Aedan of the Gaels King of the Scots, Keith Coleman

Aedan of the Gaels King of the Scots, Keith Coleman

Aedan mac Gabrain was the most  powerful (or at least most famous) ruler of the kingdom of Dal Raita, a kingdom that included a small part of eastern Ulster and a larger part of the west coast of Scotland, roughly equivalent to modern Argyll and later including Skye. The kingdom’s immediate neighbours included the Picts who ruled much of northern Scotland, various British kingdoms in the Scottish borders and north-west of England and a series of major powers in Ireland. Aedan also had to deal with the rising power of the English kingdom of Bernicia, which at the time included parts of south-eastern Scotland and northern Northumbria.

This is the first full length biograph of Aedan, and to a certain extent one can under stand why. We really don’t have too many details of large parts of Aedan’s life. The location of entire campaigns is unsure, with perhaps the most extreme example being one that might have taken place somewhere in eastern Scotland, or on the Isle of Man! Aedan appears in Irish, Scottish, English and even Welsh sources, sometimes as a historic figure and sometimes as a more legendary figure (especially in the Welsh sources, where he appears as a ruler in the long lost ‘Old North’).

Coleman does a good job of picking through the various sources that mention Aedan. He is faced with a great many problems – starting with the basic one of identifying which mentions of an Aedan refer to this particular man. Many of the stories have details which can be checked against more firmly established facts – especially when Aedan is recording as interacting with historical figures from different time periods! However even some of the best documented events of his career are rarely clear-cut – the best example being the convention of Druim Cett, a diplomatic meeting that was remembered in many contradictory stories.

We are lucky that Aedan was a contemporary of Colum Cille of Iona (better known as St Columba), the founder of the monastic community on Iona, which was part of Aedan’s kingdom. As a result the king features in the many lives of St Columba, giving us more information about his life than about most members of his dynasty.

Although producing this book had been a difficult task, the author has done a good job. He hasn’t hidden the contradictions between his sources or the uncertainty about many major features of Aedan’s life, but has still produced a valuable account of the life of an important figure in a obscure period.

1 – A Hero’s Youth
2 – A Saint Above All Others: Colum Cille of Iona
3 – The Inauguration of Aedan
4 – Aedan and the War in Man
5 – The Convention of Druim Cett
6 – Campaigns against the Picts
7 – Aedan and the Britons
8 – The Last Battle, Degsastan
9 – Death and Progeny
10 – In the Wake of a Mighty Lord

Author: Keith Coleman
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military

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