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Scottish Highlands and Islands Partnership &

by Sconemac

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Celtic Hounds
Hand Carving by Andrew Howe - see link below


The History of Dalriada -- The Beginning

The heritage of what we now call the Scottish people have their roots set firmly in the history of Dalriada, particularly the people of the Western Isles and Highlands - The Gaidheal. It is for this reason that this the Trust carries the name of Dalriada. Dalriada was the name of the people who came here from Ireland and whom the Romans called the Scots. The earliest knowledge we have of them comes from when they were still in Ireland. At that time there were four septs or main families of the Erainn stock, who were considered to be a section of the original inhabitants of Eire

These four septs were named the Muscraige, Corco Duibne, Corco Baiscind and Dal Riata, who came from three sons of Conaire Mor called Cairpre Musc, Cairpre Baschain and Cairpre Riata. These four septs of the Erainn migrated from Breg in the north of Ireland to Munster in the south. No reason is given as to why they traveled south, although it is probable that their own family lands could no longer contain them.

On arriving in Munster the Erainn allied themselves with a people known as the Eoganachta, to wage war against another people of Munster known as the Erna Mumaim and in doing so they managed to obtain land to live on. At some point later a famine in Munster forced the Dal Riata sept of the Erainn to move back north into the ancient territory of the Ulaid, later to become known as Ulster. One of the other Erainn septs, the Corco Duibne, claimed the Munster land they left.

When the Dal Riata arrived in Ulaid they found two other peoples there. The Dal Fiatach who were also known as the Ulaid and the Dal nAraide also known as the Cruithne. Cruithne is also the name applied to the ancient Picts of Scotland. The Dal Fiatach and the Dal nAraide were constantly warring with one another over the rulership of their territory with the Kingship falling into the hands of which ever one was the most powerful at the time. The portion of Dal Riata that remained in Ireland allied themselves to the Dal nAraide, helping to make them more powerful, while Cairpre Riata led the rest of his people across the water to the land of the Picts.

We know little of the events that took place when Cairpre Riata landed with his people except for the fact that the Kingship of Dal Riata stayed in Ireland. This remained the case until Fergus mor Mac Erc, King of Dal Riata, arrived with more of his people bringing his Kingship with him and in doing so shifting the emphasis of Dal Riata from Ireland to Scotland. Historians place great importance on the arrival of Fergus mor Mac Erc as being the starting point of the history of Dal Riata in Scotland. However, by this time Dal Riata was already well established and it is reported that Fergus arrived to exercise his authority over his Scottish subjects by force of arms if necessary.

Fergus was accepted as King by the Scottish Dal Riata and when he died the Kingship was passed on to his son Domangart. From there the Kingship was passed on to Domangart's two sons, firstly Comgall, who like his father appears to have ruled during peaceful times. Gabran took up the Kingship after Comgall and his reign seems to have been fraught with battles with the Picts. By this time there were four distinct sections of the Dal Riata.

The Cenel Gabrain, whose leaders were most frequently the Kings of Dal Riata, coming from the Royal line of Fergus mor Mac Erc; the Cenel Loairn, the Cenel nOengusa and the Cenel Comgall.

These four main peoples now occupied all of Argyll, Kintyre and the Inner Hebrides. After Gabran the Kingship went to his nephew Conall. It is Conall who is reputed to have given Colum Cille the island of Iona, in agreement with the King of the Picts, Brude MacMealchon. Colum Cille was not in fact a Dal Riata but from the Royal line of the Ui Niells who had made his way to Scotland in exile.

The next King to rule over Dal Riata was Aedan, son of Gabran, succeeding his uncle Conall. Aedan was the first King of Dal Riata to be consecrated on Iona by Colum Cille, although it is reported that Colum Cille was rather reluctant to carry out the inauguration. Up until that point and for a while after a large majority of the people of Dal Riata were pagan. It was Aedan who then encouraged Colum Cille to his court and asked him to attend the convention of Drum Cett with him. This convention was held to consider the position of the Irish Dal Riata in relation to Aed mac Aimrech, King of the northern Ui Niells on the one hand and to Aedan, King of the Dal Riata on the other. The convention decided that any taxes levied on the Irish Dal Riata belonged to the Scottish Dal Riata and that the Irish Dal Riata fleet should also remain with them, otherwise, from that point the Irish Dal Riata became a separate entity, although the two were still allied.

It is Aedan mac Gabran who is credited with being the greatest King of Dal Riata. Through intermarriage with the Picts he carried on the work of his father to establish the ultimate nucleus of Scotland. Although there were still troubles along the way, this situation carried on right through until the time of Kenneth acAlpin who was recognised as King of all Scotland. Kenneth was Pictish on his mother's side and carried the Royal line of Gabran from his father Alpin and as such was acceptable to both sides. From that point the customs of the Picts were amalgamated with those of Dal Riata with the King's seat moving to the old Pictish palace of Scone, where it remained.

Presented for your enjoyment,
Nancy A. MacCorkill, F.S.A. Scot USA
Author, Poet,
Historiian of the Ancient Clans of Scotland


Master Wood Carver, Andrew Howe

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