By: Celtic Bard Jeff
The Cruithne were the first Celtic racio-tribal group to come to the British Isles, appearing between about 800 and 500 B.C., and coming from the European continent. They were a matrilineal people, tracing royal lineage and inheritance through the female line, and in pagan times had worshiped the mother-goddess of fertility. By historical times they had come to reckon descent patrilineally, by the male line, hence their traditional descent from Conall Cearnach ("Conall of the Victories"), one of the legendary heroes from early Irish literature. Such Gaelic ancestral heroes, being the ultimate ancestors of all the ethnic groups of Gaeldom, are euhemerized deities ("gods made flesh") from the ancient Celtic "Otherworld" of pre—Christian times.
The Cruithne of Scotland are the original Albans, or natives of Albany (Scotland north of the Firth of Forth) and are commonly referred to as Picts. The Picts were an equestrian warrior aristocracy of the classic early Celtic type, in overlord status over a more numerous pre—Celtic population. They were the last of the Cruithne to lose their matrilineality. This happened during the ninth and tenth centuries (the Cruithne of Ireland had lost theirs centuries earlier) and came as a result of the merger of the Pictish kingdom with that of the patrilineal Erainnian tribe of Dal Riada. This mixing resulted in kin groups being equally of two ethnic groups, one Erainnian and tracing itself in the male line, the other Pictish and at the point of transition from the female line to the male line descent system. The Gaelic-speaking Erainnian half became linguistically dominant at the official level, if only because, in the event of cultural influence from the rest of Gaeldom to the south and west, the Gaelic language was more useful, as a matter of choice, over the relatively isolated P—Celtic tongue of the Picts, especially where bardic literary sharing and political negotiations were concerned (the P—Celtic speech of the Strathclyde British was destined to undergo a similar decline concomitant with the loss of Strathclyde autonomy in the eleventh century). ¹
Transcribed from oral traditions in the 10th century, the earliest of the Pictish Chronicles (there are seven) begins with Cruithne and his seven sons, all of whom, along with Cruithne himself, are most likely mythical. They are probably the names of the seven provinces into which Alba, the land of the Picts, was divided at a very early stage in the nation’s history. They may also be the ancient clan names of the tribes who inhabited those areas.
In his book, 'The Problem Of The Picts' F.T. Wainwright mentions an ancient account of Scotland called ‘De Situ Albanie’, the first of seven Scottish documents (‘Pictish Chronicles ‘) recorded in the so-called ‘Poppleton Manuscript’, probably written between 1202 and 1214, in the reign of the William the Lion, by a French-speaking resident of Scotland (north of the Forth). ²
Cruithne, son of Cinge, according to an old legend recorded in the Irish ‘Book of Lecan’, was the first king of the Picts, and is supposed to have ruled for 100 years. His mysterious ‘father’, Cinge, may simply be a form of the obsolete Gaelic (or Pictish) word ‘cing’, meaning strong or brave. It may also be a form of the word ‘cinneadh’ meaning clan, tribe, kindred, or offspring. Cinge’s own pedigree is given as ‘son of Luchtai, son of Partolan, son of Agnoin, son of Buain, son of Mais, son of Fathecht, son of Japheth, the son of Noah’. These middle-eastern origins given to Cinge, and by their logical extension to the Picts, may not be mere fancy as we shall see later on.
The name Cruithne itself may have come from the early Irish word ‘Cruth’, meaning ‘shape’ or ‘design’. This could possibly refer to the Picts’ supposed habit of tattooing themselves (Picti-painted), or from their unique stone carvings that are likely to have been painted and highly coloured. It may also mean ‘the people of the wheat’. Cruithne is described in the legends as having seven sons whose names were Cait, Ce, Cirig, Fib, Fidach, Fotla and Fortrenn. These sons (probably clans) had Pictland divided up between them, and had territories named after them. Some of these can still be identified in our modern place names.
Cait, legendary progenitor of the Cat clan, was given Caithness and Sutherland. Ce was given Mar and Buchan. Possibly seen in the name Bennachie. Cirig was given Angus and the Mearns, formerly known as Magh Circinn, i.e. the Plain of Circinn. Fib was given Fife, a very old name; its original meaning lost in obscurity. Fidach was given Moray and Ross. Fidach may mean ‘the wood dwellers’. Fotla was given Atholl and Gowrie. Atfodla was the old form of Atholl, which means ‘the ford of Fotla’. She was a Celtic goddess, and Ireland was sometimes called after her in poetic fashion. The name Atholl is often claimed to be derived from ‘Ath Fhodhla’, said to mean ‘New Ireland’. This is quite incorrect however, as the Gaelic word ‘Ath’ means ‘next’ and not ‘new’, or, as we have already seen, it can mean a ford in a river. Fortrenn was given Strathearn and Menteith. Anciently, Strathearn (southern Perthshire) was known as Fortrenn, which is believed to mean ‘the people of the slow winding river’. Strathearn may mean the valley of the Irish (Eireann), but could be from ‘AR’, a pre-Celtic word meaning flowing water.
An old poem, preserved in the 11th century Irish additions to Nennius’ 8th. century ‘Historia Britonum’ and said to been written by St. Columba, relates:
“Moirsheiser do Cruithne clainn, Raindset Albain i secht raind, Cait, Ce, Cirig, cethach clan, Fib, Fidach, Fotla, Fortrenn.” Which translates as: “Seven sons of Cruithne then, Into seven divided Alba, Cait, Ce, Cirig, a warlike clan, Fib, Fidach, Fotla and Fortrenn.”
Our list of Pictish Kings begins properly with King Gede. As with Cruithne and his seven sons, it is the view of many historians that the names of all the earliest kings, from Gede right up to, though not including, Brude son of Mailcon, are also mythical. That is not a view that is automatically shared by this author, who sees no reason to reject the validity of the King Lists and is prepared to accept their provenance.
Regarding the lengths of the earliest reigns (150, 100, 15, 40, 7, 50 years etc.), they are probably of some mystical religious significance that has been lost to us. The scribes who recorded the King Lists were not silly people. They knew that no one could reign, as King Gede is supposed to have done, for 150 years, nor King Tharain for 100. We must simply show what was recorded at the time and accept that they had their own reasons for giving them such extraordinarily long reigns.
The spellings of the names look strange. This is because the Lists were written using both Latin and Gaelic and were an attempt to reproduce Pictish pronunciation in Latin or Gaelic forms. We cannot even be sure which language (or languages) the Picts spoke. The Ogam script that they used on their stone carvings is, in many instances, badly worn, and often indecipherable, whilst the meaning and translation of those inscriptions that have managed to survive the worst that Scottish winters have been able to throw at them is the subject of heated debate among scholars.
The reader’s confusion may be further compounded when it is realised that the Picts pronounced the letter W (sometimes shown as UU i.e. double-U) with an F sound from around the 7th century onwards. That is, Uurad or Wrad became Ferad, and Uurguist became Forgus or Fergus. This peculiarity of speech, which is a joy to listen to, can still be heard to this day in the North-East of Scotland where the word ‘what’ is pronounced ‘fit’, and the word ‘where’ is pronounced ‘faur’. ³
Sources: ¹ Electric Scotland; ² Ancient Pages; ³ The Sons of Scotland