Persons who visit Northern Ireland may see references to the Dalriada kingdom and wonder what it is. Well, it was an ancient Irish kingdom, initially based on what is today Northern Ireland, but subsequently covering sizable portions of western Scotland. It was possibly the most powerful kingdom to emerge from what today is county Antrim in Northern Ireland and therefore many northern Irish feel a special affinity and pride towards it.
Dalriada The Early Beginnings
The story of the kingdom begins with groups of raiders from the area of Antrim and beyond raiding and eventually settling in the islands and coast lands of western Scotland. The Romans called these raiders Scoti. The derivation of the name is uncertain. Some suggest it can mean “raiders”, others that it could be the name of a tribe. Whatever the derivation of the name, the Scoti settled in the western parts of Scotland establishing bonds between Northern Ireland and Scotland. Geographical proximity helped since at their closest the two lands are only 14 miles apart.
Dalriada Conquest of Western Scotland
Around the year AD 500 the Dalriada kingdom which was initially based in Antrim expanded into western Scotland ruling over its kinsmen, the Scoti, who had settled there earlier. The capital was moved from Antrim, Northern Ireland to Dunadd and Donolly in Scotland. The hill at Dunadd where there fort was built is still a landmark in Scotland.
The kingdom reached its height of power with king Aidan who ruled from around AD 574 to 609. Aidan was a contemporary of Saint Columba and his life is fairly well documented. He succeeded his uncle Conall was the one who gave Iona to Columba to establish his Christian center. Aidan ruled wisely in Scotland, defined his relations with the kings of Ulster in Ireland, and perhaps even conquered the Isle of Man. On other fronts, however, he was unsuccessful as he was defeated by Aethelfrith of Northumbria in the battle of Degsastan.
Dalriada Later Years
The kingdom remained strong for another two hundred years. Its influence in Scotland was strong to the point that the name Scotland derives from the original Irish who settled there, the Scoti. The growing power of another Scottish tribe, the Picts, and eventually the coming of the Vikings dealt a major blow to kingdom and sealed its fate.