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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
IV. The Kingdom of the Picts: Christianity, Paganism and the Making of Gaelic Scotland


is anachronistically applied to the past, creating the false impression of long-term Gaelic supremacy. A period of the past must be judged in its own terms, and yet it is a commonplace of Gaelic tradition that Nial, the famous ancestor of the O’Neills of Ulster, was made that way by the success of his descendants, rather than the other way around. This is natural enough, yet as historians we must look beyond such pseudo-history, for it involves politically expedient rationalization, typically anachronistic and simplistic. The most flagrant use of Gaelic dynastic propaganda in Ireland was among the Eoghanacht, but in Scotland it became central to the mystery surrounding the supposed disappearance of the Picts after the ninth century.

The Pictish language died a natural death, as did its sister dialect of Strathclyde British. These dialects of P—Celtic were both isolated and nonliterate. The Picts, like the Gauls and the British of Roman times, preferred to write formal Latin, which was seen correctly as a cousin of Celtic, and considered more suitable for writing than any vernacular whether Celtic or Latin. When written Celtic did come, it was with Irish clerics writing Gaelic. It is unknown how long the P-Celtic dialects continued to be spoken, but vernacular Scottish Gaelic shows the influence of Pictish not only on its vocabulary but on its syntax as well. This difference distinguishes it from the classical (written) Gaelic of medieval Irish and Scottish literature. It is interesting to note that Gaelic itself later underwent the same process of linguistic leveling. For instance, the Gaelic dialect of Atholl (Perthshire) first became clipped, dropping its inflexional endings (in which form it continued into the twentieth century), and then was replaced altogether by English, though again this dialect of English shows marked Gaelic influence. In any case, while Gaelic scholars have always seen through the folksy anachronisms of Gaelic dynastic propaganda in Ireland, such quaint and simplistic stories have often passed as history for those studying the mixed cultural inheritance of Scotland, which includes sources in Old (classical) Irish, vernacular Scottish Gaeic, the Northumbrian dialect of Old English (ancestor of the Scots dialect of Robert Burns), Old Norse, Pictish, Old Welsh, and Latin. Regarding Old Norse, comparisons might prove helpful: The MacLeods are direct descendants of the powerful Norse kings of Dublin, Man and the Isles, and have held their vast lands continuously in right of that descent. There has been no interruption of their power or control, yet their Norse language was eclipsed by Gaelic almost as quickly as Pictish was, though like Pictish it has left its mark on vernacular Scottish Gaelic.

The idea that the union of Picts and Scots under Kenneth MacAlpin in 843 was somehow a Dalriadic takeover itself overlooks the fact that Kenneth, though clearly of Pictish matrilineage, was only of obscure Dalriadic patrilineage, putting the weight of his royalty on the Pictish side. He may have murdered his rival , significantly of a Pictish patrilineage, but even this was a common occurrence. Such dynastic feuding certainly did not carry any


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