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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


Was the turning point for the fortunes of Latin Christianity (again, a good story reycled: St. Columba gave the O’Donnell a similar command in the sixth century).

The church founded by St. Maelrubha in 673 became the center of a Celtic tribal abbey dedicated to St. Andrew and administered after the Viking period by a patrilineal kindred with the Irish-style surname "0 Beolain." As we have seen, the abbey was located among the Northern Picts, at Applecross on the west coast of Ross. Since the ninth and tenth centuries were transitional between the Pictish and Gaelic systems of descent, we can expect that before that time the abbey had passed to the successors of St. Maelrubha in the Pictish mode of matrilineal descent. Yet such direct Gaelic-Pictish interaction was not forthcoming over much of the North and East, and thus the Pictish matrilineal system was apparently in a position to linger on in the more purely Pictish areas of Ross, Sutherland and Aberdeenshire, away from the direct effects of the centralizing monarchy. We should not be surprised then to find that as late as 1014 the then Earl of Mar (Aberdeenshire) succeeded through an heiress. The fact that this succession did not cause a break in political continuity with the original Picto-Gaelic line indicates a Pictish style succession on the old model.

However, during the period vast areas of Ross, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and the Hebrides ("the Isles") were all under Norse rather than Pictish control. In these areas, interaction was Norse-Pictish, and thus matrilineality was faced with an aggressive Indo-European patrilineality of the first order, especially where political control was at issue. We would not expect patrilineal Vikings to pass matrilineally what was acquired in a patrilineal spirit, either by dynastic marriage or masculine sword right. Interaction did occur. Norse sources such as the Icelandic Landnamabok, supported by archeology, reveal a very interesting situation: The Norse royalty of the area was already both Christian and half—Celtic by the mid-ninth century (their genealogies show frequent marriages to Celtic princesses).

We should not be surprised, then, to find that Helgi, the son of Ketill Flatnefr, nine-century Norse ruler of the Hebrides, was himself known by the Gaelic nickname of "Bjolan" (Beolain), nicknames being the usual second element in Norse personal names. Nor should we be surprised to find that Helgi Bjolan’s relatives brought Christianity to Iceland in the ninth century. The very survival of Applecross as an abbey on the coast of Viking Ross points to fortuitous Norse patronage. Helgi Bjolan is undoubtedly the namesake of the O’Beolains, since his father was ruler of the Hebrides (Applecross faces these) and his nephew was King of Ross. Beolain is certainly not a typical Gaelic name.

The earlier Pictish abbots of Applecross were probably "co-arbs" (bloodrelated successors) of St. Maelrubha in the Pictish mode of matrilineal descent. Since Applecross, as a Celtic tribal abbey, was continuously active throughout


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