The Cruithe were the first Celtic racio-tribal group to come to the
British Isles, appearing between about 800 and 500 B.C., and coming from the
European continent. They were a matrilineal people, tracing royal lineage and
inheritance through the female line, and in pagan times had worshipped the
mother-goddess of fertility. By historical times they had come to reckon
descent patrilineally, by the male line, hence their traditional descent from
Conall Cearnach ("Conall of the Victories"), one of the legendary heroes from
early Irish literature. Such Gaelic ancestral heroes, being the ultimate
ancestors of all the ethnic groups of Gaeldom, are euhemerized deities ("gods
made flesh") from the ancient Celtic "Otherworld" of pre-Christian times.
Conall Cearnach is ultimately a male-manifestation of Brigid (later St.
Brigid), the original mother-goddess of the Cruithe.
The Cruithe of Scotland are the original Albans, or natives of Albany
(Scotland north of the Firth of Forth), and are commonly referred to as Picts.
The Picts were an equestrian aristocracy of the classic early Celtic type, in
overlord status over a more numerous pre-Celtic population. They were the last
of the Cruithne to lose their matrilineality. This happened during the ninth
and tenth centuries (the Cruithne of Ireland had lost theirs centuries
earlier), and came as a result of the merger of the Pictish kingdom with that
of the patrilineal Erainnian tribe of Dal Riada. This mixing resulted in kin
groups being equally of two ethnic groups, one Erainnian and tracing itself in
the male line, the other Pictish and at the point of transition from the female
line to the male line descent system. The Gaelic-speaking Erainnian half became
linquistically dominant at the official level, if only because, in the event of
cultural influence from the rest of Gaeldom to the south and west, the Gaelic
language was more useful, as a matter of choice, over the relatively isolated
P-Celtic tongue of the Picts, especially where bardic literary sharing and
political negotiations were concerned (the P-Celtic speech of the Strathclyde
British was destined to undergo a similar decline concomitant with the loss of
Strathclyde autonomy in the eleventh century).
Gaelic also had obvious cultural advantages and prestige, for it was
Gaelic-speakers who first brought Christianity, Latin learning and,
significantly, writing itself into Pict land or Albany. The fact that Latin
orthography was associated with and applied to the Latin and Gaelic languages
may explain the relative absence of written records concerning specifically
Pictish matters-and this state of affairs may well obscure the survival of
Pictish as a spoken vernacular for some time in the provencial areas away from
the Royal Court (Strathclyde British similarly has no written records). Here
one may see in operation the always close relationship between language,
culture and race, as all three factors became more generally Gaelic with the
passage of time, though each influenced the emerging whole (original ethnic
tribal affiliations would, however, remain centrally important in the political
It is wrong to think that the Picts were defeated as a group, though no
doubt independent bands or kin-groups under certain warlords fell victim to
defeat. By the ninth century the cultural distinction between the various
Celtic groups was blurring, and in any case such distinction had never had the
nation-state overtones we anachronistically place on them today. Neither were
there many players on that ancient landscape, by modern standards. From a
Gaelic cultural perspective, the ninth-century Pictish aristocracy had long
been incorporated into the Gaelic-Irish literary cosmology, and there had been
significant cultural inroads into Pictland by Gaelic speakers (the district
name "Atholl" in Perthshire means "new Ireland" and predates the union of the
Picts and Scots). The Picts were, from the Irish perspective, just another
P-Celtic ethno-tribal group, and their aristocracy was probably bilinqual from
an early period. Yet the individual vitality of their culture is reflected in
the distinctively Pictish symbol stones of Scotland, and in the Pictish
P-Celtic borrowings which help distinquish the Scottish dialect of Gaelic.
TRIBES OF THE CRUITHE"
The article was transcribed from C. Thomas Cairney October, 1988 "Clans and
Families of Ireland and Scotland" An Ethnography of the Gael A.D. 500-1750 ISBN
0-89950-362-4 McFarland & Company Inc, Publishers
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