In my earlier articles (The Welsh Clyde and Arthur’s Places) I set the geography for our investigation into the origins of Clan Arthur. Now let us return to Dumbarton on the Clyde and Arthur’s son Smervie Mhor or Mervin. Who was he? Not much is known about him, but there is another prominent historical “Scottish” figure known as Myrddin (pronounced Myrthin or more likely Mervin) who is often confused with the Arthurian figure of Merlin.
Myrddin shared some of his life with the “Welsh” Arthurian poet Taliesin and indeed the later Arthurian fabulist, Geoffrey of Monmouth, undoubtedly borrowed much from Myrddin to create his Vita Merlini - The origin of Merlin the wizard. Myrddin and Mervin were both 6th century Princes of Strathclyde (the Britons) and both are described as a “wild men of the woods” - It is very possible that we are looking at the same character.
Myrddin features in the life of Glasgow’s founder, Saint Kentigern, who lived from the early sixth till early seventh century and is also related to “King” Arthur. Kentigern's father was Owain (or Eugenius), a knight of Round Table fame and the son of Urien ("King" of Rheged) and Morgana - "King" Arthur's sister. This relationship effectively makes the legendary Arthur, Kentigern's great uncle. There are variations on the Glasgow Saint's life - Other sources (Glasgow City Council) state that Kentigern was the son of Urien and therefore the half brother of Owain, nephew of Arthur and cousin of Myrddin.
All these characters (including Taliesin) are contemporary with the late sixth century and a period of deep religious conflict. Jocelyn of Furnace, the 9th century author of “Kentigern's Life”, records that during the Saint’s early life around Dumbarton he became the target of several assassination attempts causing him to flee south from his enemies to safety in the land of "King" Cathwallain in north Wales.
The final Christian victory in Northern Britain came with the battle of Arfderydd (or Arthuret) fought in 573AD in the borderlands to the North of Carlisle, although another theory (which I favour) places the battle site at Airdrie in the Clyde Valley. Historians still dispute whether Arthuret was an Arthurian battle, as the date is too late for the mythical Arthur of the early sixth century, but the time frame fits perfectly with the historic warrior Artur MacAeden of the late sixth century. Saint Columba appointed Artur’s father, Aeden MacGabhran to the throne of the Scots in 574AD as a result of the Christian victory at Arthuret. This was first time in North British history that a King was chosen by a churchman - Could this be the real Merlin the Kingmaker at work?
During the battle Rydderch Hael (“King” of Strathclyde) killed the "British Prince" Gwendoleu; the combined forces of the North annihilated the Pagan/Northumbrian host, and the druid Myrddin who was Gwendoleu's chief advisor (and "husband" to Rydderch Hael's sister!) went insane from witnessing the slaughter. It was then that Myrddin became "a wild man of the woods" roaming the Caledonian Forest, thought to equate to the better known Etterick Forest. This is in the region of Hart Fell which I mentioned in “Arthur’s Places” and where Merlin’s (Myrddin’s) cave can be still found somewhere down the mountain from Arthur’s Seat.
Merlindale by Drumelzier
Photograph by Hugh DP McArthur
Not far away to the east, nestling in the upper Tweed Valley, Stobo Kirk claims to be Kentigern's first church and it was here, not long after the Battle of Arthuret, that the Saint is reputed to have eventually Christianised Myrddin. Soon after, Myrddin met his traditional Pagan triple death (blow to the back of the head, throat cut and drowned) on the banks of the Tweed. Local lore claims Merlin’s grave lies where the Drumelzier Burn meets the Tweed, just upstream is a place called Merlindale.
Back on Myrddin's home turf, Myrddin Way in Hamilton on the upper Clyde, not far from Airdrie, still attests to the Druid's historical presence. Further downstream, the names of Merlin's Ford Crescent and Merlin's Ford Close in Renfrew recall that the Merlin Ford led the way to the lost Clyde island of Buck Inch, where tradition maintains that “Prince” Merlin held his palace.