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Title: Cruthin  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Congal Cáech, 3753 Cruithne, List of kings of Ulster, O'Rahilly's historical model, Dál Fiatach
Collection: Ancient Ireland, Ancient Irish Peoples, Medieval Ireland
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Country Ireland
Parent house House of Ir
Current head none
Cadet branches

The Cruthin (Old Irish, IPA: ; Middle Irish Cruithnig or Cruithni; Modern Irish: Cruithne ) were a people of early Ireland, who occupied parts of the present day Counties of Antrim, Laois, Galway, Londonderry and Down in the early medieval period.

The Cruthin comprised a number of túatha, including the Dál nAraidi in southern Antrim and the Uí Echach Cobo in western Down. Early sources preserve a distinction between the Cruthin and the Ulaid, who gave their name to the province of Ulster, although the Dál nAraide claimed in their genealogies to be na fir Ulaid, "the true Ulaid".[1] The Loígis, who gave their name to County Laois in Leinster, and the Sogain of Connacht are also claimed as Cruthin in early Irish genealogies.[2]

By the late 8th century, the Dál nAraidi had secured their over-kingship of the Cruthin and their name replaced that of the Cruthin.


  • Etymology 1
  • Relationship to the Picts 2
  • Relationship to the Dál Riata 3
  • References in the Irish annals 4
  • Modern culture 5
  • References 6
    • Sources 6.1
  • External links 7


Variations of the name include Cruthen, Crutheni, Cruthin, Cruthini, Cruthne, Cruthni, Cruithni and Cruithini. This is the Gaelic version of the Brittonic term *pritenī, both derived from an earlier Insular Celtic form *kʷritenī, which is taken to mean "painted/tattooed people".[3][4] The Brittonic form is the origin of the Welsh Prydain, the Latin Britanni/Britannia, and the English "Briton"/"Britain".[3][5][6]

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.[7] It has thus been suggested that the Cruthin and Picts were the same people or were in some way linked.[1] Professor T. F. O'Rahilly proposed that the Qritani/Pritani were the first Celts to inhabit Great Britain and Ireland and describes them as "the earliest inhabitants of these islands to whom a name can be assigned".[8] It has also been suggested 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.[6]

Other scholars disagree, pointing out that although Cruthin was used to translate Picti into Irish, Picti was never used to translate Cruthin into Latin.[9] Professor Dáibhí Ó Cróinín believes that the "notion that the Cruthin were 'Irish Picts' and were closely connected with the Picts of Scotland is quite mistaken"[10] 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".[11] The Cruthin cannot be distinguished from their neighbours by archaeology.[12] 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.[9]

It is suggested that Cruthin was not what the people called themselves, but was what their neighbours called them.[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.[13]

References in the Irish annals

At the dawn of recorded history in the fifth century, the Cruthin appear to have been more powerful in the north than the Ulaid, who had been reduced to east Antrim and Down.[1] At this time, the Cruthin seemed to occupy a territory between Lough Foyle and Belfast Lough.[13]

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.[14]

The Cruthin were soon reduced themselves, however, by the expansion of the Uí Néill. The Annals of Ulster record a victory by the Northern Uí Néill over a confederation of Cruthin kings at Móin Dairi Lothair (Moneymore, County Londonderry)[12] in 563, after which the Cruthin lost their territory between the Bann and the Moyola to the kings of Ailech, and between the Bann and the Bush to the Airgíalla.[1]

The Dál nAraide, based around Ráth Mor, east of Antrim town, emerged as the ruling dynasty of the Cruthin east of the Bann.[15] 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)[16] 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.[1] By the twelfth century it had fallen into disuse as an ethnonym, and was remembered only as an alternative name for the Dál nAraide.[17]

The Pictish Chronicle names the first king of the Picts as the eponymous "Cruidne filius Cinge".[18]

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. Few historians accept 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".[19][20]

The asteroid 3753 Cruithne was named after the group.[21]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ó Cróinín 2005, pp. 182-234.
  2. ^ Byrne 2001, pp. 39, 236.
  3. ^ a b Chadwick 1949, pp. 66-80
  4. ^ Maier 1997, p. 230
  5. ^ a b Ó Cróinín 2005, p. 213
  6. ^ a b Dunbavin 1998, p. 3
  7. ^ In Dúin Bélrai and related words at Pict
  8. ^ O'Rahilly 1946, pp. 15-16 341-342
  9. ^ a b Byrne 2001, p. 8, 108.
  10. ^ Ó Cróinín 1995, p. 48
  11. ^ Jackson 1956, pp. 122-166
  12. ^ a b Warner 1991
  13. ^ a b c Woolf, Alex. Ancient Kindred? Dál Riata and the Cruthin. 2012.
  14. ^ Byrne 2001, pp. 94-95.
  15. ^ Byrne 2001, p. 109
  16. ^ Smyth 1989, p. 101
  17. ^ O'Rahilly 1946, p. 345
  18. ^ Skene 1867, p. 5
  19. ^ Gallagher 2007, pp. 96-97
  20. ^ Nic Craith 2002, pp. 93-113
  21. ^ Cruithne: Asteroid 3753. Western Washington University Planetarium. Retrieved January 27, 2011.


  • Byrne, Francis J. Irish Kings and High Kings. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001 (2nd edition). First published in 1973.
  • Chadwick, Hector Munro. Early Scotland: the Picts, the Scots & the Welsh of southern Scotland. CUP Archive, 1949. Page 66-80.
  • Dunbavin, Paul. Picts and ancient Britons: an exploration of Pictish origins. Third Millennium Publishing, 1998.
  • Gallagher, Carolyn. After the Peace: Loyalist Paramilitaries in Post-Accord Northern Ireland. Cornell University, 2007
  • Jackson, Kenneth H. "The Pictish language." In The problem of the Picts, ed. F.T Wainwright. Edinburgh, 1956. pp. 122–166.
  • Maier, Bernhard. Dictionary of Celtic religion and culture. Boydell & Brewer, 1997. Page 230.
  • Nic Craith, Máiréad. Plural Identities, Singular Narratives: The Case of Northern Ireland, Berghahn Books, 2002
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200, Longman, 1995
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. "Ireland, 400-800." In A New History of Ireland, ed. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. Vol 1. 2005. pp. 182–234.
  • O'Rahilly, T.F. Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946.
  • Skene, William F. Chronicles of the Picts and Scots Edinburgh, 1867.
  • Smyth, Alfred P. Warlords and Holy Men. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989.
  • Warner, Richard. "The Lisburn Area in the Early Christian Period Part 2: Some People and Places." Lisburn Historical Society Journals Vol 8. 1991

External links

  • Ulster by Dennis Walsh
  • The Cruithne at Electric Scotland
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