the Salmon of Knowledge
Of all of the symbols of Clan Donald, Bradáin (Gàidhlig or Gaelic for Salmon) is probably the most ancient (at least 125 BCE). To the Celts the salmon has always symbolized the source of wisdom and knowledge.
The Salmon is prominent in Celtic mythology handed down from our ancient Irish ancestors, through their Highland and Western Island crofts, to us. Legends involving the salmon are woven throughout the original Clan Donald Gàidhlig manuscripts beginning with our 2nd century ancestor Cormac mac Airt, to the 15th century Red and Black Books of Clanranald, and eventhe tales of Fingal found in the Works of Ossion published in 1765. To our ancestors the mere mention of the name Fionn brought an entire legend to mind that taught the importance of gaining wisdom before one attempts to lead others.
The founder of our clan, Somhairlidh followed Fionn’s example of waiting for the “sign of the salmon” before accepting the clans’ commission to lead them against the Lochlannach (Gàidhlig name for Norse) which established the Celtic Triath nan Eileán, the Kingdom of the Isles. Salmon were believed to have come from the land of perpetual youth, Tir na n’Óg and possessed the power to give both wisdom and knowledge to those who consumed their treasured meat.
Here is another example of our ancestors’ Celtic culture being far ahead of their time. Modern medical nutritional science has recently verified what these Celtic myths have maintained for over 2 millennia. Salmon is one of the best brain foods. What our ancestors recognized as Wisdom and Knowledge are in modern language identified as essential Omega 3 fatty acids, high quality protein, essential amino acids, vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B6, vitamin B, & vitamin E which are all essential to maintain peak brain function & health!
According to Celtic mythology the salmon provided knowledge because the salmon ate the red hazel nuts of Wisdom that fall into the water of the sacred wells below the hazel trees that surround them in Tir na n’Óg. The red spots on the salmon’s belly, of course, are evidence the salmon had eaten the sacred hazelnuts! Call it what you will. Our ancestor’s’ diet was high in essential “brain food”. We are patiently waiting for modern nutrition to catch up to our ancestors’ understanding of the essential nutrients found only in Haggis!
The symbol of Bradáin is found in ancient stone carvings (often just below the galley) throughout the Highlands and Western Isles, featured in 13th – 16th century seals attached to our ancestors’ signatures, as well as many of our Clan Chiefs’ armorial bearings (coats of arms). In Scottish Heraldry the salmon is often considered a symbol of descendency from Somhairlidh (Somerled), but salmon are also found in several armorial bearings with no documented link to Somhairlidh. A few articles on Scottish Heraldry, which link the salmon to Somhairlidh, have searched in vain to find a Norse background for the use of the salmon (based upon the misconception that Somhairlidh was of Norse ancestry). Norse mythology did include Odin’s wisdom & knowledge represented not by the salmon, but two ravens called Huginn & Muninn(Norse for Thought & Memory). Some Scottish historians have tried to link the Glengarry raven’s rock to Odin’s raven(s), but in doing so they turn a blind eye to the Celtic significance of the raven (Celtic “battle crow”) just as they search in vain for a Norse significance to the salmon. The Celtic significance of salmon was that eating it would make you wise. I have to admit to gaining wisdom from “eating crow”occasionally, but I don’t think the Norse consumed ravens as the Celts did salmon! It was Bradáin (the salmon) that is included in our Clan Donald ancestors’ writings and Gaelic mythology.
Just as Somhairlidh is a Gaelic name,Bradáin (the salmon) is a highly significant Celtic (Gaelic) symbol with special significance to all of the descendants of Somhairlidh, including Clan Donald. The salmon is a prominent symbol found throughout Clan Donald’s Gaelic historical records which, to our ancestors represented Bradáin eolais, The Salmon of Knowledge which contributed decisively to the genesis of Clan Donald.