To the Scots, through St Columba, who, about 563, settled in Iona, and converted the Picts as far north as Inverness, we owe the introduction of Christianity, for though the Roman Church of St Ninian (397), at Whithern in Galloway, left embers of the faith not extinct near Glasgow, St Kentigern’s country, till Columba’s time, the rites of Christian Scotland were partly of the Celtic Irish type, even after St Wilfrid’s victory at the Synod of Whitby (664).
St Columba himself was of the royal line in Ulster, was learned, as learning was then reckoned, and, if he had previously been turbulent, he now desired to spread the Gospel. With twelve companions he settled in Iona, established his cloister of cells, and journeyed to Inverness, the capital of Pictland. Here his miracles overcame the magic of the King’s druids; and his Majesty, Brude, came into the fold, his people following him. Columba was no less of a diplomatist than of an evangelist. In a crystal he saw revealed the name of the rightful king of the Dalriad Scots in Argyll—namely, Aidan—and in 575, at Drumceat in North Ireland, he procured the recognition of Aidan, and brought the King of the Picts also to confess Aidan’s independent royalty.
In the ‘Life of Columba,’ by Adamnan, we get a clear and complete view of everyday existence in the Highlands during that age. We are among the red deer, and the salmon, and the cattle in the hills, among the second-sighted men, too, of whom Columba was far the foremost. We see the saint’s inkpot upset by a clumsy but enthusiastic convert; we even make acquaintance with the old white pony of the monastery, who mourned when St Columba was dying; while among secular men we observe the differences in rank, measured by degrees of wealth in cattle. Many centuries elapse before, in Froissart, we find a picture of Scotland so distinct as that painted by Adamnan.
The discipline of St Columba was of the monastic model. There were settlements of clerics in fortified villages; the clerics were a kind of monks, with more regard for abbots than for their many bishops, and with peculiar tonsures, and a peculiar way of reckoning the date of Easter. Each missionary was popularly called a Saint, and the Kil, or cell, of many a Celtic missionary survives in hundreds of place-names.
The salt-water Loch Leven in Argyll was on the west the south frontier of “Pictland,” which, on the east, included all the country north of the Firth of Forth. From Loch Leven south to Kintyre, a large cantle, including the isles, was the land of the Scots from Ireland, the Dalriadic kingdom. The south-west, from Dumbarton, including our modern Cumberland and Westmorland, was named Strathclyde, and was peopled by British folk, speaking an ancient form of Welsh. On the east, from Ettrick forest into Lothian, the land was part of the early English kingdom of Bernicia; here the invading Angles were already settled—though river-names here remain Gaelic, and hill-names are often either Gaelic or Welsh. The great Northern Pictland was divided into seven provinces, or sub-kingdoms, while there was an over-King, or Ardrigh, with his capital at Inverness and, later, in Angus or Forfarshire. The country about Edinburgh was partly English, partly Cymric or Welsh. The south-west corner, Galloway, was called Pictish, and was peopled by Gaelic-speaking tribes.
In the course of time and events the dynasty of the Argyll Scoti from Ireland gave its name to Scotland, while the English element gave its language to the Lowlands; it was adopted by the Celtic kings of the whole country and became dominant, while the Celtic speech withdrew into the hills of the north and northwest.
The nation was thus evolved out of alien and hostile elements, Irish, Pictish, Gaelic, Cymric, English, and on the northern and western shores, Scandinavian.