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During June-July 2000, Robert Vermaat and I engaged in a lively discourse in an attempt to track down Vortigern, the "superbus tyrannus" of British historical tradition. While some of the findings that arose out of that discussion are to be found in my revised article "Ambrosius", I have decided to save the most important discovery of all for this brief paper.
It was Robert who first called my attention to an Irish Vortigern. To quote extensively from his article:
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). Foirtcherns mother was a daughter of the King of the Britons! The story goes that when St Patricks 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 mothers 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 Fedelmids father the High King Loguire!
Foirtchern's date may be confirmed by the Annala Rioghachta Eirann:
of the Four Masters, M432.0 - 4
These annals, though dating to 1616 in their youngest version, date back at least to 1172,
In any case, Fedelmid enthrusted Foirtchirnn to Lomman and founded the church of Trim, making St Patrick, Lomman and Foirtchirnn his heirs. But 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.
Now, the question on my mind, after reading this account, was "Who succeeded Lomman at Trim?". Neither Robert nor I knew the answer. We were rescued from our dilemma by Dr. Elizabeth O'Brien. She quoted from Bieler's edition of the Patrician Texts in the Book of Armagh, Additamenta 3 (3):
He [Foirtchernn] held the abbacy for three days after his master's death until he came to Ath Truim, and then immediately handed his church over to the foreigner Cathlaid [Cathlaido perigrino].
I immediately recognized this Cathlaid the Foreigner as a doublet for Catel Durnluc, the traditional founder of Powys. But if I were right, what was he doing in Ireland?
The answer has to do, I believe, with a relocation. In other words, if the Irish Trim is a reflection of an actual site in Britain that happens to have a similar name, where might this latter site be? Henry Gough passed along the following information on the placename Trim:
Onomasticon Goedelicum supplies _Baile atha truim_ and _Ath truimm_ as the early forms of Trim. Flanagan and Flanagan (1994), etymologize it as '[Baile Atha] Troim: (town of the ford of) the elder tree'.
On the southwestern coast of Lleyn, there is a Llanbedrog or Llanpedrog, the "Church of Petroc". This town is hard by Trwyn Llanbedrog, the "Cape of Llanpedrog". On the word 'trwyn', Andrew Hawke at The National Dictionary of Wales had this to say:
trwyn 14 CPNE 235 'OC trein . . . seems to be a mistake
Trwyn could easily have been mistaken for Truim or vice-versa. It should be noted that Petroc is not Patrick (although Petroc is believed to be a form of Patrick or Patricius); indeed, according to Bartrum the former was not even born until c. 480. There is a chapel and parish of Llanllawen, named for a St. Llewen or Llywen or Llewyn, near Aberdaron in Lleyn. This saint's name could answer for the Book of Armagh's Lomman.
What I am proposing, of course, is that St. Patrick's Truim of the Book of Armagh story is a relocation for the Trwyn of Trwyn Llanbedrog. In claiming that Foirtchern held Truim and gave it to Cathlaid, the author of the Book of Armagh is saying, in his own confused way, that Vortigern gave Trwyn Llanbedrog to Catel Durnluc.
If I'm right and Truim is an error for Trwyn, then the Book of Armagh story of Foirtchern and Cathlaid in Lleyn would point directly to the Caer Gwrtheyrn or "Fort of Vortigern" Nennius claimed could be found at Gwnnws in Nant Gwrtheyrn some four miles NE of Nefyn at the foot of Yr Eifl on the Lleyn Peninsula. And this, in turn, would mean that the author of the Book of Armagh possessed either a copy of Nennius or knew of the Welsh tradition which put Vortigern in Lleyn.
The question now is this: did the author of the Book of Armagh substitute the Irish name Fedelmid for the Guitaul/"Vitalis" said to be Vortigern's father in the Historia Brittonum or did Nennius convert Fedelmid into the Roman Vitalis?
John Rhys long ago made a case for Vitalis's father Guitolin/"Vitalinus" and grandfather Gloiu being equivalent to the ogam-Latin Vitaliani Stone found at Cwm Gloyn near Nevern in Dyfed. As Gloiu or Glovi was the eponym of Gloucester, so it could be a substitute eponym for the placename Gloyn:
There is much to be said for this theory. Does it necessarily follow, however, that Vortigern and Vitalis descended from Vitalianus? No. It would have taken very little imagination to link a "Vitalis" to a Vitalianus. So it is quite possible that a pedigree running from Foirtchern to Loegaire or even from Foirtchern to Loegaire's father Neill could be altered into one running from Vortigern to Glovi.
It is important to add that in another part of the Book of Armagh, Cathlaid is passed over in the succession list, being replaced by Aed Mor, son of Fergus son of Fedelmid. This Aed Mor is mentioned as successor at Truim several times in the Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae (CGSH, cited by Dr. O'Brien). The apparent substitution of Cathlaid for Aed Mor would suggest that the former was a later insertion, probably due to the stories current in Wales involving Vortigern and the first Powys king, Catel.
Besides Foirtchern son of Fedelmid, there are five other Irish Foirtcherns listed in the Corpus Genealogiarum Sanctorum Hiberniae (CGSH). None of them seem to have anything in common with the British Vortigern. In the genealogy of the Cenel Mac Carthin, there is a Tigernach who has both a Cathchern and a Fortchern among his sons. Cathchern is the early Irish form of Cattigern, mentioned by Nennius as a son of Vortigern. A memorial stone found on Margam Mountain in Glamorgan bears the inscription:
- HIC IACIT - FILIUS CATOTIGIRNI PRONEPUS ETERNALI
The following parallel can be drawn between the Patrick-Loegaire and Ambrosius-Vortigern stories:
The Ard-righ or High-king
Loegaire and his druids are confounded by St. Patrick.
The earliest literary reference to Vortigern connects him not with Lleyn, but with Clwyd in NE Wales. Nennius, writing near the beginning of the 9th century, tells a story about Cadel Durnluc, the founder of the Powys dynasty, at the hill-fort Moel benli or Foel Fenli ("Hill of Benli") in the Clwydian Range. However, in the Life of St. Columba (521-597) written by Adamnan (c. 624-704) a century before the time of Nennius, we have a story of a Foirtgirn, who lives in an unidentified "monte Cainle".
The full story of this Foirtigirn of Cainle has its parallel in Nennius. To quote Book II, Chapter 16 of the Vita Columbae in full:
XVI. Concerning a Vessel which a sorcerer named Silnan
had filled with milk taken from a bull.
Now to compare this account with Historia Brittonum Chapter 32:
And he [later identified as Catel Durnluc] had naught of any kind of cattle except one cow with calf, and he killed the calf and cooked it and placed it before them [St. Germanus and his companions]. And Saint Germanus commanded that not a bone of its bones should be broken, and so it was done. And on the morrow the calf was found before its mother whole and alive and safe.
Dr. O'Brien, citing the notes to Richard Sharpe's translation of Columba's Life, adds that Silnan is a well-documented Irish name, an alternative to Sillan as the diminutive of Sinell. The CGSH lists numerous examples of Sinell/Sillan.
The problem with the VITA COLUMBAE account is this: Columba was, as mentioned above, alive from c. 521-597. This is well after the traditional floruit of Vortigern. We must assume that the Foirtchern of monte Cainle is not the British Vortigern of the mid-5th century. In section F. below I will more thoroughly examine the relationship between monte Cainle and Foel Benli.
The Vortigern Stones
We have two Dark Age inscriptions bearing the name Vortigern, both from the adjacent Irish counties of Cork and Waterford. The inscriptions read "...]LL MAQI VORRTIGURN" (Ballyhank, East Muskerry, Co. Cork) and "VORTIGURN" (Seskinan, Knockboy, Co. Waterford), respectively. Ballyhank, in the parish of Kilnaglory, is about 5 miles southwest of Cork city. East Muskerry or East Muscraige, according to Stiofan Mac Amhalghaidh:
...lies to the west/north-north west of Cork City. Ballyhank is in the far southeast corner of this barony. That puts it in a location *very close* (i.e. within 10 miles at most) to Uí Liathain territory. Muskerry is named for the Muscraige, although it would seem that Ballyhank was originally in Ciarraige Cuirche territory. That the general area from Waterford city to Cork city is associated with settlements in west and south west Britain is very likely.
According to Nennius, the Ui Liathain settled in Dyfed, Kidwelly and Gower, although Cormac in his Glossary says they dwelled in Cornwall.
The St. Seskinan church is a dozen or so miles NNW of Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. This is right in the middle of Deisi territory - the same Deisi who settled in Dyfed, establishing a ruling dynasty. A 7th century saint Garbhan or Garbhain gave his name to Dungarvan. There was once a Kilgarvan on Great Island in Cork Harbour. Also, there is a Kilgarvan seven miles east of Kenmare in Co. Kerry. Could this Garbhan, found in the same general area as the Irish Vortigern inscriptions, have contributed to the story of St. Germanus and Vortigern?
Unfortunately, both of these stones appear to be too late for the 5th century Vortigern. To quote again from Dr. O'Brien:
Regarding Ballyhank 97 '...ll maqi vorrtigurn,' and Seskinan 297 'voritigurn' , Macalister does not give any dating evidence. McManus suggests that inscriptions which include the post-syncope form 'maqi' are 'late' , but does not identify what dating he gives to this period. Catherine Swift suggests that "groups which are post-syncope or 'late' can be termed 'probably late sixth or early seventh century'.
The Eliseg Pillar
The Eliseg Pillar, erected by Cyngen of Powys (d. 855) at Valle Crucis Abbey near Llangollen in Wales, preserves the only known British inscription bearing the name or title Vortigern. This stone gives Vortigern a wife named Sevira, daughter of Magnus Maximus, "who killed the king of the Romans", i.e. Gratian (d. 383). The fruit of the union of Vortigern and Sevira is one Britu, whom "Germanus blessed".
While it has been said that this Sevira was really a daughter of Maximus, there is good reason for believing that she is none other that Severa, wife of Valentinian I (364-75). Gratian, who was killed by Maximus, was the son of Severa and Valentinian. We might reasonably inquire why a daughter of Maximus would be given the name of the mother whose son Maximus had killed. This point seems to have been missed by those who have previously discussed the Eliseg Pillar.
It would have been very easy for whoever created this genealogical framework to have mistaken Valentinian I for his son by his second wife Justina, namely Valentinian II (375-92). Magnus Maximus (Emperor from 383-8) was active during this second Valentinian's reign as well.
But there was yet another Valentinian, that is Valentinian III (425-455), who reigned during the period assigned to Vortigern and Germanus. We appear to have here, then, a triple confusion of Roman emperors: Valentinian I with his wife Severa, Valentinian II of Maximus's reign and Valentinian III of Vortigern's and Germanus's floruit. I might also add that in 369, the time of the Barbarian Conspiracy, a certain Valentinus, brother-in-law of Maximianus, was in Britain planning revolt.
I do not believe any trust can be placed in the Eliseg Pillar genealogy. It has all the hallmarks of being a fabrication designed to provide the supposed founder of the Powys dynasty with a tie to famous Romans of the past. As such, it is absolutely useless for determining the true identiy of Vortigern. That the Welsh did resort to such falsifications can be seen by comparing the Dyfed royal genealogy with that of the same ruling family as presented in the Irish story "The Expulsion of the Deisi". I have elsewhere (see my "Arthur's Battles" essay) proven that Cunedda, the founder of Gwynedd, was not of Roman descent as the Welsh genealogy claims, but was actually Irish.
Catel and the Vortigern
Just a little SW of the great monastic community of Bangor on the coast of Co. Down, Ireland, is Conlig Hill. The hill has atop it a standing stone called the "Hound Stone" or Coin Leac, which gives the place its name. As this was St. Columba territory, and as the linguistics work, I believe this to be the original monte Cainle of the Life of St. Columba.
If I am right, then I can once and for all solve the Vortigern mystery. Long ago I had observed that it seemed odd for Nennius to open his story of Vortigern with that king's inviting in of the Saxons, only to shift to the Catel Durnluc story, then to go back to the Vortigern story from where he had broken off. To me, this seemed to suggest that Catel was "the Vortigern", and that the purpose for this Catel interlude in the midst of the Vortigern story was to show how the Vortigern had come to power as the founder of the Powysian dynasty. The monte Cainle/Moel Benli confusion proves that this is probably so.
How? In the Life of St. Columba, written centuries before the Historia Brittonum of Nennius, we are told of a Foirtchern who lived at Conlig Hill in Co. Down. Nennius knew this story, identified Conlig Hill with Moel Benli in Clwyd, Wales, and substituted Catel for Foirtchern as the chieftain ruling at the fort. Benli (as a perceived Penli?) was doubtless taken as the P-Celtic equivalent of the Q-Celtic Irish Cainle. I have shown the obvious parallels in the two stories, and am reasonably certain that this is what Nennius did.
The question then becomes: why Catel instead of Vortigern at Moel Benli? Because, as the position of the Catel story within the Vortigern story would indicate, Catel is the British Vortigern or "superbus tyrannus". In the case of the British Vortigern, we are dealing with a title after all, not a personal name. This makes sense of the claim in the HB narrative that Categirn was a son of Vortigern, while in the HB genealogies Categirn is made the son of Catel.
Catel Durnluc was "the Vortigern".
Addendum on the Name Catel Durnluc
The Durnluc epithet of Catel, founder of Powys, has been properly rendered as "Gleaming-hilt". However, there is the possibility that Catel Durnluc is itself a slightly corrupt Irish title.
In the Irish Annals for the years 1006 and 1147 we find chieftains of the Leth Cathail called "tigherna [lord] Leithe/Lethe Cathail". Given that t can be mistaken for c in MS., it is conceivable that "tigherna Leth Cathail" became "Durn-luc Catel" or Catel Durnluc.
The Foirtchern of Cainle, if I am right in placing him at Conlig in Co. Down, is just north of the barony of Lecale, i.e. Leth Cathail. Another Foirtchern is said to have resided at Rath ["Fort"] Seimhne, Seimhne being identified with Island Magee immediately to the NE of Conlig.
In the event that Catel Durnluc is a Welsh corruption of tigherna Leth Cathail, and given that Catel is substituted for Foirtchern in Nennius's story, we must assume that Foirtchern is being referred to as the lord of Leth Cathail. Such an identification is slightly off geographically, as well as chronologically. The Cathail for whom the Leth Cathail is named was the grandson of the Ulster king Mael Coba, whose date is given as 646. This would put a tigherna Leth Cathail way too late to be a Vortigern of the 5th century.
It may be that Nennius's identification of Foirtchern of Cainle as a tigherna Leth Cathail merely confirms that he or his source knew the story told of Foel Benli in Clwyd was taken from that of the Hill of Cainle in Co. Down.
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The Irish Vortigern is Copyright © 2000, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: August Hunt
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