur tae sheen on the yird: an sae’t wus.

16 An God made twa muckle lichts: the greater licht tae be the ruler o the day, an the smawer licht tae be the ruler o the nicht: an he made the starns.

17 An God set thaim in the airch o heaven tae sheen on the yird;

18 Tae rule ower the day an the nicht, an fur tae sinder the licht an the mirk: an God seen that it wus guid.

19 An the war forenicht an the war forenuin, the fowert day.



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Genesis: Chaipter Yin….The Ullans Academy Version

9 An God sayed, Lat the watters unner the heiven come thegither, an lat the dry laund be seen: an sae’t wus.

10 An God gien the dry laund the name o Yird; an the watters thegither wus cried Seas: an God seen that it wus guid.

11 An God sayed, Lat gress breird on the yird, an plants giein seed, an fruit-trees beirin fruit, that their seed is in, efter their kin: an sae’t wus.

12 An gress breirdit on the yird, an ilka plant giein seed o its kin, an ilka tree beirin fruit, that its seed is in, o its kin: an God seen that it wus guid.

13 An the war forenicht an the war forenuin, the thurd day.


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Genesis: Chaipter Yin….The Ullans Academy version

6 An God sayed, Lat thair be a poeurfu airch raxin ower the watters, pairtin the watters frae the watters.

7 An God made the airch for tae sinder the watters unner the airch an thaim that wus ower it: an sae’t wus.

8 An God gien the airch the name o Heiven. An the war forenicht an the war forenuin, the saicont day.

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Genesis: Chaipter Yin….The Ullans Academy Version

1 In the beginnin God made the heiven an the yird.

2 An the yird wis fouthless an wioot form; an it wus mirk on the face o the deep: an the Speerit o God flittit ower the face o the waters.

3 An God sayed, Lat thair be licht: an the war licht.

4 An God, leukin on the licht, seen that it wus guid: an God sindert the licht an the mirk,

5 Namin the licht, Day , an the mirk, Nicht. An the war forenicht an the war forenuin, the furst day.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 8 -Venniconia (Donegal, Derry City and Strabane Districts)

The Ulster Kingdoms

The traditional understanding of the history of the ancient British Venniconian Kingdoms of West Ulster maintained that at some time in the late fifth century the sons of Niall of the Nine hostages, Caipre, Conaill, Enda and Eogan had launched an invasion into that territory from Tara, having defeated and conquered the indigenous people, or at least the rulers of those people. The four brothers were said to have divided out the territory of Donegal between them and each then established a kingdom which subsequently bore his name.  In one form or another these kingdoms were believed to have lasted for all of the early mediæval period.

Collectively these kingdoms were never linked but are known to us now as the “Northern Ui Neill”, who went on to conquer the rest of western and central Ulster. Two of the kingdoms, Cenel Conaill and Cenel nEogan, were said to be the most dominant and for about three centuries after their establishment, the kingship of the whole territory was shared between them.  In addition, when each of their kings was ascendant, they respectively claimed provenance of the prestigious kingship of Tara, which seems to have had some sort of overriding national influence, being an Ancient British Pretani or Cruthin ritual site. The ancient principality of Tír Eogain’s inheritance included the whole of the present counties of Tyrone and Londonderry, and the four baronies  West Inishowen, East Inishowen, Raphoe North and Raphoe South in County Donegal.

As we now know, however, that story is a later propagandistic fiction, rather than a summary of what actually happened.  Almost certainly it was given its classical form by and on behalf of the Cenel nEogan during the reign in the mid eighth century of their powerful and ambitious king, Aed Allan, who died in the year 743. Whatever his actual victories and political successes, they were underlined by a set of deliberately created fictional historical texts which reported to give him and his ancestors a more glorious past than they had actually enjoyed.  The same texts projected his dynasty back to the dawn of history and created a new political relationship with the neighbouring kingdoms.  Whatever the initial reaction to them, these political fictions were plausible enough to endure and have been ultimately accepted as history by most commentators over the past thirteen hundred years. Aed’s pseudo-historians were probably led by the Armagh Bishop Congus, who exploited the opportunity provided by the alliance with the King to advance the case for the supremacy of his own church.  Congus died in 750.

There appears to be no evidence that any of the rulers of the Venniconian Kingdoms of West Ulster were related by blood to Niall of the Nine Hostages or to the Ui Neill.  On the other hand it seems that there is evidence that Cenél Conaill were an Ancient British, Pretani or Cruthin people associated in some way with the Ui Echach Coba and other east Ulster peoples.  The Cenel nEogain, on the other hand, may well have had connections with the Dal Fiatach of maritime Down.  The remarkable fact in all this is that of the groups said to have belonged to the Northern Ui Neill, Cenel Cairpre may have been the only genuine decendants of Niall of the Nine Hostages to have invaded South Donegal in the sixth century.  And whatever evidence we have for the mid sixth century seems to show that it was the Cenel Conaill, rather than the Cenel nEogain, who were dominant among the Donegal Kingdoms at that time.

Conall Gulban , perhaps as Conall  Cernach of the Ulster Cycle, is the figure most closely related to the ancestry of the Cenél Conaill. Whether he existed or not as an actual person, his name demonstrates a powerful political reality of some sort, in that he was definitely  the ancestor of the fully historically attested Cruthin people of Ui Echach Coba of County Down, the Conaille Muirthemne of north Louth, the Sil nAedo of County Meath, and the Clann Cholmain of County Westmeath. The rise to power of what was said to have been Conall Gulban’s immediate descendants is equally something of a mystery. And among those descendants was our Colum Cille (Columba), the founder of the Monastery in Iona, where ironically in an Irish context the practice of keeping Annals and therefore  the study of history seems to have been promoted.

We know almost nothing genuinely historical about Colum Cille’s early clerical life prior to his departure for Iona.  On one occasion Adomnán writes that “this blessed boy’s foster-father a man of admirable life, the priest Cruithnechan” was apparently responsible for the child Colum Cille  In view of the identification above that the saint’s people, the Cenél Conaill, actually belonged  to the Cruthin, the priest’s  name, which is diminuative of that, may be very significant indeed. And the monastery at Derry Calgach, the Oakwood of the British prince Calgacus, was not founded by him at all.

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The Ulster Kingdoms: 7 – Erdinia or Erpeditania (Fermanagh District)

The Ulster Kingdoms

The ancient name of the inhabitants of this area were the Eridini or Erpeditani , who were a Pretani or ancient British people known to the Greeks and Romans through Ptolemy’s map of c 150 AD. But we know it today as Fermanagh because of the Menapians (Fir Mannach) who were driven there from the South by the invading Gaels.  The Manapians or Menapii were a tribe of Belgae (Fir Bolg in Gaelic) originating in northern Gaul in pre-Roman and Roman times. According to descriptions in such authors as Strabo, Caesar, Pliny  the Elder and Ptolemy their territory had stretched northwards to the mouth of the Rhine in the north, but more lastingly it stretched along the west of the Schelde. In later geographical terms this territory corresponds roughly to the modern coast of Flanders, the Belgian provinces of Oost and West Flanderen. It also extended into neighbouring France and the river deltas of the southern Netherlands. They may well have been a Germanic-speaking people with Celtic over-lords. It was the Manapians along with the Morini and other Northern tribes who maintained an independent Gaulish area following Caesar’s campaign of 57 BC, when he massacred 50,000 Belgic warriors at the earliest recorded Battle on the Somme.

In the 19th century the great Belgic leader Ambiorix became a Belgian national hero because of his resistance  against Julius Caesar, as written in Caesar’s Commentaries of the Gallic War (Commentarii de Bello Gallico). In 54 BC  Ambiorix brought together an alliance of Belgic tribes, the Eburones, Menapii, Nervii and Atuatuci allied to local German tribes. He launched an attack on 9000 Roman troops under Sabinus and Cotta, Caesars favourite generals, at Tongres and wiped them out. Caesar retaliated quickly, determined to exterminate the Belgic confederacy which was ruthlessly ravaged in all-out genocide. Ambiorix, however, was never captured and disappeared from the pages of Continental History, but the Eburones re-emerged in Britain as the Brigantes (Ui Bairrche) just as the Manapians (Managh or Mannach) came to Ireland.

In 52 BC the brilliant Belgic leader Commius of the Atrebates turned against his former ally Caesar. He led a large force to join the armies of his kinsman Vercingetorix against him in a great insurrection which was to change the course of European history. Following Vercingetorix’s defeat, Commius became over-leader of the Belgic Atrebates, Morini, Carnutes, Bituriges, Bellovaci and Eburones and many Belgae followed him to his British Kingdom in the last Celtic folk movement to Britain, rather than endure the savagery of Roman civilisation. In the twenty years following Julius Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March, 44 BC, Commius’ British Kingdom grew in size and wealth. In the nine years from 34 BC there were three occasions under Caesar’s successor Octavian (Augustus Caesar), 34, 27, and 26 BC, when a full scale invasion of Britain was contemplated. Commius then appears to have set up a Belgic enclave around the mouth of the Shannon in Western Ireland which became known as and was recorded by Ptolemy as Gangani, the descendants of Gann, the form of his full Celtic name.

Meanwhile his sons took over from one another in surprisingly swift succession as kings of South East Britain. Each re-emerged as Kings of the expanding British Belgic settlements in Western Ireland; these were Tincommius (Gaelic Sen Gann), Epillus (Eochill) and Verica (Ferach). However a war between the tribes of Britain brought Verica (Bericus) to the Court of the Emperor Claudius to ask for support. And so in the year 43 AD a Roman army under the able command of Aulus Plautius landed in Britain. Among the distinguished soldiers of this army were Vespasian and his son Titus, both of whom were destined to become Emperors of Rome. It was therefore among the Britons that those soldiers were trained who destroyed that Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified.

By this time the Brigantes controlled the largest section which is now northern England and a significant part of the midlands, centring on what is now known as Yorkshire. The modern town of York was originally known by the name of Eboracum, founded by the Romans in 71 AD and deriving from the Eburones, whose High Goddess of Sovereignty was Brigantia. Ptolemy also places the Brigantes in South Wexford. They survived into the period of documentary history as the Ui Bairrche giving their name to the Barony of Bargy. It could be that the Brigantes invaded Ireland under pressure from later Belgic and Gaulish tribes and that prior to this they had lived in parts of Britain which were more proximal to Wexford. But they could also have migrated under pressure from the Romans in the 70’s AD.

The legendary Ninth Legion, Legio IX Hispana, the Spanish Legion, was one of the oldest and most feared units in the Roman Army. Put together in Spain by Pompey in 65 BC, it came under the command of Julius Caesar who was Governor of Further Spain in 61 BC, and served in Gaul throughout the Gallic Wars from 58 – 51 BC, the Legion was decisive in ensuring Caesar’s control of the Republic. After Caesar’s assassination it remained loyal to his successor Octavian. It fought with distinction against the Cantabrians in Spain from 25 – 13 BC but suffered terribly in the British revolt led by Boadicea ( Boudicca) in 60 AD, losing as many as 50 – 80 per cent of its men . However, several high ranking Officers who could only have served after 117 AD are well known to us, so we can safely assume that the core of the Legion was still extant in the reign of Hadrian, 117 – 138 AD.

The first great leader of the Fenians (later “Gaels”) in Ireland, Tuathal (Teuto–valos) Techtmar, was probably a Roman soldier, commanding Q-Celtic speaking auxiliaries from Spain. The earliest known source for the story of Tuathal Techtmar’s conquest of Ireland from the Aithech thuatha (Vassal Tribes) is a poem by Mael Mura of Othain AD 885. Mael Mura intimates that about 750 years had elapsed since Tuathal Techtmar had marched on the ancient British or Cruthin ritual centre of Tara to create his kingdom of Meath, which would date the invasion to the early 2nd Century AD. This is probably approximately correct. The standard pseudo-historical convention is employed, however, to make him an exiled Irishman returning with a foreign army.

The account in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which does contain a shadow of history, is probably older and in this we see that Tuathal was born outside Ireland and had not seen the country before he invaded it. We can synchronise his invasion to early in the reign of Hadrian (122 – 138) and his death fighting the Cruthin/Pretani near Antrim in the reign of Antoninus Pius (138 – 161).This fits with Juvenal (c60 to 127 AD) who wrote “We have taken our arms beyond the shores of Ireland…” Tuathal may indeed represent the fictitious Mil Espáne (the Soldier from Spain), or even the Ninth Legion, the Legio IX Hispana, but that we will probably never know.

What we do know, however, is that the Manapians were driven north under pressure from the Southern Gaels to merge with the older British Cruthin in Ulster. We meet them again in their last strongholds of Taughmonagh (Tuath Monaigh or the Manapian Nation) in South Belfast, Fermanagh (Fir Mannach or Men of the Manapians), Monaghan (Muinachan) and the Mournes (Monaig).

Kylie Minogue

And who are the Last of the Belgae? We meet the Manapians again in the 3rd Century AD in the person of Carausius, who by immense naval talent rose to be admiral of the British fleet and ruled Britain from 287 to 292 AD. We meet them through their sea-god Manannán Mac Lir who slept with Cantigern, wife of Fiachna Lurgan, who bore him a son, Mongan. These legends were first put down in Bangor, founded by Comgall, who was sponsored by Cantigern as Queen of Dalaradia. And of course we meet them today as Kylie and Dannii Minogue. The Manapian Quest, based in the Sandy Row, close to Watson Street, Linfield Road, where I wrote the Cruthin, will trace the descendants of the Manapians back to Flanders Fields and the Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917. I explained this to senior representatives of the Belgian Community in Ieper (Ypres), West Flanderen and was well received.

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Cuimnheach – Remembrance

It was mid November, and the Autumn Sun was shining on the Presbyterian Island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. There was a strange animation abroad that day. Men and women were gathering, dressed in black clothes which they usually wear on the Sabbath.

From all parts of the island the people came to converge on a little heather-clad knoll on which stands a memorial to the men and women from North Uist who gave their lives in the Great War. A Union Jack draped the memorial, which was a particularly beautiful one.

On the far-distant western horizon, faint and ethereal, the islands of St Kilda stood. Far to the South were the hills of Barra. North stood the Harris heights. East was the Isle of Skye, where once lived Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster and where his legend lives on.

Towards eleven o’clock the crowd had gathered round the memorial. From the neighbouring islands of Ballyshare, Grimsay and Benbecula some of them had journeyed, crossing the wide fords barefoot at ebb-tide. There were old men and women whose only speech was the homely soft Gaelic of the Isles, but also young people to whom the War was only a name.

Suddenly the slow, sad strains of a beautiful, almost magical, Gaelic Psalm were heard , carried on the breeze like the murmuring of waves on the distant shore . They sang brokenly, yet with great pride, with the absence of dear ones taken in the Great War. Then followed a Gaelic reading of scripture from the Holy Bible by the minister of the Isle and a fine oration. The names of the Fallen were read out one by one, and the pipers played the Flowers of the Forest.

On the heather, a little apart from the crowd, we stood in poignant grief. As the pipes were silent and the strains of the Last Post drifted across the moor, we witnessed the end of this wonderful ceremony. And as the people laid their poppy wreaths, our last lingering looks were directed towards the memorial , where the people were saying in the Gaelic, over and over again, the single Gaelic word Cuimhneach, which in the Burla, or English tongue, means everlasting Remembrance.

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