Did You Know?
- Dalriada - Kingdom of the Scots


When the Romans left Scotland, in the 4th century, they left behind (unconquered) the iron-age tribes of northern Scotland who had been given names such as Picti, Caledonii and Epidii. By the 6th century, the tribes had united as the kingdom of the Picts, established in the mountains.

The first settlers from the Irish tribe of Dal Riata in County Antrim arrived in Argyll around 400AD. They would hardly be noticed by the Picts. There had always been contact with Ireland - after all, the Mull of Kintyre is only 12 miles from the emerald isle. There is even some evidence that the Scotti, as they became known, drifted in over a number of centuries and may have fought alongside the Picts against the Romans as far back as the 4th century. Around 497, however, Fergus Mor, son of Erc, of Irish royal blood, arrived with his sons. Gradually, there were sufficient numbers of them to create a kingdom which was separate from that in Ireland. The indigenous Pictish tribe of the Epidii in Argyll disappeared without trace at this stage.

The Scots spread over the islands of Islay, Jura and Arran off Argyll and beyond Dunollie (at present-day Oban) in the north. Their centre of power became the rocky hill fort of Dunadd (pictured above), at the southern end of Kintyre, in the centre of their territory. The Scots spoke Irish Gaelic which differed from the Celtic language of the Picts. Their kings (who could be anyone descended from an earlier king, down to great-grandsons) were enthroned at Dunadd - in time, using the Stone of Destiny.

Aberlemno Cross Christianity also spread to this part of the country from Ireland - St Columba became established in Iona in the second half of the 6th century (though he was by no means the first).

In the 6th century, conflicts broke out between the Picts and the Scots. The historian Bede tells of a battle between the Pictish King Bridei and the Scots King Gabran. We know of King Bridei because he was the first Pictish king to be converted to Christianity (by St Columba). Of course, it is thought that it may have been King Conall, the next ruler of Dalriada who encouraged St Columba to try to convert the Picts and undermine their culture! King Aidan of Dalriada attempted to extend the boundaries of his realm to the east across central Scotland but the Northumbrian King Aethelfrith defeated him at the battle of Degsastan around 603.

Pictish Stone at Foulis Wester
In the 8th century, between 731 and 736, the Pictish King Oengus I (from whom Angus gets its name) drove into Dalriada, dividing the territory into two. The stronghold of Dunadd was captured and by 741 Dalriada was under the control of King Oengus. But the Picts overstretched themselves when Talorgen, Oengus' brother, attacked the Kingdom of Strathclyde in 750 and was defeated. Oengus himself tried again in 756 but was defeated. The Picts were seriously weakened.

Of course, during this time, there was inter-marriage between Picts and Scots - Oengus certainly had Scots antecedents (his name is Gaelic). In 768, the Pictish King Kenneth was defeated by Aed Find of Dalriada at Fortrui which was near Perth, showing that the Scots were driving east again. But at the turn of the century King Constantine, who was descended from a Pictish princess and a king of Dalriada, held sway over both areas. King Constantine ruled for a lengthy period and established a church in Dunkeld.

At this time, the Vikings from Scandinavia were making their presence felt, particularly in the west - the land of Dalriada. In 839, a combined force of Picts and Scots were defeated by the Vikings in a battle in Fortrui, with many of the royal household killed. In the power vacuum which this created, Alpin stepped in and established himself as ruler. His antecedents are obscure, and it may be that he gained power by working in concert with the Norse invaders for a time. Alpin died in 841 and was succeeded by his son - Kenneth mac Alpin. By 849, the last Pictish lord was dead (many reputedly murdered by Kenneth) and Pictish language and culture died out too. Alba had become established and despite pressure from Vikings in the west and the Angles in Northumbria in the south, it expanded, taking in Strathclyde and Lothian over the next century.

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