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       Culann, Celtic Warrior Monk, p.1

           Duncan MacDonald
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Culann, Celtic Warrior Monk

  Celtic Warrior-Monk

  Saga of the 7th Century


  Duncan MacDonald

  Dedicated to my darling wife Shinta

  Copyright 2012 Duncan MacDonald

  Exciting historical novel set in 7th century Ireland and Northern Britain. Life, love and loss of larger than life characters who lived in these troubled times. We follow the adventures of a gallant Irish warrior, an intrepid Irish Princess and a daring young Picti. Their predicaments, as well as the plight of many others were influenced by plagues and battles as a backdrop to looming events that took place prior to and after the Synod of Whitby in 664.

  Revised 30 September 2016

  Table of Contents

  Celtic Monasteries in 7th Century

  List of Characters

  Place Names




  Chapter 1 - In the Beginning AD 645

  1.1 The Fianna

  1.2 The Cattle Raid

  1.3 Manhood

  Chapter 2 - Wicklow hills

  2.1 St Brigid’s

  Chapter 3 - You May Call Me Fea

  3.1 The Wedding March

  3.2 The Long Road Back

  3.3 King Sigmall’s Response

  3.4 Retribution

  3.5 A Humiliating End

  Chapter 4 - Fateful Meeting

  4.1 Hot Heads and Hard Questions

  4.2 The Road North

  4.3 The Enchanted Isle

  4.4 Ardslignish

  Chapter 5 - Fergus

  5.1 The Gaining of Wisdom

  Chapter 6 - Celtic Church versus Rome

  6.1 The Novice Nun

  6.2 Physicians and Medicine

  6.3 The Plague

  6.4 Aftermath

  6.5 Jura

  6.6 Visiting Curach’s

  Chapter 7 - To Lindisfarne

  7.1 On to Whitby

  7.2 Lios mòr

  Chapter 8 - Synod of Whitby

  8.1 Return to Lindisfarne

  8.2 Abbot Colmán’s Decision

  8.3 Two Selfish Men

  Chapter 9 - St Abbs

  9.1 North Ber-wick

  9.2 Abernethy

  9.3 To Dumbarton

  9.4 Lug’s Lookout

  9.5 Loch Earn

  9.6 Veridis Insula

  Chapter 10 - Culann

  10.1 Lios mor Infirmary

  10.2 Saving Lives

  10.3 A Proper Job

  About the Author

  End Notes

  Discover other books by Duncan MacDonald


  * * * *

  Celtic Monasteries in 7th Century

  List of Characters

  AEbbe Abbess of Kirk Hill (St Abbs), sister of King Oswy [615 - 683]

  Alhfrith > - Son of King Oswy

  Art - cattle herder - Irish hero means ‘bear’

  Bec - Monk at St Ninian’s

  Breuse - Leader of Fianna, raised Culann

  Bryan - Monk at Iona

  Ciniod of Fortriu - Picti Chieftain - Fergus father

  Colmán - Abbot of Lindisfarne [605 - 676]

  Culann - Fianna and warrior monk

  Cumméne - Abbot of Iona [d 669]

  Daire - Monk at Iona - scribe

  Danan of Alba - Chieftain of Picti Alba - brother of Sirona - River Tay

  Decca - Head sister of Jura

  Eamon - Monk at Iona - scribe

  Eanflaed princess from Kent, married King Oswy [b 626 - d after 685]

  Ecne - Abbot of Jura - means poetry, wisdom, inspiration

  Eogan mac Cairill - Irish King and enemy of Sigmall

  Fea - Daughter of King Sigmall

  Fergus mac Ciniod - Picti of Fortriu - Firth of Moray

  Flann - Fianna accompanied Culann to Derry - means ‘red blood’

  Gille Dhu - Picti Chieftain, Lasair’s uncle

  Galen of Pergamon Greek physician 129 - 199/217 (disputed)

  Giona - Irish King, potential father-in-law of Fea

  Harbondia - Abbess of St Brigid’s of Kildare

  Hilda - Abbess of Whitby [614 - 680]

  Hesus - Monk at Jura, left-handed, speaks Greek

  Father Jowan - Abbot at Lios mor

  Kerhanagh - unprincipled Irish Chieftain

  Lasair - Picti heroine - means ‘flame’

  Lien - Fianna warrior

  Medros - cattle herder - obscure Celtic god associated with cattle

  Sister Mish - Nun at St Brigid’s who mentored young Fea

  Morann - Monk at Iona, later Abbot of Ardslignish

  Mullo - Head monk at St Brigit’s scriptorium

  Odras - Childhood friend of Fea

  Osgar - Leader of Fianna after Breuse

  Oswald - King of Northumbria [d 641

  Oswy or Oswiu - King of Northumbria [612- 670]

  Pamp - Irish bard, also known as;

  Pampinus Pronuntio - Bard at Sigmall’s court - see Pamp above

  Ruad - Abbot of Abernethy

  Sigmall - Irish King - Fea’s father

  Sirona - Fergus mother, sister of Danan of Alba

  Slane - Blind monk in charge of scriptorium at Jura

  Sutugius - Gaullist monk at St Brigid’s

  Tamara - Sister at St Brigid’s, young milk maid - means ‘river nymph’

  Una - Sister at St Brigid’s. Treated Fea on arrival at St Brigid’s

  Vosegus - Picti guide from Danan’s tribe

  Wilfred of Rippon -Monk from Lindisfarne, spokesman for Church of Rome [633-709]

  Actual historical figure

  * * * *

  Place Names

  Dál Riata - South West Scotland conquered by Scotti from Ireland

  Éire - Ireland

  Lios mòr - lios mòr, means "great garden", now called Lismore

  Veridis Insula - Green Island, as named by the Picts


  Vigils – during the early hours, around 4 a.m. while it is still dark;

  Lauds – morning prayer, at daybreak;

  Terce – mid-morning prayer, around 9 am;

  Sext -midday prayer, around noon;

  None – mid-afternoon prayer, around 3 pm;

  Vespers – evening prayer, ideally at sunset;

  Compline - night prayer, which completes the day.


  Designed to show how 7th century inhabitants of Ireland and northern Britain dressed, and the type of buildings in which they lived. There were no great stone castles or cathedrals.

  All illustrations by Duncan MacDonald unless otherwise stated.

  * * * *

  Back to top


  Hadrian’s Wall built in 122 AD to mark the Northern border of the Provence of Britannia. It is the largest Roman monument in the world - 117 km long. A common misconception is that Hadrian's wall marks the boundary between England and Scotland. This is not the case; Hadrian's wall lies entirely within England.

  Our saga begins in Ireland and Britain in the 7th century AD [AD is the abbreviation of Medieval Latin Anno Domini translated as ‘In the year of Our Lord’ used to label or number years in the Christian Era - also known as the "Common Era"]

  Britain: The Roman legions which had occupied much of Britain for almost 400 years, but not the northern part, which was inhabited by the Caledonians or Picts, withdrew in AD 409. The great Roman Empire began to disintegrate.

  Once the Roman army left, raids into Britain by the Picts and the Irish increased. To protect themselves the Romanized Britains requested assistance from the Germanic tribes of Angles, Saxons and Jutes.

  Ireland: To the west of Britain lay
Ireland. Of all the foreigners who settled in Ireland, none left a cultural legacy to rival the Celts. They were brave, intelligent, resourceful and proud. They established a language and way of life that persists today.

  The Celts arrive in Ireland very gradually from around 500 BC. They came from the Iberian Peninsula and the original Bronze age inhabitants were either eliminated or assimilated.

  Many people in Ireland had been converted to Christianity by Saint Patrick, (the first person in recorded history to speak out against slavery) who died in his seventies, probably in 461.

  The Christian monasteries that sprang up in Ireland became centers of learning. It is to the monks inhabiting those monastic scriptoriums [Scriptoriums: from Latin scriptus, ‘to write’] who copied thousands of texts, we owe much of our knowledge of the ancient Greek, Roman and Middle Eastern world.

  During the 5th to the 6th centuries the Celtic Church in Ireland had limited contact with the Roman Church in Europe. It was either not aware, or chose to ignore, major changes in Christian doctrine put into effect by Rome.

  For example, calculating the date of celebrating Easter was changed twice by Rome. But the Celtic Church still celebrated that most significant event in the Christian calendar as stipulated by Saint Stephen and their own Saint Columba of Iona.

  In the 4th century a powerful Irish tribe called the Scotti [Scotti is Latin for Scots. The country Scotland is named after them although they originated in Ireland] from the north of Ireland, invaded what is now the west coast of Scotland. The kingdom was known as Dál Riata [Dál is old Irish for ‘a piece of’ (as in a piece of land) while Riata is likely to be a personal name]. They continually fought the Caledonians or Picts, unsuccessfully, up until the 9th century. The Picts after losing their King fighting the Vikings, were finally defeated in AD 840 by the King of Dal Riata, Kenneth macAlpin, who was married to a Pictish princess.

  Celtic Ireland in the 7th century comprised many kingdoms, small and large. There were no cities or towns, only small villages, hamlets and isolated farms. It would be left to the Vikings to establish early townships on Ireland's east coast. One of the first being located on the river Linn called Dublin in AD 795.

  These seventh century Irish kingdoms were agrarian [Agrarian: from Latin agar meaning field. In Ireland crops were mainly cereals, emmer wheat & barley] or farming communities, growing crops, tending sheep, cattle and pigs. The measure of wealth was cattle. Sheep were grown for their wool and perhaps their milk, not to eat. [evidenced by the old age at which they were butchered]

  The Celts had a warrior culture and all those small farmers possessed weapons to protect their farm and livestock from the endless endemic raiding. Most also had an allegiance to their local Chieftain or King, who could call on their support if a large raid was planned against their neighbors.

  The local king or chieftain retained a select group of warriors, their numbers in direct relation to the wealth of the King. In times of need he could also call on the services of the Fianna, provided they were not aligned to his adversary.

  On a social scale the warrior nobility was equal to the bards, druids and craftsmen (the smiths). By this time the druids’ previous supremacy was surpassed by Christian monks.

  Although it was a male dominated society, Celtic women, played a more prominent role than their sisters in Rome or Greece - particularly in the Celtic Church.

  Life expectancy was short. Males died in their twenties, thirties and early forties. Females died in late teens or early twenties, due mainly to the perils of pregnancy and childbirth.

  Ireland in the 7th century had a population of between 500,000 and one million people. That number fluctuated according to the effects of plague and famine.

  How then did one of Europe's most savage warrior-people create a new kingdom using spiritual methods?

  Pugnacious, boastful Irishmen, in their own green land and on a strange coast (Britain), armed with nothing but cross in hand? But such an image would be, to say the least, hasty.

  Irish monks were not necessarily gentle friars. They too could fight where need arose.

  The Venerable Bede

  Much of our knowledge relating to this period comes from the writings of the monk Bede (673-735). At the age of seven, Bede was offered by his family to the monastery of Wearmouth, [1] Northumbria. He spent the rest of his life as a monk, first at Wearmouth then later at Jarrow, five miles away.

  Using the monastery library, he became ‘the most learned man in Western Europe’. [2] Scholar, teacher and prolific writer of biblical and other works including The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. He has been described as the ’Father of English History’. [3]

  [1] Wearmouth: modern Monkwearmouth in county Durham

  [2] as quoted by Dom David Knowles

  [3] The Age of Bede, translated by J.F. Webb, Penguin Books, London, 1965

  Back to top

  * * * * *

  Chapter 1- In the Beginning AD 645

  Culann with his father - The Smith

  Culann had no memory of his mother. His father told him when asked, that his mother died giving birth to his sister.

  "Where is my sister?" asked five-year-old Culann. His father looked up from the red hot slab of iron that he was fashioning into a sword. "You ask too many questions Boy. Your sister died with your mother." He lowered his blonde bearded head and continued hammering the glowing point of the hot iron.

  Culann knew his father well enough not to ask any more questions, just now. His father was a Metal-smith, shortened to Smith, a special craftsman who worked with a forge designed to allow compressed air (through a bellows) to superheat the inside, making possible the melting of metals. The forge is also known as a smithy. While a Blacksmith worked with iron and steel, a Metal-smith referred to craftsmen who practice their craft in different metals including gold, copper and silver, plus enameling, to make jewelry.

  Culann's father naturally was called ‘Smith’. He had a fine reputation in Eire (Ireland) also working with iron, making swords, axes and spears as well as fine jewelry. Smiths were highly regarded in the Celtic community.

  No doubt Culann would have grown up to become a Smith, but fate intervened to drastically change the course of his life. Culann had clear memories of his father; a large man with a fantastic blonde beard and big white teeth - noticeable when he laughed. The Smith had made his son a tiny child's sword; his most prized possession along with his toy wooden horse.

  Culann's father always called him "Boy". If he had another name he was not aware of it.

  The Smith did not stay in any one location long. He moved from one king's great hall to another. The more important the local chief or King, the more he was likely to spend on gifts such as swords and jewelry. The more gifts and feasts, the more warriors wished to join his entourage. The more warriors, the more important the King, and so on.

  In the year AD 645 the Smith moved to the court of the King of Meath, located in the land of the Southern Ui Neills in central Ireland.

  Unfortunately, it was a very wet year with much flooding. Crops yields were down and many people had nothing spare to barter except for basic goods. There was not much demand for his high quality swords and fine jewelry.

  A courier came to the Smith one day with a request. An outlying Chieftain called Kerhanagh, had just returned from a successful raid, with much plunder. The Smith was asked to come with his stock of swords and jewelry. He was promised the Chieftain wanted to buy the Smith's entire collection.

  In great anticipation the Smith, with his son, set out on horse and cart laden with his wares. They passed through the great forest of Meath, and stopped overnight. Their selected campsite was run by one of the leaders of the Fianna, a famous warrior named Breuse. The Fianna, a very effective fighting force standing on the outskirts of society were well regarded. Admission was based on skill and strength, rather than noble-blood or wealth.

  The previous summer the Smith had s
old a number of swords to Breuse. The Fianna leader was very pleased to see the Smith again, and particularly his young son, of whom he had taken a great liking.

  "He is the liveliest young lad I have ever seen." said Breuse. If I ever have a son. I would like him to be just like your young boy. But he is better off with you, Master Smith. We live a rough life here in the forest." The Smith had agreed.

  Next day the Smith pushed on to his appointment with Chieftain Kerhanagh. They met in Kerhanagh's Great Hall, which was not all that great. It was gloomy inside, still reeking of stale food and vomit from previous bouts of feasting.

  Culann remembered his father gathering an armful of swords, and entering the hall. He instructed Culann to stay in the wagon. "I need you to guard this cart Boy." He said with a mock severity. Young Culann took his task seriously. The five-year-old stood on the driver's seat, toy sword in hand, ready to cut down any criminal.

  His father seemed to be gone a long time. But time is difficult for a small boy to measure. At some stage he was aware of raised voices coming from the hall. He held his sword tighter and waited anxiously.

  Suddenly his father was dragged through the entrance of the great hall, and thrown heavily to the ground. He was immediately surrounded by a dozen warriors who spilled out of the hall, all wielding swords or spears. Their Chieftain Kerhanagh, even bigger than Culann's father, strode out. Bending down he grabbed the Smith by his blonde beard, hauling him roughly to his feet. Holding a sword at his father's throat, Kerhanagh yelled words Culann would never forget.

  "If I want your second rate swords as a gift, Smith, you'll give them to me. Or I'll have your head decorate my doorway."

  For an awful moment nothing happened. Then the Smith turned his head, looked straight at Culann and, silently mouthed the word go! He simultaneously flicked the flank of the horse harnessed to the cart with a small knife that magically appeared in his hand.

  The horse reared in fright, knocking Culann backward into the cart, stunning him, and galloped out of the camp. Instruments and equipment went flying as it bounced over the rutted track leading back the way they had come. Culann sat up shaking his head and holding on for dear life. He looked back at the developing drama.

  The Smith turned and deliberately spat in Kerhanagh's face. The Chieftain, shaking with rage, his red face splattered with spittle, still holding the Smith by his beard, spitefully sliced Culann's father's throat. Blood spurted in great gusts over both men.

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