Fergus Mór

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"Fergus I" redirects here; not to be confused with the fictitious King Fergus (fl 330 BC), see Fergus I (mythical).
Fergus Mór
King of Dalriada (possibly)
Reign to 501 (possibly 498-501)
Predecessor New title
Successor Domangart Réti
Born Fergus Mór
before 426?
Died c. 501
Father Erc of Dalriada
Mother Mist

Fergus Mór mac Eirc (Scottish Gaelic: Fergus Mòr Mac Earca; English: Fergus the Great) was a legendary king of Dál Riata. He was the son of Erc of Dalriada.

While his historicity may be debatable, his posthumous importance as the founder of Scotland and a national myth of Medieval and Renaissance Scotland is not in doubt. Rulers of Scotland from Cináed mac Ailpín until the present time claim descent from Fergus Mór.

Fergus Mór in early sources[edit]

The historical record, such as it is, consists of an entry in the Annals of Tigernach, for the year 501, which states: Feargus Mor mac Earca cum gente Dal Riada partem Britaniae tenuit, et ibi mortuus est. (Fergus Mór mac Eirc, with the people of Dál Riata, held part of Britain, and he died there.) However, the forms of Fergus, Erc and Dál Riata are later ones, written down long after the 6th century. The record in the Annals has given rise to theories of invasions of Argyll from Ireland, but these are not considered authentic.[1]

However, Cormac McSparron has questioned campbels claim of Fergus mor as a 10th century invention , while some variants of the traditions of Dál Riatic migration story can be demonstrated to be late, there still appear to be core elements which can be shown to have existed in, at least, the 7th and 8th centuries, The Annals of Tighernach stating ‘Fergus Mor, macErc, with the nation of Dal Riada, took or held part of Britain, and died there was composed in the 10th century and therefore cannot be relied upon as an account of late 5th or 6th century events Senchus Fer nAlban has likewise been subject to 10th-century rewriting. however references to the sons of Erc and fergus mor tradition which demonstrate that it is one of great antiquity, and is not simply the product of 10th century pseudo historians.can be found in a reference to Erc in the context of Scotland in the Tiugraind Bhécáin ,a poem about Columb Cille which, while only existing as a 16th-century copy today, but can be solidly dated on linguistic grounds to the 7th century.

There are several much earlier, if rather more laconic references to fergus mor and the sons of erk tradition in early texts of possibly the 6th and 7th centuries in the Annals of Ulster, book of Armagh & Tripartite Life of St Patrick.[2]

Fergus is also found in the king lists of Dál Riata, and later of Scotland, of which the Senchus Fer n-Alban and the Duan Albanach can be taken as examples. The Senchus states that Fergus Mór was also known as Mac Nisse Mór. These sources probably date from the 10th and 11th centuries respectively, between 30 and 40 generations after Fergus may have lived. however its possible that this may actually mean Fergus brother, mac Nisse, whose presence was obscured in the 10th-century rewriting of the Senchus Fer nAlban, possibly the unmentioned brother from whom Fergus must seek approval to give land to Patrick? the tradition of St Patrick meeting Fergus Mór is not entirely an invention of the 10th century or later. Rather, these traditions of Fergus, and possibly Mac Nise too, are much older. The Notulae are mid to late 8th century but, as they themselves are probably based on an earlier work, they relate to traditions which must be 8th century or earlier, several centuries earlier, at least, than the medieval genealogists proposed by Campbell.

The Senchus and the Duan name Fergus's father as Erc son of Eochaid Muinremuir. A Middle Irish genealogy of the kings of Alba gives an extensive genealogy for Fergus: [Fergus] m. h-Eircc m. Echdach Muinremuir m. Óengusa Fir m. Feideilmid m. Óengusa m. Feideilmid m. Cormaicc, and a further forty-six generations here omitted.[3] While it was suggested some believe Fergus claimed lineage to Arthur, the historian John Morris has suggested, instead, that Fergus was allowed to settle in Scotland as a federate of Arthur, as a bulwark against the Picts.

These sources, while they offer evidence for the importance of Fergus Mór in Medieval times, are not evidence for his historical career. Indeed, only one king in the 6th century in Scotland is known from contemporary evidence, Ceretic of Alt Clut, and even this identification rests upon a later gloss to Saint Patrick's Letter to Coroticus. The first kings of Dál Riata whose existences are reasonably sure are Fergus's grandsons Gabrán mac Domangairt and Comgall, or perhaps his great-grandson Áedán mac Gabráin.

Fergus Mór in later accounts[edit]

Andrew of Wyntoun's early 15th century Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland says that Fergus was the first Scot to rule in Scotland, and that Cináed mac Ailpín was his descendant. In addition, he writes that Fergus brought the Stone of Scone with him from Ireland, that he was succeeded by a son named Dúngal. A list of kings follows which is corrupt but bears some relation to those found in earlier sources.[4]

If Wyntoun's account adds little to earlier ones, at the end of the 16th century George Buchanan in his Rerum Scoticarum Historia added much, generally following John of Fordun. In this version, the Scots had been expelled from Scotland when the Romans under one Maximus conquered all of Britain. His father Eugenius had been killed by the Romans, and Fergus, Fergusius II according to Buchanan's count, was raised in exile in Scandinavia. He later fought with the Franks, before eventually returning to Scotland and reconquering the Scottish lands. He was killed in battle against Durstus, king of the Picts, and was succeeded by his son Eugenius.[5] A linked tradition traces the origin of Clan Cameron to the son of the royal family of Denmark who assisted Fergus II in the above restoration to Scotland.

Buchanan's king, James VI, shared the scholar's view of the origins of his line, describing himself in one of many verses written to his wife Anne of Denmark, as the "happie Monarch sprung of Ferguse race". Nor was James VI the last ruler to share this belief. The Great Gallery of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh was decorated with eighty-nine of Jacob de Wet's portraits of Scottish monarchs, from Fergus to Charles II, produced to the order of James's grandson.

James II's Irish partisans welcomed the king at Kilkenny during the Williamite War, declaring, "We conducted a Fergus to Scotland; we welcome in James the Second the undoubted heir of Fergus by the lineal descent of one hundred and ten crowned heads".[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "[S]tories of Dalriadic origins cannot be held to be worthy of acceptance as history", Sally Foster, Picts, Gaels and Scots, p. 9, quoting David Dumville. See also Ewan Campbell, "Were the Scots Irish ?".
  2. ^ McSparron, Cormac. "And they won land among the Picts by friendly treaty and the sword". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Retrieved 6 January 2018.  More than one of |website= and |journal= specified (help)
  3. ^ The early part of Fergus's ancestry is shared with that given for Senán son of Gerrgenn in the Betha Shenáin meic Geirginn from the Book of Lismore; compare Rawlinson B. 502 ¶1696 Genelach Ríg n-Alban and the Betha Shenáin, at line 1792 and after.
  4. ^ See chapters xliv and liv.
  5. ^ Aikman's edition, pp. 202–218.
  6. ^ "Address to King James II at Kilkenny, March 22, 1689". The Jacobite Heritage. 2003 [1689]. Retrieved 2015-10-27. 


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Loarn mac Eirc
King of Dál Riata
Succeeded by
Domangart mac Ferguso