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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


Bangor. St. Maelrubha was of the Cineal Eoghain race, later to be the chief kindred of the Gaels of Ulster. By this time Bangor, by far the largest monastery in Ireland, had become the home of a kind of ecclesiastical tribe in the land of the Irish Picts. The monastery of scholars had become an economic sub-unit as well, serving the needs of thousands of people, body and soul. This type of arrangement was to find its parallel in Scotland among the "Culdees" of St. Andrews, Abernethy, Brechin, Lochleven, Monifieth, Monymusk, Muthill, etc., all Pictish foundations. The Culdees were religious communities serving the local church, but without a rule, whose members apparently originated as solitaries.

By the historical period the Irish Picts show no evidence of matrilineal descent among their kings. Yet as St. Maelrubha, himself of the Cineal Eoghan, was connected on his mother’s side with St. Comgall, it would appear that the abbacy had passed to him in the Pictish mode, by female line descent. This may indicate a kind of matrilineality in the church of the Irish Picts at this time, itself perhaps indicating a dearth of male heirs among ecclesiastics. In 673 at the age of 29, St. Maelrubha went to the Picts of Alba and founded the monastery of Abercrossan or Applecross, on the coast of western Ross, just opposite Skye. It was here that the patronage of St. Andrew was to be chiefly fostered in a tribal sense.

St. Maelrubha died in 724. In 763, almost one hundred years after the founding of Applecross, a church was erected in Fife to house the relics of St. Andrew, which had been brought to that site, the present St. Andrews in Fife, in 761 by the Irish ecclesiastic St. Regulus (formerly Abbot of Lough Derg on the Clare-Tipperary border). St. Regulus died at St. Andrews in 788, but the cult of St. Andrew flourished, and St. Andrew himself officially became the Patron Saint of Scotland well before the advent of the national flag, the Cross of St. Andrew, in the High Middle Ages.

Tradition has it that the relics of St. Andrew had first been brought to pagan Scotland from Greece in the fourth century. This tradition reflects the early missionary work done in Scotland by St. Ninian in the fourth century, work which was largely forfeit after Ninian’s death. It remained to the contemporaries of St. Columba and St. Comgall to establish Pictish Christianity in any strength. Tradition also has it that Angus (Oengus), King of the Picts, attributed a great victory over the Angles of Northumbria in 735 to the intervention of St. Andrew, whose saltire cross appeared in the blue sky. Angus was the king who dedicated St. Andrew’s church in Fife, and the story of Angus’s vision obviously accounts for the adoption of the cross of St. Andrew, silver saltire on blue, as the national flag. Yet this story is strongly reminiscent of another: The fourth century Roman emperor Constantine is said to have attributed his great victory at Milvan Bridge in 312 to the intervention of Christ. After seeing a cross in the sky, the Emperor determined that the cross should be borne on the shields of his men, in Christ’s honor, and this action


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