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Fergus Mór

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Fergus Mór

"Fergus I" redirects here; not to be confused with the fictitious King Fergus (fl 330 BC), see Fergus I (mythical).

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.

While his historicity may be debatable, his posthumous importance as the founder of Scotland in the 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 1
  • Fergus Mór in later accounts 2
  • Notes 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5
  • See also 6

Fergus Mór in early sources

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]

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.

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.[2] 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

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.[3]

If Wyntoun's account adds little to earlier ones, at the end of the 16th century 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.[4]

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".[5]


  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. ^ 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.
  3. ^ See chapters xliv and liv.
  4. ^ Aikman's edition, pp. 202–218.
  5. ^


  • Broun, Dauvit, "Dál Riata" in Michael Lynch (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Scottish History. Oxford UP, Oxford, 2001. ISBN 0-19-211696-7
  • Campbell, Ewan, "Were the Scots Irish ?" in Antiquity, 75 (2001), pp. 285–292.
  • Foster, Sally M., Picts, Gaels, and Scots: Early Historic Scotland. Batsford, London, 2004. ISBN 0-7134-8874-3

External links

  • CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts at University College Cork including:
    • Genealogies from Rawlinson B.502 (no translation available)
    • The Annals of Ulster (translation)
    • The Annals of Tigernach (translation in progress)
    • Betha Shenáin meic Geirginn from the Book of Lismore (no translation available)
  • Origins of the Kingdom of Alba
Preceded by
Loarn mac Eirc
King of Dál Riata
Succeeded by
Domangart mac Ferguso
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