Monday, September 26, 2016


The Beccurus Stone (drawing courtesy the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project)

 Bicoir father of Artuir is mentioned in the Irish Annals of Tigernach for the year entry 627 A.D.:
Mongan son of Fiachna Lurgan, stricken with a stone by Artur son of Bicoir Britone died. Whence Bec Boirche said:
  1. Cold is the wind over Islay;
    There are warriors in Kintyre,
    They will commit a cruel deed therefor,
    They will kill Mongan son of Fiachna.
Mongan mac Fiachna Lurgan, ab Artuir filio Bicoir Britone lapide percussus interit. Unde Bec Boirche dixit:
  1. IS uar in gáeth dar Ile,
    do fuil oca i Cínd Tire,
    do-genat gnim amnus de,
    mairbfit Mongan mac Fiachnae.
Needless to say, this particular Arthur is not THE Arthur.  The established dates for the latter are found listed in the Welsh Annals, where the battles of Badon and Camlann are described thusly:

516. LXXII. Annus. Bellum Badonis, in quo Arthur portavit crucem Domini nostri Jesu Christi tribus diebus et tribus noctibus in humeros suos et Britones victores fuerunt.

516. The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were victors.

537. XCIII. Annus. Gueith Camlann, in qua Arthur et Medraut corruere; et mortalitas in Brittania et in Hibernia fuit.

537. The Battle of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut fell, and there was devastation in Britain and in Ireland.

So about a century after THE Arthur’s death, another Arthur was busy in the area of the Kintyre peninsula, killing an Irish king.  I have elsewhere suggested that this Artuir son of Bicoir may have been the same as the Arthur son of Pedr, born c. 560 (Bartrum) and said to be a king of Dyfed.  My reasoning here has to do with Pembroke or Penbrog, “Land’s End or Headland” in Dyfed, a place-name whose meaning corresponds exactly with the Gaelic Cind-tyre, “Land’s End/Headland”. 

In addition, Pedr, supposedly from Roman Petrus, is found in variant forms in the Welsh and Irish MSS.  One of these spellings is ‘Petuir’, another ‘Retheoir’.  As P and B frequently substitute for one another in the languages involved, and t and c can easily be mistaken for each other in MS., I early on proposed that Petuir and Bicoir, both fathers of an Arthur, were in reality the same man.  

I further suggested that as ALL the other Arthurs are placed firmly in the North of Britian, including Dalriadan Scoland, that Pedr’s being placed in the Dyfed genealogy was probably an error.  In all likelihood, he belonged in the North as well.  I would add that the Irish genealogy for the founders of the Dyfed royal house leaves no doubt that they were Irish, and not originally British.

This solution to the problem of Bicoir-Petuir seems elegant enough, but there is one possible complicating factor which must be taken into account: the Gesail Gyfarch or Gesail-gyfarch Stone, found near Penmorfa in Gwynedd, not far to the northwest of the Welsh Camlans.  The full description and analysis of the stone may be found here:

The best reading of the stone is FILI CVNALIPI CVNACI IACIT [… ] BECCVRI or ‘Cynog son of Cynllib lies here… Beccurus.’  The scholars who first studied the stone in 1881 and then again in 1905 claimed to be able to read traces of a word between IACIT (“lies here”) and the proper name Beccurus.  They suggested CIVI as a short form of CIVIS, “citizen”, but this does not make sense of the inscription.  I would hazard a guess that the gap was filled with Latin CVM, perhaps ligatured, which would make the inscription read:

‘Cynog son of Cynllib lies here WITH/ALONG WITH/TOGETHER WITH Beccurus.’

According to RCAHMW/1960, 95:

“…for Beccurus, if a personal name, Rhys suggested the Goedelic name Bicoir, whose son was mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters under A.D. 620 [627] as a Briton.”  Goedelic means Irish, of course.

While I am not suggesting that the Beccurus who was apparently buried at Gesail Gyfarch is one of these saints (chronology alone prohibits me from doing so!), it is certainly possible that the name means “Bee-keeper” and not ‘Little-king’, etc.

Patrick Sims-Williams in his “The Celtic Inscriptions of Britain: Phonology and Chronology, c. 400-1200″, provides a couple of etymologies for the name Beccurus.  His first is that the name comes from British *Bikkorix or “Little King”.  His alternate derivation would be a name from *bekko-, “beak”.  He does not, however, make the connection to an attested Irish noun, Becuir, found as a variant of Bechaire or “bee-keeper” in the church name Lann Becuir/Bechaire.  The “bee-keeper” references either St. Modomnoc or St. Molaga of this religious establishment.  The former brought his bees with him from Wales, where he had been educated under St. David (born c. 485?) at Mynyw/Menevia/St. David’s in Dyfed.  The latter had been to both Scotland and Wales (St. David’s again) and had obtained some bees from Modomnoc.

When I asked Professor Sims-Williams about the possiibility that Bicoir could be related to the Irish Becuir, he responded:

“I’m not sure that Becuir can be a variant of Bechaire. The place name Lann Bechaire could be a distortion/rationalisation of Lann Becuir, and the latter name may have nothing to do with bee-keeping, though it could be related to Bicoir.”

The date of the Beccurus stone is estimated to be 533-599 A.D. (Jackson/1953).  This would be the approximate range for the burial of Cynog.  When Beccurus died it is impossible to say.  He may have pre-deceased Cynog by an indeterminate period or may have perished at the same time and the two were interred jointly.  If Beccurus did die between 533 and 599, he could easily have been the ‘Bicoir’ whose son Artuir slew the Irish king Mongan in 627.  Alternately, this may simply be another ‘Bicoir’; for all we know, the name may have been relatively common during this period.

The geographical relationships do not match up for Beccurus of Gwynedd = Bicoir father of Artuir = Pedr/Petuir of Dyfed.  If Bicoir was of Dyfed, he would have been buried in Dyfed, not in Gwynedd.
However, there is no reason why a son of a chieftain from Gwynedd could not be operating in Dalriada, especially in a mercenary capacity.  I would also note that there are a couple of Pentir place-names in Gwynedd and Anglesey: Pentir or “Land’s End” is the equivalent of both Cind-tyre and Pen-brog.

So what do we make of this Beccurus who was buried at Gesail Gyfarch? Was he the father of the 7th century Artuir?  Might this Artuir be buried with him?

These questions can only be answered by finding a stone near Penmorfa that bears the name Artuir son of Beccurus.  We would then have to come up with a satisfactory theory that would account for a chieftain in Gwynedd naming his son after the earlier, more famous 5th-6th century Arthur of Northern Britain.  I have discussed the latter in detail in my recent book “The Arthur of History."

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