Ireland and Scotland : historical perspectives on the Gaelic dimension 1560-1760.
This thesis provides a general overview of the links between the Scottish Gaels of the western
seaboard of Scotland and the Gaelic-speaking peoples of Ireland, especially of Ulster, between
1560 and 1760. It covers a period of dramatic transformation in Gaelic society, from the age of
Reformation to the collapse of Jacobitism and the decline of clanship. The focus of fresh
interpretation is on religious, social and, to a lesser extent, economic links, but political, military
and cultural connections are also considered, in order to reach an understanding of the
encompassing historical perspective which governs the relationship between the Gaels.
Most connections in 1560 were related to the trade in Highland mercenaries to Ulster and
Connacht, and to the growing territorial aspirations of a small colony of MacDonald settlers in
Antrim. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the coterminous completion of the Tudor conquest
of Ireland had a number of consequences on pan-Gaelic relations. The mercenary trade came to an
end, leading to the creation a pool of redundant swordsmen in both countries. Highlanders were
officially excluded from the plantation of Ulster in 1610, which introduced more of an Englishspeaking
dimension to Scoto-Irish relations. In physical terms, the presence of English and
Lowland Scots settlers in the north of Ireland divided the Gaels. In order to survive in Ulster, the
MacDonnells of Antrim were forced to conform to the government in Dublin. This rendered the
split between them and the Clan Donald South in Scotland permanent, and further undermined
Gaelic solidarity in Ulster. The pan-Gaelic military connection is traced from the mercenary trade
through the political realignment of 1603, to the Royalism of the civil war period when the Gaels
entered the national arena, and finally to the limited links of the first and last Jacobite rebellions.
The contribution made by the Gaels to each other's religious heritage was substantial. The factors
which rejuvenated and sustained Catholicism in the Highlands and Islands after the Reformation
are examined, particularly the role of the first missionaries, who were almost exclusively Irish
regulars. During the seventeenth century, Irish Franciscans, Vincentians, Dominicans, Barnabites,
lay Capuchins and secular priests were present on the Highland mission who, by the end of the
century, were all working together under the Scottish secular mission head. In the eighteenth
century, the number of Irish dropped as native Highlanders assumed responsibility for the mission.
Conversely, the role of Gaelic-speaking ministers in the Church of Ireland, and in the presbyterian
church in Ulster from the late sixteenth century, is examined. The contribution of Gaelic-speaking,
University-educated Scots to the embryonic Protestant Church in Ireland, when few Irish-speakers
were conforming, was particularly significant.
There was a considerable volume of commercial traffic across the North Channel, both legitimate
trade and smuggling, in which the Gaelic elite played their part. The trade in military contraband
and victuals during the Ulster rebellion (1594-1603), the grain trade, the Highland fishing industry
in the late seventeenth century and their expeditions to Ireland, and the leasing of west coast forests
by Irish tanning merchants in the eighteenth century, are all evaluated. There was also a substantial
smuggling trade in salt, fish, grain, livestock, and various incidental items.
The various factors between 1560 and 1760 which resulted in the permanent settlement of
Highlanders in Ireland are elucidated, as well as the seasonal interchange of migrant workers and
refugees from ecclesiastical and judicial discipline. Periods of war and the political realignment
after them usually affected migration, and there was, thus, substantial Scottish settlement in Ireland
in the Cromwellian period and after the 1690 Revolution, when land devastated by warfare was
made available for settlement. On a more occasional basis, evidence indicates that Highlanders
most often fled to Ulster to escape sanction, whereas the Irish were most attracted by the better
provision made for poor relief in Scotland, particularly in Argyll and the southern Isles.
Cultural links between the Gaels, which have proved most enduring in the long term, were marked
in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries by the movement of Scots to Ireland to be
educated in the traditional schools of learning, particularly in the medical and bardic disciplines,
but also to study with virtuoso musicians. With the decline in Gaelic institutions in both countries,
cultural ties between the Gaels became less formal. Those pursuing a medical career either became
apprentice apothecaries or enrolled at universities, though musicians continued to travel in the
Gaidhealtachds without attention to national boundary. Many more from the Gaelic learned class
redeployed into the ranks of the Established Church in Scotland or the Catholic Church in Ireland.
Throughout the thesis there are undertones of the antipathy which existed between the Campbells
of Argyll, and the MacDonalds of Kintyre and Islay, their offshoot the MacDonnells of Antrim, and
various clans previously associated with the Lordship of the Isles, who tended to take opposing
sides in any conflict because of their antagonistic stance towards each other. Attitudes among clans
on the western seaboard to the role of the Campbells as agents of the government was an important
factor in the polarisation of the Highland clans in the 1640s civil war and during the Jacobite
rebellions, into Stewart and government camps. Included in the traditionalist stance was a concept
of a pan-Gaelic unity connecting the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland. Though, by the end of the
seventeenth century, this had little basis in reality, the idea was fostered and developed, almost
exclusively by the MacDonald bards, probably as part of an anachronistic identification with the
role of the Lordship and the MacDonalds' own long-term relationship with Ireland. Nonetheless, it
is worthy of note that it is the MacDonald viewpoint which significantly colours surviving concepts
of Scottish Gaelic history.