This article has been removed from the Historical Cheat Sheet because of apparent errors in fact. I have been unable to get in touch with Karen Ogram to ask for the appropriate corrections.
The Celts of Ireland & Scotland 1500 B.C. through 1057 A.D.
by Karen Ogram
When considering the Scots and the Irish, it is necessary to go back to their Celtic roots. It is believed that the Celts originated in the Steppes, migrating south c. 1500 BC. T hey made their way southwest to Iberia, and expanded north into the British Isles c. 1000-700 BC. The first wave of Celts arrived in Ireland, speaking the insular dialect of Celtic known today as q-Celtic (Goidelic – three forms of Gaelic – Irish, Scotch, and Manx). Later, the Germanic invasions into the British Isles brought p-Celtic (Brythonic – Breton, Cornish, and Welsh).
Their society was broken up into a caste system made up of warriors, and Druids – the magicians, brehons, bards and seers. Their mystic beliefs were grounded in natural law. They performed rituals to assure the success of the hunt and fertility of the tribe, the beasts, and the land. Both men and women were trained in these rites; however, only the men were trained to be the ollamhs, or master Druids. Little is actually known about the Druids, because the different castes were proprietary about their rituals and initiation rites. Also, the first written records by the Greeks and Romans are believed to have been tainted with propaganda.
According to folk history, the 6th century BC saw the division of Ireland into five separate kingdoms: Ulster (w), Connaught (s), Munster (e), Leinster, and Mide. Ulster and Connaught were the two most powerful kingdoms. However, by 300 AD, Ulster had lost much of its power. The ruling houses in Connaught and Mide emerged and expanded their kingdoms, essentially splitting Ireland in two.
The people of Ulster were pushed to a northern section of Ireland bordering the Irish Sea, and their name was changed to Dal Riata. Eventually the Sons of Niall, the ruling family of Connaught, ruled the Dal Riata. Unhappy with the natural borders of the sea, they began to colonize the land of the Picts. The Romans, having invaded Britain, called the Sons of Niall, as well as the Picts, Scotti, forming what is now known as Scotland. One must remember that the term Scot was originally referred to the Irish Celts. “Ireland” and “Irish” were anglicized versions of Erin.
c. 375 BC, the Romans invaded the British Isles. They never did invade Ireland, mostly likely due to the fierce reputation of the Celts. The Celtic manner of warfare was completely different, for the Celts did not fear death. The Romans were also uncomfortable fighting women. It was not uncommon for Celtic women to fight next to their husbands. T hey were even known to train the male warriors.
The migration and expansion of Celts into Scotland changed the line of succession to the throne. T he Pictish line of succession flowed through the females, whereas the Celts bloodlines were traced through the male side. As the Celts acquired more wealth and land, they became more powerful. The Celtic nobility in Scotland soon became more powerful than the Picts who ruled the land. As a result, the line of Pictish Kings gradually went into obscurity. The Picts did not completely die out, they just adapted to the ruling power. In the Shetland Islands and Orkney, the language spoken was a Norse variation called Norn. In the lowlands, a mixture of the Brythonic languages were spoken by people who had been displaced during the Roman invasions. However, in most of Scotland, Gaelic became the accepted tongue.
In 350 AD, Christianity spread to Ireland, giving rise to monasticism and the Celtic Church. This created a great deal of change. Druidism, and its pagan deities were being forced out. T he Druids were forced to embrace Christianity. At this time, superstition was still very much a part of early Christianity. This enabled the druids to adapt to it and remake their deities into Christian saints.
In 432, a Welsh monk came to Ireland, St. Patrick, preaching Christian religious doctrine. The Celtic Church did not always conform to the mandates of Rome. For example, they celebrated Easter on a different date. The Roman church was set up into dioceses run by Bishops who catered to the aristocracy. The secular clergy were corrupt, and unable to handle the task of converting the heathen masses. The Celtic church was monastic, and run by abbots. They began to create great libraries after Greek missionaries, following the trade routes, came to Ireland bringing texts which had never been available before.
In 563, St. Columba, an Irish monk, took a mission to Scotland. Columba was of royal descent, and being a prince of the royal house of Tirconaill, he had strong ties with the powerful factions in Ireland. In order to maintain those contacts, he made his base on Iona, in what had been a Druidic shrine. His primary mission was to Christianize the masses in Scotland. However, his missions in Scotland were not purely spiritual. He took it upon himself to strengthen the monarchy by replacing Adrian the False, the rightful king. He also effectively dealt with the Pictish king – Brude, and the Druids who were loyal to the Pictish court. Legend has it that Columba even quelled the monster which threatened Scotland at Loch Ness.
The Irish monasteries were considered to be the greatest learning institutions of their time. However, by 800, the Celtic Church began to falter. Numerous disagreements with Rome on religious doctrine were the main reason. However, the destruction of numerous monasteries, and their libraries, accelerated the church’s downfall when the Vikings invaded Ireland. Another contributing factor was the disunity among the Irish people itself, mostly due to on going tribal feuds.
The 9th century was characterized by the numerous invasions of the Vikings, not only in Ireland, but the rest of the British Isles as well. Scotland became a melting pot of languages, for the Danes not only raided and pillaged, but they left Viking colonies behind.
In 839, the last King of the Picts was killed in a battle between the Scots and Picts. Interestingly enough, it was a group of Norse raiders who made the battle decisive. Kenneth MacAlpin assumed the throne as King of the Scots and Picts, supposedly killing seven Earls of Dalriada at the victory banquet so they would not dispute his claim. It took another century for the Scot/Pict society to stabilize though. In that time the Scots amassed great wealth and land, making them a far more powerful force.
The succession of kings following MacAlpin had a difficult time keeping Scotland unified. They spent 160 years trying to keep the borders secure from the Danish and Norse raids, and they were not always successful. The Norsemen were not their only problem however. The English were attempting to extend their own borders, and there was also the constant struggle for power involving the lords in Moray. It was not until Malcom II ascended the throne that the borders became somewhat fixed. Several island groups, such as the Shetlands and the Orkneys, though, remained under Norse control. Religious and cultural differences played a major part of the differences between the English and the Scottish. However, the borders of the Scottish Lowlands, and the Northern shires of England, especially Northumbria, would be the cause of a great deal of friction until the mid eighteenth century.
In 1016, a Dane, King Cnut, took the English throne, and quickly looked towards the lands he wanted in Scotland. The Scots and the Britons of Strathclyde combined forces and defeated the Danish king in 1018. In Strathclyde, the Briton king died without an heir, so Duncan, Malcom II’s heir, succeeded the Briton throne. When Duncan succeeded his grandfather as King of Scotland 1036, Strathclyde officially became part of Scotland.
When Duncan tried to take Northumbria and failed, the lord of Moray – MacBeth – and his minions rebelled. MacBeth slew Duncan and took the throne. Under MacBeth, the northern and southern halves of Scotland became united, and he enjoyed a relatively peaceful reign. However, one of Duncan’s sons, Malcom Canmore, having been raised in exile in England, invaded Scotland in 1057. With aid from the English, at the battle of Lumphanan, MacBeth was slain, and Malcom III took the throne.
From this point on, the English kings would strive to control the kings of Scotland, and be their overlords. There would be bad blood, not to mention bloodshed, between the people of England and Scotland for centuries to come.
- Highlanders: A History of Scottish Clans by Fitzroy MacLean, Penguin Studio Books, 1995
- The Times: Concise Atlas of World History edited by Geoffrey Barraclough, Hammond Incorporated, 1994
- The Civilization of the Middle Ages by Norman F. Cantor, HarperCollins, 1993
- The Celts by Gerhard Herm, St. Martins Press, 1977
- The Druids by Peter Berresford, William B. Eerdmans, 1994