Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Dinas Powys, Glamorgan, Wales

My readers will know that next to the problem of identifying Uther [Pen]Dragon - which I've now accomplished - I've been constantly vexed by what one could call "The Irish Problem."  No bad pun intended.  In a nutshell, no one has been able to satisfactorily account for the fact that all of the Arthurs immediately subsequent to the original, more famous one belong to Irish-founded dynasties in Britain.  

I've now solved that problem as well.

My past identification of the 'Llydaw' that is said to lie in or adjacent to Wales is wrong.  I had made a linguistically sound selection of the Vale of Leadon, and drawn attention to the fact that this region bordered on Ercing, which itself has many Arthurian associations. This seemed to make sense of a lot, but left The Irish Problem unresolved.

The clue to finding the answer to this riddle lies in the most recent archaeological assessment of the Dinas Powys promontory fort in Glamorgan, where Arthur's father Illtud, the terribilis miles, was the leader of the household soldiers.  According to this analysis, there may well have been Irish involved in the establishment and habitation of Dinas Powys during the Arthurian period.

I had called attention to the fact that the name Powys is the same as that of the kingdom of Powys in central Wales, which in Romano-British times had been the tribal territory of the Cornovii.  The Cornovii, as I also pointed out, bore a name practically identical to the regional designation Cernyw, the Welsh name for Cornwall.  Arthur is consistently placed in Cornwall in Welsh tradition.  There is a Durocornovium, Fort of the Cornovii, hard by Liddington Castle or Badbury.  Both these last sites are also quite close to Barbury, the 'Bear's Fort.'

Why is any of this significant?  Because in Cormac's Glossary, the fort of the Ui Liathain is called 'dind map Lethain.'  Lethain is a very common early spelling given to Irish lethan, 'broad, wide, wide-spread', the cognate of Leadon and from the same root that yielded Llydaw, Letavia (Brittany).  Cf. Welsh llydan.  According to Professor Jurgen Uhlich of Trinity College, Dublin, "lethain is simply one of several regular case forms of lethan, i.e. gen. sg. m./n., dat/acc. sg. fem. or nom pl. m.".

I also find Liathain in Irish Latin as 'Lethani' (Vita Sancta Columba).

That the two words were mistaken for each other in Irish is shown in COIR ANMANN or THE FITNESS OF NAMES (H.3.18, p. 565a):

50. Fedlimith Uillethan, that is, Fedlimith Ua-Liathain, that is in Húi Liathain he was reared. Hence he was named Fedlimith Uillethan. Or Fedlimith Ollethan i.e. huge (oll) and broad (lethan) was he: thence he was named.

Place-names containing these words may also have been substituted for each other.  In Geoffrey Keating's THE HISTORY OF IRELAND FROM THE EARLIEST PERIOD TO THE ENGLISH INVASION, I find "Drom Liathain (Drum Lee-hawin), is probably Drom Lethan (Drum Lahan), now Drumlane, co. Cavan."  This is confirmed in Edmund Hogan's ONOMASTICON GOEDELICUM: "d. liatháin Fm. i. 44; ¶  prob. for D. Leathan, now Drumlahan or Drumlane, c. Cav.; ¶  Eochaid fought against the Ernu and the Mairthine at D. L., Hk. 324, Lec. 63, 578, Sb. 4 a 1, K. 131 b, Lg. 91; ¶  most prob. in Mun."  Drum/Druim Leathan is 'Broad Ridge' (https://www.logainm.ie/en/5248).

A truly extensive search might well uncover other examples.

Francis J. Byne, in his magisterial IRISH KINGS AND HIGH-KINGS (p. 184) says "Lethain is the archaic form of Liathain." 

The Liathain tribal name is from an epithet whose root is the word for 'grey' in the Irish language and is not related to lethan/lethain.  However, it would have been very easy to have intentionally or accidentally used a spelling of Lethain for Liathain and thus created a "Brittany" within Wales.  

Many writers, myself included, have discussed in detail the many Irish kingdoms in Britain.  The Welsh sources themselves (see HISTORIA BRITTONUM, Chapter 14) tell us that the sons of Liathan "prevailed in the country of the Demetians, where the city of Mynyw is, and in other countries, that is Gower and Kidwelly, until they were expelled by Cunedda, and by his sons..." [Recall that Cunedda and his sons were the Gewissei, with Cunedda's son Ceredig being Cerdic of Wessex.  The Gewissei were Arthur's chief adversary.]

Illtud's father's name - Bicanus - bears a striking resemblance to that of the early Irish Bec(c)an.  Some of these last were native to Munster.


O Corrain and Maguire's IRISH NAMES has:

BECCAN: BEAGAN m, 'little man.'

From the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language:


Forms: becain

n o, m. (bec) IGT Decl. § 35.

(a) a little, small quantity: b.¤ gl. pauxillum, Sg. 14a12 . ÉC xi 110. gl. paululus, 48a3 . ar na hernigther mar i mbec, Laws v 476.28 glossed: moran i bail i ndlegar becan, 478.31 Comm. dobeir begán dobeir mórán / is dobeir in fichid marg, SG 287.1 . tucc Dīa sonus for beccān bíd, BColm. 60.16 . morán . . . beagán, 2 Cor. viii 15. so cenn begain aimsiri `in a short while', St. Ercuil 258. begcan dergci innti, Maund. 71. begān glōir do budh mōr neimh a small voice (lit. a little of a voice), ZCP viii 223.6 . le beagán do shásadh, DDána 20.26 . beccán becc íarna thionntúdh = a little after, RSClára 16a . began ┐ én mhile amhain `a little more than one mile only', Mart. Don. May 20. a few, a small number: in becan sa dib these few of them (at end of list), LU 2486 ( RC iv 256 § 25 ). in becan ro batar those few, Cog. 176.29 . cenmotha in beccan Cristaige, LB 154a 33 . tāinic Eōgan begān soc[h]raidi `with a few' (Gloss.), ML² 407. becān do maithib a muinntire, 921 . Eoin Bruinne is a bheagán ban, Dán Dé xx 37 . gluaissit begān buidhne `proceeded with a small company', Fl. Earls 20.10 . lé begán briathar `in a few words', FM v 1716.10 . As adv. a little, slightly: fri Dísiurt Lóchait antúaid bican (bicon, TBC² 772 ), LU 5249. codail begán begán beg, Duan. Finn i 84.1 . iníslighid begān, RSClára 105a . In phr. do b.¤ : in mac taisigh rob ferr do bí i nErinn do beagan that was no doubt the best, AU ii 550.9 . na biadha ┐ na deocha as measa do bheagan (= parum deterior potus aut cibus), 23 K 42 , 22.7 .

(b) little one, child; humble, lowly one: indat blaithe beccain (: Breccáin) `little ones', Fél.² Sept. 4 . becain .i. humiles , cxl . Note also: obsa becan (? of a horse) a little fellow (?), IT iii 68.1 .

The corresponding Welsh form is:


[†bych1+-an, H. Gym. bichan, H. Grn. boghan, Crn. C. byhan, Llyd. bihan, Gwydd. becán, beccán]

a. (b. bechan) a hefyd weithiau fel eg.b. ac adf. ll. bychain, gr. cmhr. bychaned, lleied, llai, lleiaf (a bychanaf weithiau).

a  Bach, o ychydig faint neu nifer:

little, small, minute, diminutive. 

I've not found this as a personal name in the Welsh sources. It is found later in Welsh as a nickname or epithet.

I'm now prepared to claim, rather boldly, that the Welsh 'Llydaw' from which Illtud's father Bicanus hailed, and from where Illtud got his wife, is none other than Irish Ui Liathain, a small kingdom in Munster.

This would explain, finally, why all the Dark Age Arthurs were of Hiberno-British extraction.  

As for the name Arthur itself, all authorities now insist this can only be from the Roman Artorius.  So either Illtud the terribilis miles/Uther Dragon took this name for his son to add a Latin dignity to his family, or as has been suggested before Artorius was a decknamen used to replace an Irish or British 'Bear-king" name.  

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