Vortigern Studies

What's New I Sitemap I Bibliography I Vortigern I Vortigern Studies l Wansdyke I POLLS I LINKS l Sitemaster I FAQs
about Vortigern Studies l Messageboard I Games I Arthurian Collection I View Guestbook I Sign Guestbook l Webrings

  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Family of Vortigern > Foirtgirn

Vortigern Studies Index



The Family of Vortigern
click here

Scotnoe & Foirtgirn, the Irish branch
Robert Vermaat

Did Vortigern have relatives in Ireland? Apparently, he may have had a daughter called Scotnoc, who married the son of the Irish High King. Their son was named Foirtchernn.


This Irish cognate of Vortigern turns up in the Book of Armagh, where it is written in the Additamenta to Tirechán’s Memoir, and is believed to have been compiled by Ferdomnach, the official scribe of Armagh, who wrote the Book of Armagh between 807-846.

Foirtchernn was the son of Fedelmid, son of Loguire, who was High King of Ireland throughout the period of the mission of St Patrick (Whose dates may be 428-462). Foirtchern’s mother was a daughter of a King of the Britons! The story goes that when St Patrick’s nephew Lomman visited Trim (in Ireland), the boy Foirtchernn took him home to Fedelmid and his mother, who both spoke British, were delighted to see a visitor from his mother’s country. They made Lomman stay, who then subsequently converted the whole family. The mother might have been a Christian in the first place, for she ‘welcomed’ the Saint. Maybe the fact that Lomman was a Christian made him more welcome than his being from Britain. Fedelmid may have embraced Christianity because the Saint had just come from Tara Hill, where St Patrick had defeated the druids of Fedelmid’s father the High King Loguire!

Foirtchern's date may be confirmed by the Annala Rioghachta Eirann:

Annals of the Four Masters, M432.0 - 4
The Age of Christ, 432. The fourth year of Laeghaire. Patrick came to Ireland this year, and proceeded to baptize and bless the Irish, men, women, sons, and daughters, except a few who did not consent to receive faith or baptism from him, as his Life relates. Ath Truim was founded by Patrick, it having been granted by Fedhlim, son of Laeghaire, son of Niall, to God and to him, Loman, and

These annals, though dating to 1616 in their youngest version, date back at least to 1172, (Dublin, Royal Irish Academy, MS 1220 (alias C iii 3; s. XVII; five hands, including Mícheál Ó Cléirigh and Cú Choigcríche Ó Cléirigh; 522 folios, annals from A.M. 2242 to A.D. 1171).

In any case, this supports that Fedelmid entrusted Foirtchirnn to Lomman and founded the church of Trim, making St Patrick, Lomman and Foirtchirnn his heirs. But the tale of the Book of Armagh tells us that Foirtchernn was obdurate and did not want to accept his heritage, after which Lomman had to threaten him with taking away the blessing of the church, which is tantamount to incurring its curse! After Lomman's death though, Foirtchirnn gave away his church within three days. This may be apocryphal, for Foirtchirnn was listed afterwards as the first episcopus (abbot) after Fedelmid and Lomman. He might have given it up later though, for he is also listed as a plebilis, a lay successor.


His mother was called Scotnoe or Scotnoc, a very rare name. Scot- may mean Irish, while noc may possibly be the dimunitive form which also occurs in Ninnoc. Ninnoc or Ninnocha means 'nun'. St Ninnoc was the daughter of an Irish mother and the rich Christian Brochan (Brychan), ex genere Gurthirni, rex honorabilis valde in totam Britanniam! Brychan was also the founder of Brycheinog, a kingdom related to Gwrtheyrnion, which where both the traditional home of St Ninnoc and St Gurthiern. So, Vortigern again! We have a connection here between Ireland, the kingdoms related to Vortigern and a wandering tradition from Wales, through Cornwall, to Brittany. St Gurthiern also came from this area, as did a lot of saints from Brittany, amongst whom were all the relatives from Brychan's family. This brings us back to Scotnoc, who might reflect a similar link between Vortigern and the (insular) Irish, maybe suggesting a political agreement between him and Loguire. Though the Book of Armagh makes Scotnoe the grandmother of Foirtgirn, this may be due to some confusion between the wives of Loguire and his son, both of whom were British.

Though the name of Foirtchernn’s maternal grandfather is not mentioned, there is at least a very large possiblity that he was Vortigern, who was seen as the ruler of all Britain by the 9th century and before. The name, the position of his mother and their being from Britain makes a strong case for this identification. But to identify him with Vortigern himself would be difficult to substantiate. If we accept that Vortigern’s accession is to be placed in 425 and St Patrick’s mission started in 432, Foirtchernn had to be some 20 years younger than the Saint. Though this might appeal to those who traditionally date Vortigern’s accession in 449 and who might transcribe his father’s name (L. Vitalis, W. Guitaul) with Gwyddel i.e. Irish, I hope I have dealt with that possibility elsewhere. In support of that, the fact that their Britsh identity is mentioned here explicitly should speak for itself.


The (probable) same person turns up again in the Life of St Columba as an Irish ecclesiastic. This time the Saint visited (the unidentified but probably Irish) Mount Cainle and had to rule in a case against some magicians, and was entertained by the ‘rich plebeius’ named Foirtgirn:

The Life of St Columba, Book II: Of His Miraculous Powers

Chapter 16: Concerning a Vessel which a sorcerer named Silnan had filled with milk taken from a bull.

The following is told as having occurred in the house of a rich peasant named Foirtgirn, who lived in Mount Cainle [not identified]. When the saint was staying there, he decided justly a dispute between two rustics, whose coming to him he knew beforehand: and one of them, who was a sorcerer, took milk, by his diabolical art, at the command of the saint, from a bull that was near. This the saint directed to be done, not to confirm these sorceries - God forbid! but to put an end to them in the presence of all the people. The blessed man, therefore, demanded that the vessel, full, as it seemed to be, of this milk, should be immediately given to him; and he blessed it with this sentence, saying: "Now it shall in this way be proved that this is not true milk, as it is supposed to be, but blood, which is coloured by the artifice of demons to impose on men." This was no sooner said than the milky colour gave place to the true natural colour of blood. The bull also, which in the space of one hour wasted and pined away with a hideous leanness, and was all but dead, was sprinkled with water that had been blessed by the saint, and recovered with astonishing rapidity.


Caput 16: De Vasculo Quod Quidam Maleficus Nomine Silnanus Lacte De Masculo Bove Expresso Repleverat.

Hoc in domo alicujus plebeii divitis, qui in monte Cainle commorabatur, Foirtgirni nomine, factum traditur. Ubi cum Sanctus hospitaretur, inter rusticanos contendentes duos, quorum prius adventum praescivit, recta judicatione judicavit: unusque ex eis, qui maleficus erat, a Sancto jussus, de bove masculo, qui prope erat, lac arte diabolica expressit: quod Sanctus, non ut illa confirmaret maleficia, fieri jussit, quod absit; sed ut ea coram multitudine destrueret. Vir itaque beatus vas, ut videbatur tali plenum lacte, sibi ocius dari poposcit; et hac cum sententia benedixit dicens, Modo probabitur non esse hoc verum, quod putatur, lac, sed daemonum fraude, ad decipiendos homines, decoloratus sanguis: et continuo lacteus ille color in naturam versus est propriam, hoc est, in sanguinem. Bos quoque, qui per unius horae momentum, turpi macie tabidus et maceratus, erat morti proximus, benedicta a Sancto aqua superfusus, mira sub celeritate sanatus est.

Though this story resembles surprisingly the tale of Vortigern and Emrys (see Saints on the move), it gives us nothing more on the relation between him and Vortigern. Foirtchernn appears as both ecclesiastical and lay successor to Fedelmid and the church of Trim in the list of abbots of Trim, but he is told to have given up after three days only. However, in Adamnan's story he is still an ecclesiastic, making a case for this to have been a later insertion. He might have been convinced to give up his abbacy after the visit of St Columba though, for the case of the magicians might have rubbed off on him. Though it is never stated that he is indeed the same person as Foirtchirnn, the very rare name and him being the first successor to Trim (which was founded by Foirtchirnn's father Fedelmid) makes it almost certain they were one and the same. His timeframe and social position makes speculating that he was indeed the grandson of Vortigern very attractive.

Could the Foirtgirn from the Life of St Columba be the same as the Foirtchernn from the Additamenta? This seems far-fetched, as Columbanus lived during the sixth century. Were these stories unrelated at all, or was the situation simply ‘borrowed’ (as N.K. Chadwick believed) by Adomnan, to embellish the life of his saint with a popular theme? Such an assumption seems pure guesswork.

However, there may be evidence that this was not an isolated case. Richard Sharpe points to a similar occurrence, concerning a St Mauchteus. This saint has been recorded by the Annals of Ulster to have died in AD 535, long after St Patrick. The discussion, however, was about the fact that he was called a discipulus Patricii, an impossibility when his obit was correct. However, there was also another entry, this one from the Book of Cuanu, which put the death of a ‘Maucteus’ at AD 471. Which of the annals was the correct one? Apparently, as Sharpe sees it, Mauchteus was incorporated (without dating) in the book of Adamnan, and later annalists based his life (and death) purely on the chronology of St Columba, without interest in the real dating. In this way, a disciple of St Patrick came to be incorporated in the life of a 6th-century saint.

Did it happen like that with the person of Foirtchern? After all, he was the disciple of Lomman, who was the son of a sister of St Patrick. If Patrick’s dating, like in the process described above, had become stretched into the 6th century, it is possible that Adamnan simply switched St Patrick for his St Columba, in a story now judged contemporary with Columba. Maybe he added some elements that came straight from the conversion of Loguire, or even from a legend concerning (the other) Vortigern! After all, we are talking about hagiography here, not actual history.


  • Adamnan: Life of St Columba, at the Medieval Sourcebook: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/columba-e.html
  • anon.: Annala Rioghachta Eirann: Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, from the earliest period to the year 1616. Edited from MSS in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy and of Trinity College Dublin with a translation and copious notes, at CELT corpus of electronic texts : http://www.ucc.ie/celt/online/T100005A/
  • Bieler, Ludwig (1979): The Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh, Scriptores Latini Hiberniae, vol. 10, (Dublin).
  • Chadwick, H.M. (1959): The End of Roman Britain, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 9-20.*
  • Chadwick, H.M. (1959): Vortigern, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 21-33.*
  • Chadwick, N.K. et al (1959): Studies in Early British History, (Cambridge).*
  • Historia Brittonum - Nennius: British History and the Welsh Annals, Latin and trans. John Morris, in: History from the Sources VIII, (Chichester 1980).*
  • Sharpe, Richard (1990): Saint Mauchteus, discipulus Patricii, in: Bammesberger and Wollman, Britain 400-600: Language and History, pp. 51-63.*

VortigernStudies is copyright © Robert Vermaat 1999-2008 All rights reserved