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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 Ireland, who occupied parts of the present day Counties of Down, Antrim and Londonderry in the early medieval period.

Their ruling dynasties included the Dál nAraidi in southern Antrim and the Uí Echach Cobo in western Down. Early sources preserve a distinction between the Cruthin and the Ulaid, who gave their name to the province of Ulster, although the Dál nAraide claimed in their genealogies to be na fir Ulaid, "the true Ulaid".[1] 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.[2]


Main article: Britain (placename)

Variations of the name include Cruthen, Crutheni, Cruthin, Cruthini, Cruthne, Cruthni, Cruithni and Cruithini. It is generally accepted that this is the Goidelic languages version of the Brittonic term *pritenī (Welsh Prydyn "Picts"), both derived from an earlier Insular Celtic form *kʷritenī "painted/tattooed people".[3][4] From *pritanī, a variant of the Brittonic term, came Middle Welsh Prydein, Modern Welsh Prydain "Britain", and Britanni, the Latin name for those now called the Britons.[3][5][6]

Relationship to the Picts[edit]

Early Irish writers used the name Cruthin to refer to both the north-eastern Irish group and to the Picts of Scotland.[5] 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.[1] Professor T. F. O'Rahilly proposed that the Qritani/Pritani were the first Celts to inhabit Great Britain and Ireland 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]

Some scholars disagree, pointing out that although Cruthin was used to translate Picti into Irish, Picti was never used to translate the Old Irish term 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"[10] and 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".[11] The Cruthin cannot be distinguished by archaeology,[12] in historical times the Cruthin spoke Irish and followed the Irish derbfine system of inheritance rather than the matrilineal system sometimes attributed to the Picts of Britain.[9]

References in the Irish annals[edit]

At the dawn of recorded history in the fifth century, the Cruthin appear to have been more powerful in the north than the Ulaid, who had been reduced to east Antrim and Down.[1] 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 was killed by a Cruthin over-king of Ulster, Áed Dub mac Suibni, in 565.[13]

They were soon reduced themselves by the expansion of the Uí Néill, however. The Annals of Ulster record a victory by the Northern Uí Néill over a confederation of Cruthin kings at Móin Dairi Lothair (Moneymore, County Londonderry)[12] in 563, after which the Cruthin lost their territory between the Bann and the Moyola to the kings of Ailech, and between the Bann and the Bush to the Airgíalla.[1]

The Dál nAraide, based around Ráth Mor, east of Antrim town, emerged as the ruling dynasty of the Cruthin east of the Bann.[14] 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.[1] 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] whose seven sons gave their names to the ancient divisions of Alba:

Modern culture[edit]

In Northern Ireland in modern times, Unionist writers, in particular Ian Adamson, have seen the Cruthin as an ancient reflection of their own northern separatism and affinity with Britain. Adamson, in his 1974 book Cruthin: The Ancient Kindred, 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 their enmity; and that many of the Cruthin were driven to Scotland after their defeat in the battle of Moira in 637, only for their descendants to return to Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster in the 17th century. Few historians accept his interpretations, with some accusing him of creating a sectarian narrative in which northern Protestants have a prior to claim to Ireland, but Adamson denies this, claiming his interpretation of history offers "the hope of uniting the Ulster people at last".[21][22]

The asteroid 3753 Cruithne was named after the group.[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ó Cróinín 2005, pp. 182-234.
  2. ^ Byrne 2001, pp. 39, 236.
  3. ^ a b Chadwick 1949, pp. 66-80
  4. ^ Maier 1997, p. 230
  5. ^ a b Ó Cróinín 2005, p. 213
  6. ^ a b Dunbavin 1998, p. 3
  7. ^ Pict and related words at In Dúin Bélrai
  8. ^ O'Rahilly 1946, pp. 15-16 341-342
  9. ^ a b Byrne 2001, p. 8, 108.
  10. ^ Ó Cróinín 1995, p. 48
  11. ^ Jackson 1956, pp. 122-166
  12. ^ a b Warner 1991
  13. ^ Byrne 2001, pp. 94-95.
  14. ^ Byrne 2001, p. 109
  15. ^ Smyth 1989, p. 101
  16. ^ O'Rahilly 1946, p. 345
  17. ^ Skene 1867, p. 5
  18. ^ Forsyth, "Lost Pictish Source", Watson, Celtic Place Names, pp. 108–109.
  19. ^ Bruford, "What happened to the Caledonians", Watson, Celtic Place Names, pp. 108–113.
  20. ^ Woolf, "Dun Nechtain"; Yorke, Conversion, p. 47. Compare earlier works such as Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, p. 33.
  21. ^ Gallagher 2007, pp. 96-97
  22. ^ Nic Craith 2002, pp. 93-113
  23. ^ Cruithne: Asteroid 3753. Western Washington University Planetarium. Retrieved January 27, 2011.


  • Byrne, Francis J. Irish Kings and High Kings. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2001 (2nd edition). First published in 1973.
  • Chadwick, Hector Munro. Early Scotland: the Picts, the Scots & the Welsh of southern Scotland. CUP Archive, 1949. Page 66-80.
  • Dunbavin, Paul. Picts and ancient Britons: an exploration of Pictish origins. Third Millennium Publishing, 1998.
  • Gallagher, Carolyn. After the Peace: Loyalist Paramilitaries in Post-Accord Northern Ireland. Cornell University, 2007
  • Jackson, Kenneth H. "The Pictish language." In The problem of the Picts, ed. F.T Wainwright. Edinburgh, 1956. pp. 122–166.
  • Maier, Bernhard. Dictionary of Celtic religion and culture. Boydell & Brewer, 1997. Page 230.
  • Nic Craith, Máiréad. Plural Identities, Singular Narratives: The Case of Northern Ireland, Berghahn Books, 2002
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200, Longman, 1995
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí. "Ireland, 400-800." In A New History of Ireland, ed. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. Vol 1. 2005. pp. 182–234.
  • O'Rahilly, T.F. Early Irish History and Mythology. Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, 1946.
  • Skene, William F. Chronicles of the Picts and Scots Edinburgh, 1867.
  • Smyth, Alfred P. Warlords and Holy Men. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1989.
  • Warner, Richard. "The Lisburn Area in the Early Christian Period Part 2: Some People and Places." Lisburn Historical Society Journals Vol 8. 1991

External links[edit]