Celtic Red Hair From Vikings?

Jun 11, 2015 by

If you have Scottish and/or Irish ancestry AND red hair, you probably also have VIKING ancestry, according to a new study.

The director for Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands says red hair is modern evidence of the influence of the ancient Vikings in Celtic lands.

Professor Donna Heddle is the director for both the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Nordic Studies. She is a leading expert on the Norse and has reached the conclusion that Scotland’s famous red hair is a vestige from the invading Vikings. If the compelling case which Heddle makes is true, it means the Vikings were very successful at spreading their DNA in this Northern kingdom.

Heddle explains that the perception that the invading Vikings were blond is a myth. The Vikings were likely red headed. Relatively few people in the world have red hair. Statistics are that only 0.6% of the population have that hair color. However, countries with the highest concentrations of red hair are all part of ancient Viking trading routes. Scandinavia, though long stereotyped for a high number blonds, has a high concentration of red haired people.

“The perception that the Norse were blond is nothing more than a prevalent myth,” she said. “Genetically speaking, the chances of them having blond hair weren’t that likely. The chances are that they would have had red hair. Interestingly, if you look at where red hair occurs in the world you can almost map it to Viking trading routes.”

Professor Heddle explains that in Ireland, the red hair concentrations are in the areas where the Vikings settled. She states that an observation of dispersal patterns shows a dark red spot in Scotland and a corresponding spot in Scandinavia. There is nothing similar to be found in Europe which lends further credence that the DNA gene for red hair had to have been imported from the Vikings and the Norse.

Source: Vikings Responsible for Scottish Red Hair Gene? | eCanadaNow

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It’s Time For The Greenville Scottish Games!

May 3, 2014 by

The Greenville Highland Games are calling and Aye must go!

Join me in Greenville, South Carolina on Memorial Day weekend, May 23-24, 2014,  for some awesome Scottish games, events and the world’s BEST KILT CONTEST! 


 To quote Dee Benedict, Board chair and Wild Eyed Southern Celtic woman:

In the finest tradition of marauding Scots, we are taking over Downtown Greenville and points north.  We are re-branding the whole kit and caboodle into one fabulous word, GALLABRAE, which is a mash up of two Gallic words meaning “Something bold and daring” and “beautiful highlands.”  That’s us!  Bold and daring Scots in the beautiful Highlands of the Upstate!

Some of the EVENTS:
5/23 Great Scot! Parade 6:00 pm
5/23 The Bagpipe Challenge! 7:00 pm
5/23 The Ceilidh! 7:00 pm
5/24 Demonstrators 8:30 am
5/24 The Greenville Scottish Games 8:30 am
5/24 The British Car Show 9:30 am
5/24 RAPTORS! 9:30 am
5/24 Opening Ceremonies 10:30 am
5/24 Celtic Jam 6:30 pm
11/16 Miss Greenville Scottish Games 7:00 pm

I will be hosting Rocking the Kilt, a new and fun contest to crown the man who who rocks our Celtic socks off in his kilt!

Open to ALL men in a kilt, between ages 18 and 100–claymores and dirks allowed, but not required, y’all.




We’ll have everything from wood faeries to border collies, hot Celtic music from Seven Nations to bagpipes and belly dancing with Cu Dubh, Southern fried haggis to traditional Scottish dishes and MUCH more.

Our featured clan this year is the wild and mighty Clan Kennedy, led by their hereditary Chief, the Marquess of Ailsa, Earl of Cassillis.

To purchase tickets and see the full schedule of performers and events, go to Gallabrae.com.



You can read the online version of The Dirk, the official newsletter of the Greenville Scottish Games, by clicking HERE.

See you in Greenville, beautiful Celtic people–Alba gu bràth!

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Alexander the Fierce, King of the Scots

Jan 8, 2014 by

On January 8, 1107, Edgar I,  son of King Malcolm III and Margaret of Wessex, died in Edinburgh, Scotland.  At the time of his death, Edgar was unmarried and childless, therefore the crown of Scotland passed to his 29 year old brother, Alexander, who was crowned that same day as King Alexander I of Scotland.  Who was this young king, described by contemporaries as a bold and godly man?

Alexander I, King of Scotland 1107-1124 AD

Alexander I, King of Scotland 1107-1124 AD    image

Alexander (Medieval Gaelic: Alaxandair mac Maíl Coluim;Modern Scots Gaelic: Alasdair mac Mhaol Chaluim) was born in 1078, the fourth son of Malcolm III by his wife Margaret of Wessex, who would become Saint Margaret of Scotland in 1250. Upon the death of his older brother, Edgar I, Alexander became King of Scotland; in accordance with Edgar’s wishes, Alexander gave his younger brother, David, the lands of the former kingdom of Strathclyde, or Cumbria. David, the Prince of Cumbria as he was entitled, would go on to become King David I of Scotland after defeating Alexander’s illegitimate son, Malcolm, in battle.

Alexander was by all accounts a pious man, not surprising in light of his mother’s devotion to the Catholic Church. She was a devout Catholic and quite active in reforming the Celtic Church of Scotland along the lines of the continental Catholic Church.  Margaret practiced what she preached, so to speak, pursuing many activities on behalf of the poor and ill.  Alexander’s father, Malcolm III, was not nearly as religious, but indulged his wife in her daily prayers and devotionals and in her dedication to raising her sons to be just and holy rulers.  Alexander  may have been named in honor of Pope Alexander II, the leader of the Catholic Church, who had died just a few years earlier.

Saint Margaret of Scotland, as depicted in her chapel at Edinburgh Castle   image

Saint Margaret of Scotland, as depicted in her chapel at Edinburgh Castle image

Alexander established Augustinian priories at Scone and on Inchcolm Island, sometime between 1114 and 1124. He also appointed his mother’s chaplain and hagiographer, Thurgot, as Bishop of Saint Andrews (or Cell Rígmonaid) in 1107 and granted lands for a priory to be built there.

A king, however godly he may wish to be, must also be willing to raise his sword in defense of his kingdom, a royal duty Alexander understood and was more than willing to perform. In 1114, Alexander joined Henry I of England on his successful campaign against Gruffudd ap Cynan of Gwynedd, a powerful Celtic king of Wales. At some point during his reign, between 1107 and 1114, Alexander also married Henry’s illegitimate daughter, Sybillia de Normandy, a woman with both Viking and Cornish heritage. Henry was thus Alexander’s father-in-law, a distinction which may have influenced Alexander’s decision to fight on behalf of an English king.

Many Scottish chieftains had cause to despise Alexander, and there was no love lost between the Celtic Highlanders and the Anglo-Saxon influenced king.  Malcolm III, Alexander’s father, had wrested control of Scotland from King Mac Bethad mac Findlaích, better known by his Anglicized name, MacBeth–yes, THAT MacBeth,  title character in “the Scottish Play ” by Will Shakespeare.   MacBeth himself is a subject for another post, but let me quickly note that the play, while based on the historical MacBeth, is not an accurate account of either the man or his reign as the last Celtic King of Scotland.  That’s a good thing for Scottish history fans–trust me.

When men (not clearly identified in historical sources) from the Gaelic-speaking earldom of Moray (Moireabh in Scots Gaelic, pronounced Murray), in the northeastern Highlands of Scotland, attacked Alexander at his court in Invergowrie, he quickly pursued them north.  He was known for his fiery, energetic temper and  he ruthlessly quelled the nascent Celtic rebellion.  As a result of his actions against the Highlanders, he was nicknamed Alexander the Fierce, a fitting appellation for a warrior king of Scotland.


The reverse of the seal of Alexander I, enhanced as a 19th-century steel engraving.  Image

The reverse of the seal of Alexander I, enhanced as a 19th-century steel engraving.  Image

Alexander and Sybillia never had any children.   She died (the cause is unrecorded) in July 1122, on the tiny island of Eilean nam Ban (Eilean nan Bannoamh: “Isle of the female saints”) in Loch Tay, and Alexander founded a priory on the island in her memory.  She was buried in Dunfermline Abbey, Fife.  Alexander did not remarry.

Alexander did have an illegitmate son, Malcolm (Medieval Gaelic: Máel Coluim mac Alaxandair or Máel Coluim mac Alasdair) who challenged his uncle, David I, for the Scottish throne after Alexander’s death.  Malcolm is a relatively obscure figure, mostly due to the scarcity of source material, which appears only in pro-David,  English sources.   I could find no source that identified Malcolm’s mother or her connection to Alexander.

The end of Alexander’s seventeen year reign as King of Scotland came on April 27, 1124, when he died at Stirling.  He was 46 years old.

In addition to the continuation of his mother’s reforms of the Celtic Church in Scotland and his own devout support of the Church, Alexander is remembered for his reforms amongst the governing civil authorities of the day.  He continued the changes begun in his predecessor’s reign, bringing most of Scotland into conformity with the types of high offices used in England:

  “…the whole of Scotland, with the exception of what had formed the kingdom of Thorfinn (during the Norwegian conquest consisting of the Orkneys, the Hebrides, and a large portion of the Highlands), exhibited the exact counterpart of Saxon England, with its earls, thanes, and sheriffs, while the rest of the country remained in the possession of the Gaelic Maormors, who yielded so far to Saxon influence as to assume the Saxon title of earl.”

History of Highlanders, Their Origin, History and Antiquities, Vol I, p.128, by William F. Skene, 1837



Alexander also encouraged Scottish trade with other countries, even distant and exotic Asian lands.  His court, like that that of his father’s, was a far stretch from the “barbarous” courts of early Scottish kings and chieftains.   Alexander dressed in silks, jewels and finery from around the world, and members of the Scottish nobility followed suit.  More trading with foreign lands led to a need for more royal coinage. Some of the oldest Scottish coinage dates to Alexander’s reign, when commerce began to flourish along Scotland’s coasts and border areas. The silver pennies of Alexander I are some of the most ancient coins and are extremely rare.

Can we conclude that Alexander the Fierce was an important ruler of medieval Scotland, worthy of remembrance?  Scholars generally seem to view his reign favorably, especially the religious and secular changes he brought about in Scotland.   His granting of Scottish border lands in the south to his younger brother David, however, and Alexander’s swift and harsh reprisal against Highland challenge to his authority over the northern portion of Scotland should be noted.  The historic disjunction of these two parts of Scotland aided David’s relatively bloodless transition as successor,  but it further deepened the division between the Celtic, Gaelic-speaking Highlanders and the Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking Lowland Scots,who made up the majority of the noble rulers of Scotland.  Highland Scotland continued to resist  the degradation of their Celtic heritage, while the rest of the country continued on their course towards English allegiances, lifestyles and, ultimately, English rule.

So, Scottish history buffs, I say keep Alexander I in your to-be-studied pile, but remember that this medieval king is not on a level with truly famous Scotsmen such as William Wallace, Rob Roy or Robert the Bruce.  I give Alexander credit for fierceness, but he sadly lacks in heroic qualities–Hollywood won’t be making an epic based on this historical Scotsman.



The Scottish Nation: Alexander (ElectricScotland.com)


Story of Scotland, Chapter Five: Scotland Under MacBeth Successors, by Robert Gunn


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Wren’s Day in Ireland

Dec 26, 2013 by

December 26th is the Feast Day of St Stephen, and in Ireland it’s celebrated  as Fhéile Stiofán or Lá an Dreoilín, meaning the Day of the Wren (pronounced ‘ran’) or Wren’s Day.


The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give us a treat…


Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
a very good woman, a very good woman,
Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
She give us a penny to bury the wren…

Traditional verse sung on December 26th, Lá an Dreoilín, the Wren’s Day, in Ireland



Wren’s Day festivities aren’t as widespread as in the auld days, but in parts of Ireland there are Mummer’s Fests and “hunting the wren” that still go on.

Originally, groups of small boys would hunt for a wren, and then chase the bird until they either caught it or it died from exhaustion. Depending on the region of the country, they were called Wrenboys, Mummers or Strawboys. The dead bird was tied to the top of a pole or holly bush, which was decorated with ribbons or colored paper, and carried door to door by the boys, looking for small coins (ostensibly, to pay for the bird’s funeral or wake)  in exchange for a feather or a good wish. The money was used to host a dance for the town that night, with the decorated pole being the center of the dance.

Today, the live bird is no longer killed; it has been replaced with a fake one that is hidden, rather than chased. The band of young boys has expanded to include girls, and adults often join in, dressed in strange costumes of straw and thatch or garish colors.  The money that is collected from the townspeople now is usually donated to a school or charity.  A celebration is still held around the decorated pole, however,  and may be a big area-wide event or just a small local one, depending upon custom.



How did a little ‘wran’ become the object of such widespread pursuit and revelry?   Scholars theorize that Wren Day has its origins in ancient Celtic pagan rituals of sacrifice and celebration at midwinter, with the wren symbolizing the old year. Celtic names of the Wren (draouennig, drean, dreathan, dryw etc.) also suggest an association with druidic rituals. Indeed, some believe, the Gaelic word for wren – dreoilín – derives from two words, draoi ean, or Druid bird.   The wren was considered the ‘King of all birds’ in Celtic mythology.   Legend has it that all the birds had a contest to see who could fly the highest, with the eagle sure to be the winner.   The clever wren flew higher than the eagle by sitting on the eagle’s back as it soared upwards; the wren won the contest by flying even higher once the eagle  tired.

Another legend holds that during the Viking raids of the 700′s, Irish soldiers were betrayed by a wren as they were sneaking up on a Viking camp in the dead of night. A wren began to eat breadcrumbs left on the head of a drum, and the rat-a-tat-tat of its beak woke the drummer, who sounded the alarm and woke the camp, leading to the defeat of the Irish soldiers and the continuing persecution of the wren.   Another legend says the wren, a tiny bird with a loud singing voice, gave away St Stephen’s location, leading to the death of the martyr.

There is no clear answer about the origins of Wren Day, but it continues to be celebrated every year as one of Ireland’s nine official public holidays.



Here are a few videos of traditional Wren Day festivities in Ireland:

The Chieftains

In Gaelic

From West Clare, trad music and lively step dance:

From the Clancy Brothers–a funny explanation of the Wren Day traditions and the song

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Celtic–and Viking–Blood Runs in My Veins

Nov 14, 2013 by

Viking Jarl Squad at 2013 Up Helly Aa fest in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland-(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images) http://bit.ly/1hJ1CJT

Viking Jarl Squad at 2013 Up Helly Aa fest in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland-(Andy Buchanan/AFP/Getty Images) http://bit.ly/1hJ1CJT

I like Vikings. They haven’t always placed nice with us Celts, but they have certainly left their mark(and their DNA fingerprints) on Celtic life, history and culture. As many of you know, every Thursday(Thorsday), I try to post something about the Vikings. Why? Because of the connection between Vikings and Celts. Yes, there IS one, and I’ve talked about it many times since I began blogging about the Celtic nations.


Some confusion remains, however, about the Viking-Celt link, so here are some basic truths as I see them:

1) Vikings had a significant physical, historical, and cultural effect on the Celtic nations, especially in Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man(IOM), but to some degree in the other nations as well. Read back through my numerous posts here and on Facebook about this issue or google it, and you’ll get a wealth of info about the many ways our two cultures are linked.

2) The Celts existed BEFORE Viking invasions of the Celtic lands, thus we, as Celts, do NOT originate from the Scandinavian lands–we are of Indo-European origin.

3) As will happen when two cultures come in contact, Viking boy meets Celtic girl(or vice versa), willingly or not sometimes, and BAM! Lars yer uncle and CeltoVike tyke is born! He/she grows up in Scotland, Ireland, IOM or some other Celtic country and passes down that genetic heritage to YOU, beautiful Celtic people.

In modern terms, you MAY have DNA that connects you to both Celtic and Viking ancestors. Many of you have told me of just such DNA evidence in your family trees, which is consistent with what genetic researchers have found. Not everyone has Scandinavian DNA, but many do, including myself–I’m basically 3/4 Celt, 1/4 Viking, to put it in VERY simple terms. Again, read my previous blog or Facebook posts.

Viking Voyages and Territories in the Celtic Realm

Viking Voyages and Territories in the Celtic Realm

This map shows where the Northmen established solid control of certain territories(those areas are in bright green)–in Ireland, particularly around Dublin, in northern Scotland, in Shetland, Orkney and in Celtic France, near Normandy. The entire Isle of Man was ruled by Vikings for several hundred years, before being handed over to Scotland–IOM is too small to see clearly on the map.

The blue lines indicate known Viking voyages and trading routes–you can see that EVERY Celtic country was raided/visited/traded with by Vikings to some degree.

So, in light of the above, and because I am the monarch of this page(what do you mean, nobody told you?! It says it right up there, in the royal edicts) and because VIKINGS ARE AWESOME, I will continue to share my Viking fascination with you, fellow Celts. Even better, you can now impress friends and relatives with your knowledge about the Celtic-Viking connection, a bit of our rich heritage with which relatively few Celts are familiar. In return, they can toast you with a big horn of mead.

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May 2, 2013 by

Cigarette Card – The Battle of Largs 1263 Mitchell’s Cigarettes “Scotlands Story” (series of 50 issued in 1929) #10 The Battle of Largs, 1263 ~ King Alexander III and his attempts to drive out the Norwegian King Haakon from the Western Isles. At Largs, the Norwegian ships were damaged by a storm, and their King mortally wounded, so the Scots regained possession of all the islands except Orkney and the Shetlands

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Mar 20, 2013 by

Peel Castle, Isle of Man Situated in Peel, Isle of Man originally constructed by Vikings. The castle stands on St Patrick’s Isle which is connected to the town by causeway. It is now owned by Manx National Heritage and is open to visitors. The castle was built in the 11th century by the Vikings, under the rule of King Magnus Barelegs. While there were older stone Celtic monastic buildings on the island, the first Viking fortifications were built of wood. The prominent round tower was originally part of the Celtic monastery, but has had battlements added at a later date. In the early 14th century, the majority of the walls and towers were built primarily from local red sandstone, which is found abundantly in the area. After the rule of the Vikings, the castle continued to be used by the church due to the cathedral built there – the see of Sodor Diocese – but was eventually abandoned in the 18th century. The castle remained fortified and new defensive positions were added as late as 1860. The buildings within the castle are now mostly ruined, but the outer walls remain intact. Excavations in 1982-87 revealed an extensive graveyard as well as the remains of Magnus Bareleg’s original wooden fort. The most spectacular finds were the 10th century grave of “The Pagan Lady” which included a fine example of a Viking necklace and a cache of silver coins dating from about 1030. The Castle’s most famous “resident” is the so called Moddey Dhoo or Black Dog ghost. Peel Castle is sometimes confused with Piel Castle, located on Piel Island, around 30 miles to the east in the Irish Sea.This particularly occurs in reference to the William Wordsworth poem describing Piel, spelling its name as ‘Peele’. Further confusion is added by the fact that Wordsworth is documented as having visited Peel Castle, and wrote about the Isle of Man on a number of times.

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