For the asteroid named for this people, see 3753 Cruithne.
Country Ireland
Parent house House of Ir
Current head none
Cadet branches

The Cruthin (Old Irish, IPA: [ˈkɾˠʊθʲɪn̠ʲ]; Middle Irish: Cruithnig or Cruithni; Modern Irish: Cruithne [ˈkɾˠɪhn̠ʲə]) were a people of early medieval Ireland, who occupied parts of the present day counties of Antrim, Laois, Galway, Londonderry and Down. Their name is the Irish equivalent of Priteni who are more commonly known by the Latin form Picti.[1] Despite this, a distinction was usually maintained by Irish authors writing in Latin.[1]

The Cruthin comprised a number of túatha (territories), which included the Dál nAraidi of County Antrim and the Uí Echach Cobo in County Down. Early sources preserve a distinction between the Cruthin and the Ulaid, who gave their name to the over-kingdom, although the Dál nAraidi would later claim in their genealogies to be na fir Ulaid,[2] meaning "the Ulaid people". 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.[3]

By 773AD, the annals stopped using the term Cruithne in favour of the term Dál nAraidi,[1] who had secured their over-kingship of the Cruthin.


Main article: Britain (placename)

In writings from Ireland, the name Cruthin, Cruthini, Cruthni, Cruithni or Cruithini (Modern Irish: Cruithne) was used to refer both to the people who lived alongside the Ulaid in eastern Ulster and the Picts of Scotland.[4] It is generally accepted that this is derived from *Qritani, which is the Goidelic/Q-Celtic version of the Britonnic/P-Celtic *Pritani.[5] From this came Britanni, the Roman name for those now called the Britons.[4][5][6] It has been suggested that Cruthin referred to all Britons not conquered by the Romans—those who lived outside Roman Britannia, north of Hadrian's Wall.[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.[4] 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.[2] Professor T. F. O'Rahilly proposed that the Qritani/Pritani were the first Celts to inhabit the British Isles 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"[1] 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".[10] The Cruthin cannot be distinguished from their neighbours by archaeology.[11] 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.[12]

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.[12]

References in the Irish annals

By the start of the historic period in Ireland in the 6th century, the over-kingdom of Ulaid was largely confined to east of the River Bann in north-eastern Ireland.[13] The Cruthin however still held territory west of the Bann in County Londonderry, and their emergence may have concealed the dominance of earlier tribal groupings.[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]

In 563, according to the Annals of Ulster, an apparent internal struggle amongst the Cruthin resulted in Báetán mac Cinn making a deal with the Northern Uí Néill, promising them the territories of Ard Eólairg (Magilligan peninsula) and the Lee, both west of the River Bann in County Londonderry.[13] As a result, the battle of Móin Daire Lothair (modern-day Moneymore, County Londonderry) took place between them and an alliance of Cruthin kings, in which the Cruthin suffered a devastating defeat.[13] Afterwards the Northern Uí Néill settled their Airgíalla allies in the Cruthin territory of Eilne, which lay between the River Bann and the River Bush.[13] The defeated Cruthin alliance meanwhile consolidated itself within the Dál nAraidi dynasty.[13]

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)[15] 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.[2] By the twelfth century it had fallen into disuse as an ethnonym, and was remembered only as an alternative name for the Dál nAraide.[16]

The Pictish Chronicle names the first king of the Picts as the eponymous "Cruidne filius Cinge".[17]

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".[18][19]

The asteroid 3753 Cruithne was named after the group.[20]

Robert E. Howard's pulp hero Bran Mak Morn was characterised as "chief of the Cruithni Picts".[21]


  1. 1 2 3 4 Ó Cróinín 1995, p. 48
  2. 1 2 3 Ó Cróinín 2005, pp. 182-234.
  3. Byrne 2001, pp. 39, 236.
  4. 1 2 3 Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. A New History of Ireland: Prehistoric and Early Ireland. Oxford University Press, 2008. Page 213.
  5. 1 2 Chadwick, Hector Munro. Early Scotland: the Picts, the Scots & the Welsh of southern Scotland. CUP Archive, 1949. Page 66-80.
  6. 1 2 3 Dunbavin, Paul. Picts and ancient Britons: an exploration of Pictish origins. Third Millennium Publishing, 1998. Page 3.
  7. Pict and related words at In Dúin Bélrai
  8. O'Rahilly 1946, pp. 15-16 341-342
  9. 1 2 Byrne 2001, p. 8, 108.
  10. Jackson 1956, pp. 122-166
  11. Warner 1991
  12. 1 2 Woolf, Alex. Ancient Kindred? Dál Riata and the Cruthin. 2012.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 A New History of Ireland, p. 212.
  14. Byrne 2001, pp. 94-95.
  15. Smyth 1989, p. 101
  16. O'Rahilly 1946, p. 345
  17. Skene 1867, p. 5
  18. Gallagher 2007, pp. 96-97
  19. Nic Craith 2002, pp. 93-113
  20. Cruithne: Asteroid 3753. Western Washington University Planetarium. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
  21. Howard, Robert E. (2005-05-31). Bran Mak Morn: The Last King (Kindle Locations 3037-3039). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


External links

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