DÃ¡l Riata (also Dalriada or Dalriata) was a Gaelic overkingdom that included parts of western Scotland and northeastern Ulster in Ireland, across the North Channel. In the late 6thâ"early 7th century it encompassed roughly what is now Argyll and Lochaber in Scotland and also County Antrim in Ulster. To its east and north was Pictland.
In Argyll it consisted initially of three kindreds: CenÃ©l Loairn (kindred of Loarn) in north and mid-Argyll, CenÃ©l nÃ"engusa (kindred of Ã"engus) based on Islay and CenÃ©l nGabrÃ¡in (kindred of GabrÃ¡n) based in Kintyre; a fourth kindred, CenÃ©l Chonchride in Islay, was seemingly too small to be deemed a major division. By the end of the 7th century another kindred, CenÃ©l Comgaill (kindred of Comgall), had emerged, based in eastern Argyll. The Lorn and Cowal districts of Argyll take their names from CenÃ©l Loairn and CenÃ©l Comgaill respectively, while the Morvern district was formerly known as Kinelvadon, from the CenÃ©l BÃ¡etÃ¡in, a subdivision of the CenÃ©l Loairn.
The traditional view was that DÃ¡l Riata was founded by Gaelic Irish migrants who brought Christianity and writing, but this is no longer universally accepted. Archaeologists, such as Dr. Ewan Campbell, say there is no archaeological or placename evidence of a migration or invasion. He suggests that close sea links helped maintain a Gaelic culture on both sides of the North Channel. However, this has been questioned. The inhabitants of DÃ¡l Riata are often referred to as Scots (Scoti in Latin), a name originally used by Roman and Greek writers for the Irish who raided Roman Britain. Later it came to refer to Gaelic-speakers, whether from Ireland or elsewhere. They are referred herein as Gaels, an unambiguous term, or as DÃ¡l Riatans.
The kingdom reached its height under ÃedÃ¡n mac GabrÃ¡in (r. 574â"608), but its growth was checked at the Battle of Degsastan in 603 by Ãthelfrith of Northumbria. Serious defeats in Ireland and Scotland in the time of Domnall Brecc (d. 642) ended DÃ¡l Riata's "golden age", and the kingdom became a client of Northumbria, then subject to the Picts. There is disagreement over the fate of the kingdom from the late eighth century onwards. Some scholars have seen no revival of DÃ¡l Riata after the long period of foreign domination (after 637 to around 750 or 760), while others have seen a revival of DÃ¡l Riata under Ãed Find (736â"778), and later Kenneth MacAlpin (CinÃ¡ed mac AilpÃn, who is claimed in some sources to have taken the kingship there in c.840 following the disastrous defeat of the Pictish army by the Danes): some even claim that the kingship of Fortriu was usurped by the DÃ¡l Riata several generations before MacAlpin (800â"858). The kingdom's independence ended in the Viking Age, as it merged with the lands of the Picts to form the Kingdom of Alba.
The name of the kingdom is preserved in the etymology of the Dalradian geological series, a term coined by Archibald Geikie because its outcrop has a similar geographical reach to that of the former DÃ¡l Riata.
The name DÃ¡l Riata is derived from Old Irish. DÃ¡l, cognate to English dole and deal, German Teil / Theil, and Latin tÄliÅ and descendants including French taille and Italian taglia, means "portion" or "share" (as in "a portion of land"); Riata or Riada is believed to be a personal name. Thus, the name refers to "Riada's portion" of territory in the area.
People, land and sea
The modern human landscape of DÃ¡l Riata differs a great deal from that of the first millennium. Most people today live in settlements far larger than anything known in early times, while some areas, such as Kilmartin and many of the islands, such as Islay and Tiree may well have had as many inhabitants as they do today. Many of the small settlements have now disappeared, so that the countryside is far emptier than was formerly the case, and many areas which were formerly farmed are now abandoned. Even the physical landscape is not entirely as it was: sea-levels have changed, and the combination of erosion and silting will have considerably altered the shape of the coast in some places, while the natural accumulation of peat and man-made changes from peat-cutting has altered inland landscapes.
As was normal at the time, subsistence farming was the occupation of most people. Oats and barley were the main cereal crops. Pastoralism was especially important, and transhumance (the seasonal movement of people with their livestock between fixed summer and winter pastures) was the practice in many places. Some areas, most notably Islay, were especially fertile, and good grazing would have been available all year round, just as it was in Ireland. Tiree was famed in later times for its oats and barley, while smaller, uninhabited islands were used to keep sheep. The area, until lately, was notable for its inshore fisheries, and for plentiful shellfish, therefore seafood is likely to have been an important part of the diet.
The Senchus fer n-Alban lists three main kin groups in DÃ¡l Riata in Scotland, with a fourth being added later:
- The CenÃ©l nGabrÃ¡in, in Kintyre, supposedly the descendants of GabrÃ¡n mac Domangairt.
- The CenÃ©l nÃ"engusa, in Islay and Jura, supposedly the descendants of Ã"engus MÃ³r mac Eirc.
- The CenÃ©l Loairn, in Lorne, perhaps also Mull and Ardnamurchan, supposedly the descendants of Loarn mac Eirc.
- The CenÃ©l Comgaill, in Cowal and Bute, a later addition, supposedly the descendants of Comgall mac Domangairt.
The Senchus does not list any kindreds in Ireland, but does also list an apparently very minor kindred called Cenel Chonchride in Islay descended from another son of Erc, Fergus Becc. Another kindred, CenÃ©l BÃ¡etÃ¡in of Morvern (later Clan Maclean), branched off from Cenel Laiorn about the same time Cenel Comgaill separated from its parent kindred. The Cenel Loairn may have been the largest of the "three kindreds", as the Senchus reports it being divided further into Cenel Shalaig, Cenel Cathbath, Cenel nEchdach, Cenel Murerdaig. Among the CenÃ©l Loairn it also lists the AirgÃalla, although whether this should be understood as being Irish settlers or simply another tribe to whom the label was applied is unclear. Bannerman proposes a tie to the UÃ Macc Uais. The meaning of AirgÃalla 'hostage givers' adds to the uncertainty, although it must be observed that only one grouping in Ireland was apparently given this name and it is therefore very rare, perhaps supporting the Ui Macc Uais hypothesis. There is no reason to suppose that this is a complete or accurate list.
Among the royal centres in DÃ¡l Riata, Dunadd appears to have been the most important. It has been partly excavated, and weapons, quern-stones and many moulds for the manufacture of jewellery were found in addition to fortifications. Other high-status material included glassware and wine amphorae from Gaul, and in larger quantities than found elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. Lesser centres included Dun Ollaigh, seat of the CenÃ©l Loairn kings, and Dunaverty, at the southern end of Kintyre, in the lands of the CenÃ©l nGabrÃ¡in. The main royal centre in Ireland appears to have been at Dunseverick (DÃºn Sebuirge).
The difficulty of overland travel and the many islands made DÃ¡l Riata an archipelago, with travel by sea by far the easiest means of moving any distance. As well as long distance trade, local trade must also have been significant. Currachs were probably the most common seagoing craft, and on inland waters dugouts and coracles were used. Large timber ships, called long ships, perhaps similar to the Viking ships of the same name, are attested to in a variety of sources.
Religion and art
No written accounts exist for pre-Christian DÃ¡l Riata, and the earliest known records come from the chroniclers of Iona and Irish monasteries. AdomnÃ¡n's Life of St Columba implies a Christian DÃ¡l Riata. Whether this is true cannot be known. The figure of Columba looms large in any history of Christianity in DÃ¡l Riata. AdomnÃ¡n's Life, although useful as a record, was not intended to serve as history, but rather as hagiography. Because the writing of the lives of the saints in AdomnÃ¡n's day had not reached the stylised formulas of the High Middle Ages, the Life contains a great deal of historically valuable information. It is also a vital linguistic source indicating the distribution of Gaelic and P-Celtic placenames in northern Scotland by the end of the 7th century. It famously notes Columba's need for a translator when conversing with an individual on Skye. This evidence of a non-Gaelic language is supported by a sprinkling of P-Celtic placenames on the remote mainland opposite the island.
Columba's founding Iona within the bounds of DÃ¡l Riata ensured that the kingdom would be of great importance in the spread of Christianity in northern Britain, not only to Pictland, but also to Northumbria, via Lindisfarne, to Mercia, and beyond. Although the monastery of Iona belonged to the CenÃ©l Conaill of the Northern UÃ NÃ©ill, and not to DÃ¡l Riata, it had close ties to the CenÃ©l nGabrÃ¡in, ties which may make the annals less than entirely impartial.
If Iona was the greatest religious centre in DÃ¡l Riata, it was far from unique. Lismore, in the territory of the CenÃ©l Loairn, was sufficiently important for the death of its abbots to be recorded with some frequency. Applecross, probably in Pictish territory for most of the period, and Kingarth on Bute are also known to have been monastic sites, and many smaller sites, such as on Eigg and Tiree, are known from the annals. In Ireland, Armoy was the main ecclesiastical centre in early times, associated with Saint Patrick and with Saint OlcÃ¡n, said to have been first bishop at Armoy. An important early centre, Armoy later declined, overshadowed by the monasteries at Movilla (Newtownards) and Bangor.
As well as their primary spiritual importance, the political significance of religious centres cannot be dismissed. The prestige of being associated with the saintly founder was of no small importance. Monasteries represented a source of wealth as well as prestige. Additionally, the learning and literacy found in monasteries served as useful tools for ambitious kings.
The illuminated manuscript Book of Kells was probably at least begun at Iona, although not by Columba as legend has it, as it dates from about 800 (it may have been commissioned to mark the bicentennial of Columba's death in 597). Whether it was or not, Iona was certainly important in the formation of Insular art, which combined Mediterranean, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic and Pictish elements into a style of which the book of Kells is a late example.
For other arts, a number of sculptures remain to give an impression of DÃ¡l Riatan work. The St. Martin's Cross on Iona is the best-preserved high cross, probably inspired by Northumbrian free-standing crosses, such as the Ruthwell Cross, although a similar cross exists in Ireland (Ahenny, County Tipperary). The Kildalton Cross on Islay is similar. A sculpted slab at Ardchattan appears to show strong Pictish influences, while the Dupplin Cross, it has been argued, shows that influences also moved in the opposite direction. Fine Hiberno-Saxon metalwork such as penannular brooches is believed to have been created at Dunadd.
In addition to the monastic sites, a considerable number of churches are attested, not only from archaeological evidence, but also from the evidence of place-names. The element "kil", from Gaelic cill, can be shown in many cases to be associated with early churches, such as at Kilmartin by Dunadd.
The Duan Albanach (Song of the Scots) tells that the three sons of Ercâ"Fergus MÃ³r, Loarn and Ã"engusâ"conquered Alba (Scotland) around 500 AD. Bede offers a different, and probably older, account wherein DÃ¡l Riata was conquered by Irish Gaels led by a certain Reuda. Old Gaelic DÃ¡l means "portion" or "share", and is usually followed by the name of an eponymous founder. Bede's tale may come from the same root as the Irish tales of Cairpre Riata and his brothers, the SÃl Conairi (sons/descendants of Conaire MÃ³r / Conaire CÃ³em). The story of DÃ¡l Riata moves from foundation myth to something nearer to history with the reports of the death of Comgall mac Domangairt around 540 and of his brother GabrÃ¡n around 560.
The version of history in the Duan Albanach was long accepted, although it is preceded by the purely fictional tale of Albanus and Brutus conquering Britain. The presence of Gaelic in Scotland was seen as the result of either a large-scale migration from Ireland, or a takeover by Irish Gaelic elites (like the Norman conquest of England). However, this theory is no longer universally accepted. In his academic paper Were the Scots Irish?, archeologist Dr Ewan Campbell says that there is no archeological or placename evidence of a migration or takeover. This lack of archeological evidence was previously noted by Professor Leslie Alcock. Archeological evidence shows that Argyll was different from Ireland, before and after the supposed migration, but that it also formed part of the Irish Sea province with Ireland, being easily distinguished from the rest of Scotland. Campbell suggests that Argyll and Antrim formed a "maritime province", united by the sea and isolated from the rest of Scotland by the mountainous ridge called the Druim Alban. This allowed a shared language to be maintained through the centuries; Argyll remained Gaelic-speaking while the rest of Scotland became Brittonic-speaking. Campbell argues that the medieval accounts were a kind of dynastic propaganda, constructed to bolster a dynasty's claim to the throne and to bolster DÃ¡l Riata claims to territory in Antrim. This view of the medieval accounts is shared by other historians. In her critical analysis of Campbell's paper, Bridget Brennan criticizes his archeological arguments, but says that many of them "are sound, particularly with respect to historical documentation and even to a certain extent the linguistic argument".
However DÃ¡l Riata came to be, the time in which it arose was one of great instability in Ulster, following the Ulaid's loss of territory (including the ancient centre of Emain Macha) to the AirgÃalla and the UÃ NÃ©ill. Whether the two parts of DÃ¡l Riata had long been united, or whether a conquest in the 4th century or early 5th century, either of Antrim from Argyll, or vice versa, in line with myth, is not known. "The thriving of Dalriada", pp.Â 47â"50, notes that a conquest of Irish DÃ¡l Riata from Scotland, in the period after the fall of Emain Macha, fits the facts as well as any other hypothesis.
Linguistic and genealogical evidence associates ancestors of the DÃ¡l Riata with the prehistoric Iverni and Darini, suggesting kinship with the Ulaid and a number of shadowy kingdoms in distant Munster. The Robogdii have also been suggested as ancestral. Ultimately the DÃ¡l Riata, according to the earliest genealogies, are descendants of Deda mac Sin, a prehistoric king or deity of the Ãrainn.
Druim Cett to Mag Rath
The history of DÃ¡l Riata, while unknown before the middle of the 6th century, and very unclear after the middle of the 8th century, is relatively well recorded in the intervening two centuries, although many questions remain unanswered. As has been said, the origins of the link between DÃ¡l Riata in Scotland and Ireland are obscure. What is not in doubt is that Irish DÃ¡l Riata was a lesser kingdom of Ulaid. The Kingship of Ulster was dominated by the DÃ¡l Fiatach and contested by the Cruithne kings of the DÃ¡l nAraidi.
In 575, Columba fostered an agreement between ÃedÃ¡n mac GabrÃ¡in and Ãed mac Ainmuirech of the CenÃ©l Conaill at Druim Cett. This alliance was likely precipitated by the conquests of the DÃ¡l Fiatach king BÃ¡etÃ¡n mac Cairill, one of the very few High Kings of Ireland not of the Connachta or the UÃ NÃ©ill, who had sought to subjugate all of DÃ¡l Riata, and the Isle of Man as well. BÃ¡etÃ¡n died in 581, but the Ulaid kings did not abandon their attempts to control DÃ¡l Riata.
The kingdom of DÃ¡l Riata reached its greatest extent in the reign of ÃedÃ¡n mac GabrÃ¡in. It is said that ÃedÃ¡n was consecrated as king by Columba. If true, this was one of the first such consecrations known. As noted, Columba brokered the alliance between DÃ¡l Riata and the Northern UÃ NÃ©ill. This pact was successful, first in defeating BÃ¡etan mac Cairill, then in allowing ÃedÃ¡n to campaign widely against his neighbours, as far afield as Orkney and lands of the Maeatae, on the River Forth. ÃedÃ¡n appears to have been very successful in extending his power, until he faced the Bernician king Ãthelfrith at Degsastan c. 603. Ãthelfrith's brother was among the dead, but ÃedÃ¡n was defeated, and the Bernician kings continued their advances in southern Scotland. ÃedÃ¡n died c. 608 aged about 70. DÃ¡l Riata did expand to include Skye, possibly conquered by ÃedÃ¡n's son Gartnait.
It appears, although the original tales are lost, that Fiachnae mac BÃ¡etÃ¡in (d. 626), DÃ¡l nAraidi King of Ulster, was overlord of both parts of DÃ¡l Riata. Fiachnae campaigned against the Northumbrians, and besieged Bamburgh, and the DÃ¡l Riatans will have fought in this campaign.
DÃ¡l Riata remained allied with the Northern UÃ NÃ©ill until the reign of Domnall Brecc, who reversed this policy and allied with Congal CÃ¡ech (also known as Congal ClÃ¡en) of the DÃ¡l nAraidi. Domnall joined Congal in a campaign against Domnall mac Ãedo of the CenÃ©l Conaill, the son of Ãed mac Ainmuirech. The outcome of this change of allies was defeats for Domnall Brecc and his allies on land at Mag Rath (Moira, County Down) and at sea at SailtÃr, off Kintyre, in 637. This, it was said, was divine retribution for Domnall Brecc turning his back on the alliance with the kinsmen of Columba. Domnall Brecc's policy appears to have died with him in 642, at his final, and fatal, defeat by Eugein map Beli of Alt Clut at Strathcarron, for as late as the 730s, armies and fleets from DÃ¡l Riata fought alongside the UÃ NÃ©ill.
Mag Rath to the Pictish Conquest
The history of DÃ¡l Riata in Ireland after Mag Rath is not entirely clear. It appears that the UÃ ChÃ³elbad kings of DÃ¡l nAraidi came to control the Glens of Antrim in the years after the battle. The DÃ¡l Riatan lands along the River Bush appear to have fallen into the hands of the CenÃ©l nEÃ³gain, and the AirgÃalla may have benefitted by taking over lands to the south of the Antrim Mountains. It has been proposed that some of the more obscure kings of DÃ¡l Riata mentioned in the Annals of Ulster, such as Fiannamail ua DÃºnchado and Donncoirce may have been kings of Irish DÃ¡l Riata.
The fate of Scottish DÃ¡l Riata is no more certain. It does appear that the kingdom was tributary to Northumbrian kings until the Pictish king Bruide mac Bili defeated Ecgfrith of Northumbria at Dun Nechtain in 685. It is not certain that this subjection ended in 685, although this is usually assumed to be the case. However, it appears that Eadberht Eating made some effort to stop the Picts under Ã"engus mac Fergusa crushing DÃ¡l Riata in 740. Whether this means that the tributary relationship had not ended in 685, or if Eadberht sought only to prevent the growth of Pictish power, is unclear.
Since it has been thought that DÃ¡l Riata swallowed Pictland to create the Kingdom of Alba, the later history of DÃ¡l Riata has tended to be seen as a prelude to future triumphs. The annals make it clear that the CenÃ©l GabraÃn lost any earlier monopoly of royal power in the late 7th century and in the 8th, when CenÃ©l Loairn kings such as Ferchar Fota, his son Selbach, and grandsons DÃºngal and Muiredach are found contesting for the kingship of DÃ¡l Riata. The long period of instability in DÃ¡l Riata was only ended by the conquest of the kingdom by Ã"engus mac Fergusa, king of the Picts, in the 730s. After a third campaign by Ã"engus in 741, DÃ¡l Riata then disappears from the Irish records for a generation.
The last century
Ãed Find may appear in 768, fighting against the Pictish king of Fortriu. At his death in 778 Ãed Find is called "king of DÃ¡l Riata", as is his brother Fergus mac Echdach in 781. The Annals of Ulster say that a certain Donncoirche, "king of DÃ¡l Riata" died in 792, and there the record ends. Any number of theories have been advanced to fill the missing generations, none of which are founded on any very solid evidence. A number of kings are named in the Duan Albanach, and in royal genealogies, but these are rather less reliable than we might wish. The obvious conclusion is that whoever ruled the petty kingdoms of DÃ¡l Riata after its defeat and conquest in the 730s, only Ãed Find and his brother Fergus drew the least attention of the chroniclers in Iona and Ireland. This argues very strongly for Alex Woolf's conclusion that Ã"engus mac Fergusa "effectively destroyed the kingdom."
It is unlikely that DÃ¡l Riata was ruled directly by Pictish kings, but it is argued that Domnall, son of CaustantÃn mac Fergusa, was king of DÃ¡l Riata from 811 to 835. He was apparently followed by the last named king of DÃ¡l Riata Ãed mac Boanta, who was killed in the great Pictish defeat of 839 at the hands of the Vikings.
From DÃ¡l Riata to the Innse Gall
If the Vikings had a great impact on Pictland and in Ireland, in DÃ¡l Riata, as in Northumbria, they appear to have entirely replaced the existing kingdom with a new entity. In the case of DÃ¡l Riata this was to be known as the kingdom of the Sudreys, traditionally founded by Ketil Flatnose (Caitill Find in Gaelic) in the middle of the 9th century. The Frankish Annales Bertiniani may record the conquest of the Inner Hebrides, the seaward part of DÃ¡l Riata, by Vikings in 847.
Alex Woolf has suggested that there occurred a formal division of DÃ¡l Riata between the Norse-Gaelic UÃ Ãmair and the natives, like those divisions that took place elsewhere in Ireland and Britain, with the Norse controlling most of the islands, and the Gaels controlling the Scottish coast and the more southerly islands. In turn Woolf suggests that this gave rise to the terms Airer Gaedel and Innse Gall, respectively "the coast of the Gaels" and the "Islands of the foreigners".
Under the House of Alpin
Woolf has further demonstrated that by the time of Malcolm II, the leading cenela of DÃ¡l Riata had moved from the southwest of the region (north of the Firths) to the north, east, and northeast, with Cenel Loairn moving up the Great Glen to occupy Moray, the former and sometimes still Fortriu, one branch of Cenel nGabhrain occupying the district known as Gowrie and another the district of Fife, Cenel nOengusa giving its name to Circinn as Angus, Cenel Comgaill occupying Strathearn, and another lesser known kindred, Cenel Conaing, probably moving to Mar.
In Rosemary Sutcliff's 1965 novel The Mark of the Horse Lord the Dal Riada undergo an internal struggle for control of royal succession, and an external conflict to defend their frontiers against the Caledones.
In Rosemary Sutcliff's historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), a young Roman officer searches to recover the lost Roman eagle standard of his father's legion in the northern part of Great Britain. The story is based on the Ninth Spanish Legion's supposed disappearance in the Scottish Highlands near the end of the Roman occupation. See also, The Eagle (2011), a film adapted by Jeremy Brock.
In the Kushiel novels (a series, beginning with "Kushiel's Dart" Tor, 2001), by Jacqueline Carey, the Dalriada of the Kingdom of Alba figure prominently in a Royal marriage and subsequent alliance with France (known in the series as Terre d'Ange).
In Julian May's Saga of Pliocene Exile series, the non-born Aiken Drum's homeworld is an ethnic Scottish planet called Dalriada.
In the Lost Girl TV series, the pub where the Light Fae and the Dark Fae mingle is called the Dal Riata; named after the ancient kingdom.
In Jules Watson's Dalriada Trilogy (2006â"2008), three centuries are chronicled during the time of the Roman Invasion of Britain.
- CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Cork
- The Corpus of Electronic Texts includes the Annals of Ulster, Tigernach, the Four Masters and Innisfallen, the Chronicon Scotorum, the Lebor Bretnach, Genealogies, and various Saints' Lives. Most are translated into English, or translations are in progress
- Annals of Clonmacnoise at Cornell
- Bede's Ecclesiastical History and its Continuation (pdf), at CCEL, translated by A.M. Sellar.
- Digital archive of excavations associated with Lane & Campbell, Dunadd: An early Dalriadic capital at Glasgow University Dept. of Archaeology
- Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (PSAS) through 1999 (pdf).
- A history of Kintyre