Lochlan and Its Mysterious People

In some of the folk Tales of Eireann and Scotland, there is mention of the location 'Lochlann' and the people who dwell there, the 'Lochlanach'. Some authors will translate Lochlan and the Lochlanach as 'Norway' and the 'Vikings'.

Scotland and Eireann has a rich, shared heritage of Vikings and often times the Gaidhlig tongue will term them 'Lochlanach' [the term 'Viking' being saxon]. In some ways this appellation is fair enough, but the term Lochlanach actually pre dates the Viking voyages by about 3000 years.

To understand this transposing of the name, you must understand the original location of the place Lochlan, or Lochlin. When the fourth people, the Tuatha De Dannan, or 'folk of the goddess Danu', came to inhabit Eireann about 4000 years ago, they took the land from the people before, the Fir Bolg, who they chased into a far-flung corner of the island.

Having been the victors, and as such the more powerful foe, they were soon to find out that they inherited an enemy who was more powerful yet. The Fir Bolg had ever been under oppression and had been forced to pay a tribute to the Formorians. These 'raiders' soon began to harry the victorious Tuath De Dannan.

The Formore were described as evil, mean mishapen people, with too few limbs to go between them and perhaps the odd head too many. They had powerful magic and no sense of fairness. They immediately set about transferring their 'tax' collection to the new tennants of Eireann. This proved to be a weighty burden on the beautiful people of Danu.

Corryvreckan Whirlpool Pictures, Argyll, Scotland - 'Water' Illustration by Rebecca Barnett
'Water' Illustration Copyright:
Rebecca Barnett

The Formore would usually land upon the island from the north, having come from their land of Lochlan - the land below the ocean - or perhaps, the ocean itself and its mists. In later times, it was said they had a base at Tory Island, off the north west coast of Éireann, from where they could more easily keep an eye of the country they subjugated. It too could disappear into a mist for protection. The people who came from Lochlan would be in Gàidhlig, the Lochlanach, thus the name Formore was dropped from all but the most ancient of Irish texts.

From this description we can see that in essence the people of Lochlann, the Lochlanach, are an evil people who come from the northern ocean to raid. From this you can see how the later coming of the Vikings gained them the name Lochlanach.

There are many Tales of the battles and negotiations, and indeed marriages, between the evil ones and the beautiful ones, but the telling of such Tales would take a year, as we bards would say, or perhaps as our modern age would have it, overload the server!

Understanding the term Lochlanach sheds a different light on the Tales of the Norse Prince Breacan, who gives his name to the whirlpool. Coupled with the understanding that A'Chaileach is a storm and winter goddess, one could suggest a more polytheistic view of the Tales. Perhaps young breacan is one of the dark forces and is seeking to capture Youth and Spring in the form of his beloved, but the Winter Goddess will not have it and she destroys this force.

One can play around with many ways to look at the old Tales, in search of deeper meanings, as Stuart McHardy suggests on the Cailleach page. Our ancestral storytellers were wise people with a reverance for nature. As Robert Graves, the philosopher poet would say, the greatest muse to the poet is nature herself in her many aspects - a'Chaileach, May Marion, St. Bridget, Norse Goddesses Idunn and Freya... great stories all.

More landscape and Tale interpretation can be found out from Scot AnSgeulaiche at www.ansgeulaiche.co.uk/tours.html

Craignish Cruises, Ardfern Yacht Centre, Ardfern, Argyll, Scotland PA31 8QN

Telephone: +44 (0) 7747 023038 Email: Lindsay@sealeopard.org

Heart of Argyll Logo