08 August 2011

The kingdom of Aeron in the north of Scotland

Many years ago, when objective study of history was not quite so ancient, everyone “knew” that the first Scots, or Irish, who colonized the west of what later became Scotland came over to Argyll under Fergus mac Erc around 500 CE.  After years of valiant resistance against Pictish oppression, the forces of the kingdom of Dalriada finally succumbed, only to rise up against their oppressors under Kenneth mac Alpin in 843.  He invited all their lords to a dinner parlay and wiped them out Sicilian Vespers style to become the first King of Scots to rule the entire north above of the Firths and establish the House of MacAlpin.

Everyone “knew” this, just like President Bush and Prime Minister Blair “knew” Saddam Hussein had massive stockpiles of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons of mass destruction—be careful about what “everyone knows”.

Before being conquered by Kenneth, according to this model, the Picts were divided into the Seven Kingdoms, (sources for this are several annals and groups of chronicles) the most prominent of which were Circinn and Fortriu.

For various reasons, the location of Circinn was well-known to be the same as the Mormaerdom of Angus (Oengus), prior to the split off of the Mormaerdom of Mearns.

Cait, another, was fairly easily identified with Caithness and Fibh was easily identified with Fife.  Ce was identified with Marr (& Buchan), Athfodhla was Atholl, which left only Fortriu and Fidach to be identified.

Some “expert”, with little basis, decided that Fortriu must be Strathearn, because Kenneth mac Alpin, founder of the kings of Scotland, had come from the south and east, and since Fortriu is clearly described as a powerful entity and the south is where Kenneth is supposed to have come from, Fortriu had to be Strathearn, making Moray most likely Fidach.

South of this area were the group of kingdoms known in Welsh poetry as the Yr Hen Ogledd, or The Old North.  Among these, at least in the area of Scotland, were Alt Clut (later to become Strathclyde), Gododdin (Guododdin), and Rheged.

Alt Clut was based largely upon the territory of the Damnonii, while Gododdin (Guododdin) was based on the Votadini, with Novant (Wyr Enouant) sometimes listed as another kingdom, obviously based on the Novantae. At some point the northernmost portion of Gododdin formed a separate kingdom as Eidyn, at least according to what the epic poetry of the time indicates.

The Selgovae were assumed to have assimilated with their surrounding neighbors, most of them probably into Rheged, which is thought to be based mostly on the civitas of the Carvetti in what is now known as Cumbria.

Rheged at one time extended south to touch Gwynedd and Powys in what is now Wales, until the southern portion broke away as Argoed.

Other kingdoms of the Old North, by the way, occupying areas in what is now northern England, include Bryneich (later Bernicia), Deifr (later Deira), Ebrauc (York), the Pennines, Dunoting (Dent), Peak, and Elmet.

Two frequently mentioned but unidentified kingdoms in the general vicinity which did not belong to the Hen Ogledd of the post-Roman Britons were Manaw (or Manaw Goddodin, to distinguish it from the Isle of Mann/Manaw) and Aeron.

Manaw, most scholars believe, extended from Slammanan Moor and the village of Slamannan in Stirlingshire to include Clackmannan and all of Clackmannanshire, straddling the upper Firth of Forth.  For some reason, various authors now wish to divide this kingdom or district between “Manaw Gododdin” and “Pictish Manaw”, though on what basis is anyone’s guess.

With all other named kingdoms located and all the territory taken in a framework built largely on the foundation that Strathearn = Fortriu and assuming that the popular history of Scotland’s early day was correct, those looking for a possible location for a kingdom of Aeron, so often mentioned in Welsh poetry and annals, were at a loss as to where this oft-mentioned land could be.

Finally, someone looked at a map of Scotland and desperately seeking a clue south of the Firths noticed Ayrshire and its River Ayr, and thought “Aha! Surely this is it!”, upon little other basis than the very slight similarity of the names “Ayr” and “Aeron”.

Nevermind that no source of any origin ever mentions a kingdom or even a named district tucked away in the west of Scotland south of the Firths, certainly not one that could have long withstood being swallowed up by its neighbor surrounding it on three sides, Alt Clut (later Ystrad Clud, Strathcluid in Gaelic).  Everywhere else was taken, according to what “everyone knew”, and somewhere had to be found.  One writer even imagined a tiny River Earn tributary to River Ayr (I’ve searched for it on Google Maps and elsewhere, to no avail).

The reliability of the list of named Seven Kingdoms of the Picts as their original kingdoms breaks down at once with the realization that Ath Fodhla means New Ireland in Gaelic. True, it may very well have been based upon a native kingdom which a Gaelic dynasty (possibly a branch of the afore-mentioned Eoghanachta) had inherited through marriage, but Ath Fodhla could hardly have been its name before that occurred.

In 2005, Professor Alex Woolf of the University of St. Andrews shattered the basis upon which much of this guessing was built when he demonstrated clearly with an honest and impartial examination of old records and annals that Fortriu was not equivalent to Strathearn in the south (of Scotland north of the Firths, aka “Pictavia”), as the myth had gone, but to Moray in the north ("Dun Nechtain, Fortriu and the Geography of the Picts", Scottish Historical Review 85, 2006, 182-201).

The powerful kingdom of Fortriu did not, after all, lay in Strathearn, which was in the sphere of influence of Kenneth mac Alpin in his time, but in the realm of Macbeth mac Findlay.

Had these seekers after knowledge cast their gaze further south, they would have found the River Aeron in Ceredigion in Wales, ending in Aberaeron, its mouth and the largest village along the river, the smaller village of Ciliau Aeron, the parish of Llanerch Aeron, all of which lay within the Ystrad Aeron.

Locals, maybe, or some enterprising academic, invented a previously unheard-of Proto-Celtic goddess named Agrona to account for the name Aeron, claiming that it had been corrupted over time. Not entirely far-fetched since at least two kingdoms, the Isle of Manaw and Manaw Gododdin, were named for Manannan mac Lir.

Hoever, clearly none of these are a candidate for the Aeron above as the latter is most certainly described along with the other northern kingdoms known is modern Welsh as Hen Ogledd, or Old North, most frequently alongside Alt Clut and Manaw.

Strathearn is the Anglicization of the Gaelic Strath Eireann, “Valley of the Irish”, through which flows the River Earn (“Uisge Eireann”, or Water of the Irish) toward the Firth of Tay from Loch Earn (“Loch Eireann”, or “Lake of the Irish”).  Strath Eireann in Welsh would become Ystrad Aeron.

The places within Ceredigion having the word Aeron as part of their name were well inside the old kingdom of Dyfed, founded and named for the Irish Deisi, at its greatest extent. Indeed, Ceredigion is named for Ceretic ap Cunedda, whose father, Cunedda ap Edern, conquered the region from its Irish ruler in Dyfed according to the later legends. So, having a valley in the region once dominated by the Irish called the “Valley of the Irish” would not be too far-fetched.

At the time of Y Gododdin and its related tales, the Cenel nGabhrain were at the top of the food chain in the area later known as Argyll (for Earr a’ Gaidheal, or “Coast of the Gael”), dominant of the three strongest dynasties of the eastern half of the Dal Riata. They brought the Dal Riata to their highest power on the Isle of Britain; they even fought battles involving the Miathi (Dumayat, Myot Hill) and in Circinn.

Their power and territory extended from their base in Dal Riata across the southern part of Pictavia, possibly up to the Firth of Tay, and almost certainly included Strath Eireann, immediately north of Manaw.

The later district from which Kenneth mac Alpin ruled the north from Scone and Forteviot was named for the Cenel nGahrain: Gowrie, or Gobharaidh in modern Gaelic, according to Professors Woolf and William J. Watson, formerly of the University of Edinburgh (deceased).

Given that in the various tales mentioned above “Aeron” is most often linked with Manaw in one way or another, and now that Professor Woolf has thoroughly debunked the proposition that Fortriu equals Strathearn, I submit that Aeron is actually the same as Strathearn, or Strath Eireann, valley of the Irish, or Ystrad Aeron in Welsh.


Graeme said...

From an enthusiastic amateur: Well done! I have been looking for some more info on the Strathclyde Welsh and have been interested in the so called disappearance of the Picts, I read the article about Fortriu.. also the very interesting discourse by Jamieson which is a preface to his 'Etymological Dictonary of the Scots Language' with his take on the origins and ethnology of the Picts. I am interested in Welsh, Scots, and Scots Gaelic..

Chuck Hamilton said...

I'm glad you like it, and thanks for the enthusiastic feedback.

I don't know if this is the Fortiru article you meant or not, but have you seen: http://notesfromtheninthcircle.blogspot.com/2011/08/world-of-macbethad-mac-findlaich-ri.html