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The Cruthin (Old Irish pronunciation:  [ˈkɾˠʊθʲɪn̠ʲ] ; Middle Irish: Cruithnig or Cruithni; Modern Irish: Cruithne [ˈkɾˠɪhn̠ʲə] ) were a people of early medieval Ireland. Their heartland was in Ulster and included parts of the present-day counties of Antrim, Down and Londonderry. They are also said to have lived in parts of Leinster and Connacht. Their name is the Irish equivalent of Priteni , an ancient name for the Celtic Britons, and was sometimes used to refer to the Picts. [1] However, there is a debate among scholars as to the relationship of the Cruthin with the Britons and Picts.


The Cruthin comprised a number of túatha (territories), which included the Dál nAraidi of County Antrim and the Uí Echach Cobo of County Down. Early sources distinguish between the Cruthin and the Ulaid, who gave their name to the over-kingdom, although the Dál nAraidi would later claim in their genealogies to be na fír Ulaid, "the true Ulaid". [2] The Loígis, who gave their name to County Laois in Leinster, and the Sogain of Leinster and Connacht, are also claimed as Cruthin in early Irish genealogies. [3]

By 773 AD, the annals stopped using the term Cruithne in favour of the term Dál nAraidi, [1] who had secured their over-kingship of the Cruthin.


In medieval Irish writings, the name is variously spelt Cruthin, Cruithin, Cruthini, Cruthni, Cruithni or Cruithini (Modern Irish: Cruithne). It is thought to relate to the Irish word cruth, meaning "form, figure, shape". The name is believed to derive from *Qritani, a Goidelic/Q-Celtic version of the Brittonic/P-Celtic *Pritani. [4] Pytheas referred to the old P-Celtic name as 'Pretannia', which was later latinized as Britanni , the Roman name for the Celtic Britons. [5] [4]

It is suggested that Cruthin was not what the people called themselves, but was what their neighbours called them. [6]

The name Cruthin survives in the placenames Duncrun (Dún Cruithean, "fort of the Cruthin") and Drumcroon (Droim Cruithean, "ridge of the Cruthin") in County Londonderry, [7] and Ballycrune (Bealach Cruithean, "pass of the Cruthin") [8] and Crown Mound (Áth Cruithean, "ford of the Cruthin") in County Down. [9] These placenames are believed to mark the edges of Cruthin territory. [10]

Relationship to the Picts

Early Irish writers used the name Cruthin to refer to both the north-eastern Irish group and to the Picts of Scotland. [5] Likewise, the Scottish Gaelic word for a Pict is Cruithen or Cruithneach, and for Pictland is Cruithentúath. [11] It has thus been suggested that the Cruthin and Picts were the same people or were in some way linked. [2] Professor T. F. O'Rahilly wrote that the Qritani/Pritani were "the earliest inhabitants of these islands to whom a name can be assigned". [12] It has also been suggested[ by whom? ] that Cruthin was a name used to refer to all the Britons who were not conquered by the Romans – those who lived outside Roman Britain, north of Hadrian's Wall.

Other scholars disagree, pointing out that although Cruthin was used to translate Picti into Irish, Picti was never used to translate Cruthin into Latin. [13] Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín says the "notion that the Cruthin were 'Irish Picts' and were closely connected with the Picts of Scotland is quite mistaken" [1] while Professor Kenneth H. Jackson has said that the Cruthin "were not Picts, had no connection with the Picts, linguistic or otherwise, and are never called Picti by Irish writers". [14] There is no archaeological evidence of a Pictish link and in archaeology the Cruthin are indistinguishable from their neighbours in Ireland. [15] The records show that the Cruthin bore Irish names, spoke Irish and followed the Irish derbfine system of inheritance rather than the matrilineal system sometimes attributed to the Picts. [13]

Relationship to the Dál Riata

Dál Riata was a Gaelic kingdom that included parts of western Scotland and northeastern Ireland. The Irish part of the kingdom lay in the middle of Cruthin territory. Historian Alex Woolf has suggested that the Dál Riata were a part of the Cruthin, and that they were descended from the Epidii. [6]

References in the Irish annals

By the start of the historic period in Ireland in the 6th century, the over-kingdom of Ulaid was largely confined to east of the River Bann in north-eastern Ireland. [16] The Cruthin however still held territory west of the Bann in County Londonderry, and their emergence may have concealed the dominance of earlier tribal groupings. [16]

A certain Dubsloit of the Cruthin is said to have killed the son of the High King Diarmait mac Cerbaill in 555 or 558, and Diarmait himself was killed by a Cruthin over-king of Ulster, Áed Dub mac Suibni, in 565. [17]

In 563, according to the Annals of Ulster, an apparent internal struggle amongst the Cruthin resulted in Báetán mac Cinn making a deal with the Northern Uí Néill, promising them the territories of Ard Eólairg (Magilligan peninsula) and the Lee, both west of the River Bann in County Londonderry. [16] As a result, the battle of Móin Daire Lothair (modern-day Moneymore, County Londonderry) took place between them and an alliance of Cruthin kings, in which the Cruthin suffered a devastating defeat. [16] Afterwards the Northern Uí Néill settled their Airgíalla allies in the Cruthin territory of Eilne, which lay between the River Bann and the River Bush. [16] The defeated Cruthin alliance meanwhile consolidated itself within the Dál nAraidi dynasty. [16]

Their most powerful historical king was Fiachnae mac Báetáin, King of Ulster and effective High King of Ireland. Under their king, Congal Cláen, they were routed by the Uí Néill at Dún Cethirnn (between Limavady and Coleraine) [18] in 629, although Congal survived. The same year, the Cruthin king Mael Caích defeated Connad Cerr of the Dál Riata at Fid Eóin, but in 637 an alliance between Congal Cláen and Domnall Brecc of the Dál Riata was defeated, and Congal was killed, by Domnall mac Aedo of the northern Uí Néill at Mag Roth (Moira, County Down), establishing the supremacy of the Uí Neill in the north. In 681 another Dál nAraide king, Dúngal Eilni, and his allies were killed by the Uí Néill in what the annals call "the burning of the kings at Dún Cethirnn". The ethnic term "Cruthin" was by this stage giving way to the dynastic name of the Dál nAraide. The Annals record a battle between the Cruthin and the Ulaid at Belfast in 668, but the last use of the term is in 773, when the death of Flathruae mac Fiachrach, "rex Cruithne", is noted. [2] By the twelfth century it had fallen into disuse as an ethnonym, and was remembered only as an alternative name for the Dál nAraide. [19]

The Pictish Chronicle names the first king of the Picts as the eponymous "Cruidne filius Cinge". [20]

Modern culture

In modern times, some Unionist writers in Northern Ireland—in particular Ian Adamson—have seen the Cruthin as an ancient reflection of their own northern separatism and affinity with Britain. In his 1974 book Cruthin: The Ancient Kindred, Adamson argues that the Cruthin settled Ireland before the Gaels; that the two groups were at war for centuries, seeing the tales of the Ulster Cycle as representations of this; and that many of the Cruthin were driven to Scotland after their defeat in the battle of Moira (637), only for their descendants to return to Ireland in the 17th century Plantation of Ulster. Historians reject his interpretations, with some accusing him of creating a sectarian narrative in which Ulster Protestants have a prior to claim to Ireland. Adamson denies this, claiming his interpretation of history offers "the hope of uniting the Ulster people at last". [21] [22]

The asteroid 3753 Cruithne was named after the group. [23]

Robert E. Howard's pulp hero Bran Mak Morn was characterised as "chief of the Cruithni Picts". [24]

Related Research Articles

Dál Riata Gaelic overkingdom that included parts of western Scotland and northeastern Ulster in Ireland

Dál Riata or Dál Riada was a Gaelic kingdom and political entity that encompassed western Scotland and north Ireland, stretching across each side of the North Channel. At its height in the 6th and 7th centuries, it encompassed a large territority of what is now Argyll in Scotland and part of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. After a period of expansion, the kingdom eventually became associated with Scotland. As the various kingdoms and peoples of the British Isles came under common political identity over sucessive centuries, the territory of Dal Riata eventually became part Britain.

Fiannamail ua Dúnchado was a king of Dál Riata at the end of the 7th century. Little can be said with certainty other than the recording of his death in 700AD, where he is listed as having been slain alongside Flann mac Cind-fâelad of the Cianachta Glenn Geimin in present-day County Londonderry, Northern Ireland.


Ulaid ,or Ulaidh, was a Gaelic over-kingdom in north-eastern Ireland during the Middle Ages, made up of a confederation of dynastic groups. Alternative names include Ulidia, which is the Latin form of Ulaid, as well as in Cóiced, which in Irish means "the Fifth". The king of Ulaid was called the rí Ulad or rí in Chóicid.

Iverni a people of early Ireland

The Iverni were a people of early Ireland first mentioned in Ptolemy's 2nd century Geography as living in the extreme south-west of the island. He also locates a "city" called Ivernis in their territory, and observes that this settlement has the same name as the island as a whole, Ivernia. The name Iverni has been derived from Proto-Indo-European *PiHwerjoHn, "the fertile land". It was probably once the name given to all the peoples of Ireland, but by Ptolemy's time had a more restricted usage applicable to the inhabitants of the south-west. These Iverni can be identified linguistically with the Érainn, a people attested in Munster and elsewhere in the early Middle Ages.

Báetán mac Cairill,, was king of the Dál Fiatach, and high-king of Ulaid, from c. 572 until his death. He was the son of Cairell mac Muiredaig Muinderg and brother of Demmán mac Cairill, previous Kings of Ulaid. According to some sources, he was high-king of Ireland.

Dál nAraidi

Dál nAraidi or Dál Araide was a Cruthin kingdom, or possibly a confederation of Cruthin tribes, in north-eastern Ireland during the Middle Ages. It was part of the over-kingdom of Ulaid, and its kings often contended with the Dál Fiatach for the over-kingship of the province. At its greatest extent, the borders of Dál nAraidi roughly match those of County Antrim, and they seem to occupy the same area as the earlier Robogdii of Ptolemy's Geography, a region shared with Dál Riata. Their capital was Ráth Mór outside Antrim, and their eponymous ancestor is claimed as being Fiachu Araide.

Fiachnae mac Báetáin, also called Fiachnae Lurgan or Fiachnae Find, was king of the Dál nAraidi and High King of the Ulaid in the early 7th century. He was a son of Báetán mac Echdach and brother of Fiachra Cáech, grandson of the Ulaid king Eochaid mac Condlai and father of Mongán mac Fiachnai.

Dál Fiatach

Dál Fiatach was a Gaelic dynastic-grouping and the name of their territory in the north-east of Ireland during the Middle Ages. It was part of the over-kingdom of Ulaid, and they were its main ruling dynasty for most of Ulaid's history. Their territory lay in eastern County Down. Their capital was Dún Lethglaise (Downpatrick) and from the 9th century their main religious site was Bangor Abbey.

Domnall mac Áedo, also known as Domnall II, was a son of Áed mac Ainmuirech. Domnall was High King of Ireland from 628 until his death. He belonged to the Cenél Conaill kindred of the Northern Uí Néill.

Congal Cáech was a king of the Cruthin of Dál nAraidi in the medieval Irish province of Ulaid, from around 626 to 637. He was king of Ulaid from 627–637 and, according to some sources, High King of Ireland.

Fergus mac Áedáin was king of Ulaid from 674. He belonged to a branch of the Dal nAraide known as the Uí Echach Cobo in the west part of county Down. They were distinct from the main branch located in County Antrim who were known as Kings of the Cruithne in this period. He was the son of Áedán mac Mongain, a previous king of Cobo.

Bécc Bairrche mac Blathmaic was king of Ulaid from 692 to 707 from the Dál Fiatach clan. He was the son of Blathmac mac Máel Cobha, a previous king. His byname Bairrche refers to the region of the Mourne Mountains in south County Down. Bynames like his can refer to a region or to fosterage and there may be a connection to the Uí Bairrche of Leinster in his byname.

Cú Chuarán mac Dúngaile was a Dál nAraidi king of Ulaid, an over-kingdom in medieval Ireland. He was the son of Dúngal Eilni mac Scandail and brother of Ailill mac Dúngaile Eilni, previous kings of Dál nAraidi

Dúngal Eilni mac Scandail was a Dál nAraidi king of the Cruthin. He ascended to this position some time after 668. He was the son of Scandal mac Bécce, a previous king.

Aillil mac Dúngaile Eilni was a Dál nAraidi king of the Cruthin in Ulaid, an over-kingdom in medieval Ireland. He was the son of Dúngal Eilni mac Scandail, a previous king. He ruled from 682-690.

Scandal mac Bécce was a Dal nAraide king of the Cruithne in Ulaid (Ulster). He was the grandson of Fiachra Cáech, the brother of Fiachnae mac Báetáin, a king of all Ulaid.

The Battle of Moira, or the Battle of Magh Rath, was fought in the summer of 637 by the High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son Congal Cáech, king of Ulaid, supported by his ally Domnall Brecc of Dál Riata.

Eilne, also spelt as Eilni, alias Mag nEilne, was a medieval Irish Cruthin petty-kingdom in the over-kingdom of Ulaid. It lay between the River Bann and River Bush, and was centered on Magh nEilne, the "plain of Eilne", spanning north-east County Londonderry and north-west County Antrim, in present-day Northern Ireland. Eilne may represent the name of an original population grouping, though even in the Old Irish period who they were was forgotten.

Dál nAraidi in Tuaiscirt, also known as Dál nAraidi of the North, was a Dál nAraidi petty-kingdom and dynasty located in the over-kingdom of Ulaid, in medieval Ireland. It derived from a branch of the ruling Uí Chóelbad dynasty of Dál nAraidi Magh Line that had conquered the petty-kingdom of Eilne at some point in the 7th-century. The last known king of Dál nAraidi in Tuaiscirt is recorded in 883, with the territory having been taken over by the 10th century by the Uí Tuirtrí.

The Battle of Fid Eoin was fought in early medieval Ireland between the kingdoms of Dál Riata and Dál nAraidi in either 629 or 630. The forces of Dál Riata were led by their king Connad Cerr, whilst the Dál nAraidi were led by Máel Caích, brother of Congal Cáech who was the king of the Dál nAraidi and the over-kingdom of Ulaid. The result of the battle was a decisive defeat of the Dál Riata.


  1. 1 2 3 Ó Cróinín 1995, p. 48
  2. 1 2 3 Ó Cróinín 2005, pp. 182-234.
  3. Byrne 2001, pp. 39, 236.
  4. 1 2 Chadwick, Hector Munro. Early Scotland: the Picts, the Scots & the Welsh of southern Scotland. CUP Archive, 1949. Page 66-80.
  5. 1 2 Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. A New History of Ireland: Prehistoric and Early Ireland. Oxford University Press, 2008. Page 213.
  6. 1 2 Woolf, Alex. Ancient Kindred? Dál Riata and the Cruthin. 2012.
  7. Drumcroon - Place Names NI
  8. Ballycrune - Place Names NI
  9. Crown Mound - Place Names NI
  10. Corcreeny - Place Names NI
  11. Pict and related words at In Dúin Bélrai
  12. O'Rahilly 1946, pp. 15-16 341-342
  13. 1 2 Byrne 2001, p. 8, 108.
  14. Jackson 1956, pp. 122-166
  15. Warner 1991
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 A New History of Ireland, p. 212.
  17. Byrne 2001, pp. 94-95.
  18. Smyth 1989, p. 101
  19. O'Rahilly 1946, p. 345
  20. Skene 1867, p. 5
  21. Gallagher 2007, pp. 96-97
  22. Nic Craith 2002, pp. 93-113
  23. Cruithne: Asteroid 3753 Archived 2011-04-10 at the Wayback Machine . Western Washington University Planetarium. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
  24. Howard, Robert E. (2005-05-31). Bran Mak Morn: The Last King (Kindle Locations 3037-3039). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.