The cultural construction of an island identity : an ethnographic study of an inner Hebridean island on the west coast of Scotland
The central argument of this thesis is that, for the Gaels of Lismore, their boundaries are not just the physical ones (important though they may be) of living on an island bounded by the sea, but that the boundaries are also symbolic and relate to the recreation and reinforcement of a cultural identity. These can be denoted by a variety of things but, in this thesis, I explore boundaries of History, Oral Tradition, Music, Language, Life-cycle rituals and the ritual boundaries of 'celebrations', both at home and when the Gael moves away from the Highlands. Where possible, several specific historical incidents have been used which have direct relevance and significance for the mental construction of these boundaries for the Gaels in general, and the Gaels of Lismore in particular. One of the aims has been to understand the present, by looking at the past, since the culture of the Gaels has important historical referents for them. Both emic and etic perspectives are considered as far as possible, using two types of perspectives on history, outsider viewpoints and those of the Gaels themselves. The identity of a community is a reality: a community consciousness is reinforced and encompassed by boundaries which can be symbolic. The symbols of community can incorporate many differences successfully, specifically because symbols can be so general. In this way, it is possible for a community to come under one banner despite intense variations in belief and ideals. When community parameters are under threat, perhaps by historical factors which necessitate social cliange as in the case of Lismore, people reinforce these boundaries by turning to symbolic behaviour. Ethnographic examples are used throughout to illustrate these points. An audio tape is supplied to use with the Gaelic extracts. This is to allow the reader to hear the sound of the language and music extracts used in the thesis.