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The Cruthin (Middle Irish Cruithnig, Cruithni, Modern Irish Cruithne) were a people of early Ireland, who occupied parts of Counties Down, Antrim and Londonderry in the early medieval period.

Their ruling dynasties included 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]


Cruthin and the Picts

Early Irish writers also use the word Cruthin to refer to the Picts of Scotland, which appears to indicate that the Irish Cruthin were a branch of the same people.[1] T. F. O'Rahilly reconstructs cruthin as earlier *kʷriteni, a Q-Celtic borrowing of *pritenī, which also gives us the Welsh Prydyn, "Pictland". He proposes that these Priteni were the first Celtic group to inhabit Britain and Ireland, and describes them as "the earliest inhabitants of these islands to whom a name can be assigned".[3]

However, the Cruthin cannot be distinguished by archaeology,[4] Irish Latin writers never use Picti to refer to the Irish Cruthin, and in historical times the Cruthin followed the Irish derbfhine system of inheritance, rather than the matrilineal system used by the British Picts, and spoke Irish.[5] 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";[6] and 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".[7]

References in the Annals

At the dawn of recorded history in the 5th 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] 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 was himself killed by a Cruthin over-king of Ulster, Áed Dub mac Suibni, in 565.[8]

However, they were soon reduced themselves 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)[4] 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.[9] Under their king Congal Cláen, they were routed by the Uí Néill at Dún Cethirnn (between Limavady and Coleraine)[10] 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 12th century it had fallen into disuse as as an ethnonym, and was remembered only as an alternative name for the Dál nAraide.[11]

Modern culture

In Northern Ireland in modern times, Unionist writers, in particular Ian Adamson, have seen the Cruthin as an ancient reflection of their own northern separatism and affinity with Britain.[6][12]


  1. ^ a b c d e Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, "Ireland, 400-800", in Dáibhí Ó Cróinín (ed.), A New History of Ireland Vol 1, 2005, pp. 182-234.
  2. ^ Francis J. Byrne, Irish Kings and High Kings, Four Courts Press, 2001, p. 39, 236.
  3. ^ T. F. O'Rahilly, Early Irish History and Mythology, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946, p. 15-16 341-342
  4. ^ a b Richard Warner, "The Lisburn Area in the Early Christian Period Part 2: Some People and Places", Lisburn Historical Society Journals Vol 8, 1991
  5. ^ Byrne 2001, p. 8, 108.
  6. ^ a b Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200, Longman, 1995, p. 48
  7. ^ Kenneth H. Jackson, "The Pictish language", in F. T Wainwright (ed.), The problem of the Picts, Edinburgh, 1956, pp. 122-166.
  8. ^ Byrne 2001, pp. 94-95.
  9. ^ Byrne 2001, p. 109
  10. ^ Alfred P. Smyth, Warlords and Holy Men, Edinburgh University Press, 1989, p. 101
  11. ^ O'Rahilly 1946, p. 345
  12. ^ Ian Adamson, The Cruthin: a history of the Ulster land and people, Belfast, 1974


  • Byrne, Francis J. Irish Kings and High Kings. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001 (2nd edition). First published in 1973.
  • Jackson, Kenneth H. "The Pictish language." In The problem of the Picts, ed. F.T Wainwright. Edinburgh, 1956. pp. 122-166.
  • 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.
  • 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

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