“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis” – Inferno:The Divine Comedy – Dante Alighieri
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 It is an unpublished paper by the English academic Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews) which he has given several times in different venues.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.
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 James E. Fraser, formerly of the University of Edinburgh, now Chair of the Scottish Studies Foundation at the University of Guelph 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 Academia.edu 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 feels are linguistic grounds, even though he knows Campbell’s archæological evidence is untenable and his own conclusions are convoluted and even bizarre, but the hypothesis has now established itself in the academic pseudo-historical 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 notion that St Ninian and St Uinniau (Finnian of Moville) are one and the same person.
Woolf’s article contains 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 Old British (“Welsh”), is completely misrepresented. And purposely so, to confuse and control the unwary. I have transcribed his words with emphasis in bold on a most remarkable and telling admission, which explains everthing.
“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.”
Well actually they spoke Gaelic..And Mallory is wrong because there is an underlying substrate of P-Celtic or British (Cymric or Welsh) in our place names. He must surely know that Islay is a pre-Celtic name. There are place-names in many parts of Great Britain, especially river names (which are well known everywhere to preserve remnants of older languages), which are pre-Celtic in origin. English examples are the rivers Ouse, or the Thames-Teme-Tamar-Teviot series; or in Northern Scotland the Isla, Affric, Liver, Nevis and many others. And, of course, there are the pre-Celtic tribal names of Caledonii, Taezali, Vacomagi and Venicones of historical Pictland, the latter tribe becoming the Venniconii of modern Donegal. This language of Pretanic became more and more Celticised as one went further south by Gallo-Brittonic, so that a linguistic hotch-potch was created which we know today as Pictish. This may be reflected for us in the Bressay inscription.
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.”
So it is acceptable for “serious historians” of early Ireland to have “nationalist” sympathies but not “unionist” ones, is it ? 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. We have seen that their definition of the first “Irishman” remarkably is someone who spoke the “Irish” language, that is Gaelic, The bulk of the population before this are relegated to the term “Irelander”. 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”. 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, suporting 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 are Gaelicised native Epidian Cruthin and spoke Old British before Gaelic and non-Indo-European before that. They were Gaelicised from Ireland 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, Epidian Cruthin, The truth is the truth and we are bound by it, as Professor Rene Frechet of the Sorbonne University in Paris instructed me. Much of what I had written was new to him, and he was amazed and indeed appalled 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 must turn.
The traditional understanding of the history of the Venniconian Kingdoms of Donegal 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. 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 Donegal 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 a 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.