Although we should really be hurrying onto the era once known as The Dark Ages, but now more orderly entitled The Early Middle Ages it is also important that we stop to consider the rich heritage of Legends, which of course required heroes. Not only do these stories supply depth and colour to the societies which make up these Isles, but a writer doesn’t have to spend time checking dates or facts and can always get out of tricky spot by prefacing (or suffixing) anything they write with ‘Some sources indicate’.
Naturally there are tales from each region, some unique and others shared (stolen) to try and put them all together in one large list is simply inviting confusion from the reader and irate correspondence from folklore societies, so it will be necessary to consider each nation. Scotland being chosen first for reasons of possible brevity and because there is a neat conclusion.
The Scots demonstrated frugality and succinctness, in placing their origins with a woman named Scota. She was the daughter of a pharaoh and either married one Goidel Glas (Some sources indicate) from the Aegean area or a Spartan with the suitability severe name of Niul. They must have upset her father because he thought them revolting and had them exiled. Either that or they might have left because some Israelite fellow was causing all sorts of social upsets. Whichever they gathered together various Egyptians, Greeks and others who were plagued by the upheavals of the times, and having not much option sailed west. Some spoilsports have Goidel landing in Spain which causes a break in continuity and is best ignored. As their maps were not the best they sailed on for some time ending up in the far north and very wisely stopped. The company being led by both nobility and someone of Spartan habits soon established rule, over folk still obsessed with making small drinking vessels (see A True History of These Isles-Introduction and Part 1)
There are probably many more colourful and interesting legendary Scottish heroes, but as it will be recalled in an earlier seminar (see A True History of the Isles Part 3 – Celtic Culture A True History of The Isles Part 4- The Romans (Part I) what with folk sailing back and forth across the Irish Sea everything and everyone became quite mixed up. Thus what with the Scots being naturally stern and taciturn and the Irish of course loquacious and storylellers the latter took over most of the stories. It is only when one Drest becomes king of the Picts do the Scots have a chance to get a word in edgewise. Anyway some insist that Arthur (King) came from Scotland but this is not the time or place to be discussing him.
The Irish opted for a more esoteric approach. They said Ireland had been populated by many mystical races. This is best illustrated by stating that Chieftain of the noble and good Tuarth De Dwell; one Lugh (of the Long Spear) slew(ed) Chieftain of the Wild and Dangerous Formorians; one Balor of the Evil Eye. This style is difficult to top and there is not the space to list any more colourful and daring deeds.
It should also be recorded that being the more prone to story telling the Irish had more than one series of tales. The former being The Mythological Cycle. In addition, there were
The Ulster Cycle– In which Cú Chulainn.being a typically stroppy teenager kills a king’s large guard dog, in order to avoid any unpleasantness with dog lovers he promises defends the realm of Ulster single-handed until a new suitable dog found. All this is conducted quite heroically. He then leads a colourful life filled with heroics, lovers, awkward sons, tragedy and of course an heroic death
The Fenian Cycle– This was stolen from the Scots. One of the central characters was Fionn mac Cumhaill whose hair turned heroically white, so he would stand out on the battlefield; unless of course elderly warriors turned up; we have to assume warriors did not last that long.Actually Fionn did which proves he was not only heroic but good at his job.
The Historical Cycle– This is not half as interesting as some facts get in the way. However, note must be given to Labraid Loingsceh who being a legend was able to become high king of Ireland in 431BC. He managed this in the singular way of not ever speaking until one day when playing a game of Hurling he was struck in the leg by the ball, displaying remarkable restraint he simply cried out ‘I am hurt!’. Everyone was so impressed they decided he should be king, and he was given the name ‘He who speaks’ which by happy coincidence was Labraid Loingsceh in the language of the time. Brian Boru was also mentioned but he is far too historical to be included here. Mention should also be made of Suibhne (Sweeny) who when upsetting a saint, was turned into half-bird half-man and since the graphic novel houses of Marvel, DC or Dark Horse were not around he was obliged to hide in a forest and go mad until he died.
So came the Celts, who in turn became The Britons, who in the fullness of invasions settled to being The Welsh. Thus benefiting from being settled, having more time with druidic influence and access to roman education were skilled and artful enough to be the first to turned oral tales into literary works. These being neatly all collected into the Four Books of the Mabinoigion. This literary feat has not been bettered, and even in these days authors of fantasy novels are only coming a distant second.
As the welsh were able to record fact as well as legend earlier than most the truly legendary figures are not as plentiful. Attention should be given to Pyderi fab Pwyll who figures in all four books, something which characters in Game of Throne only even dream about. There was Prince Manawydan who was remarkable by standards of those days for not only being clever but also peaceful, and managed to survive a war with some Irish without having to hide. So astute was he, he even managed to become a knight of Arthur (King). Consideration should also be given to Rhiannon, a beautiful, resolute and intelligent woman who had to cope with as many trial, tribulations and tragedies as any Celtic male hero without resorting to making a complete idiot of herself. She proved the latter when some man named Gwawl tried to trick everyone into having them marry her to him whereupon she tricked him into a sack, wherein he was kicked to death by a bunch of cattle owning warriors when she told them there was a badger in the sack.
The Welsh also claim Arthur (King) as their own and are probably right but this is not the time or place.
Has a bit of problem because of being late of the scene and a mix of Good Angles (right), Stupid Angles (obtuse), Saxons, Jutes and anyone else who came along on the ships, it is difficult for them to have legends (apart from Robin Hood and he is far too late to be included here). The Welsh have very kindly leant them Arthur (King) and also let them use the following to pad out the annals
Brutus: Descendent of Aeneas of Troy. And not a roman. The lad had sailed about a bit before bumping into Scota (and possibly) Nuil. He followed them as far as the West Country then liking the weather landed. There he defeated Gogmagog a large bullying and likely drunken man who was kicking people’s beakers about the place. Brutus would have probably stayed popular in the legend annals but for Shakespeare.
Bladud: A king who found Bath (possibly lost in a fog). He was so pleased with himself, he them attempted to fly. He didn’t. End of Bladud
Leir (or Lear): A tragic case; a forward thinking man and possibly a socialist. Not only did he pass on his kingdom to daughters (girls that is), but he gave them fair shares and then retired. Unhappily two of his daughters were rotten to him and although he found Leicester (it was very foggy in those days), the girls made him sit in the rain on a moor until he went mad. His youngest daughter died when invading on his behalf and he went madder. It was only put right when Nahum Tate re-wrote history in 1681 that everything end happily. But since folk prefer tragedies such accuracy didn’t last and Shakespeare was the only one to come out of it well.
Cole: Known as a rather jovial king and as was the custom of those days found a lost town, in this case, Colchester. He was also famous for going about with his three fiddlers. Economic historians have puzzled over why he felt the need for three Chancellors of The Exchequer.
Naturally no overview would be complete without mentioning Arthur (King) but since he is so amazingly famous, remarkably legendary and had lots of knights will have to be the subject of another seminar all of his own.