Ireland, Scotland, and the Wider Gaelic World: Re-thinking the Paradigms

Ireland, Scotland, and the Wider Gaelic World: Re-thinking the Paradigms with Dr Simon Egan, Queen's University Belfast

The concept of a ‘wider Gaelic world’ or ‘Greater Gaeldom’ has proven highly controversial within the historiography of later medieval (and early modern) Scotland and Ireland. One strand of scholarship has stressed the cultural homogeneity of the Gaelic peoples of Ireland and Scotland, arguing that a common language, a shared literary heritage, and a collective cult of saints forged strong and enduring connections between both worlds. A separate school of thought has challenged some of these received ideas. This second strand of research has underlined emerging rifts between the Irish and the community of the Highlands and Islands. Scholars have pointed to divergence in language and culture in the later Middle Ages as well as the growing power of Scotland’s Stewart dynasty and the idea that the nobility of the Highlands and Islands viewed themselves as Scots first, Gaels second. Collectively, these debates have shed new light on complex issues of ethnicity and identity in pre-modern Ireland and Scotland. However, both strands have tended to focus on cultural issues, paying but cursory attention to the range of dynastic and political connections spanning the world of the North Channel. Ireland and Scotland, as with most of the pre-modern world, were dynastic societies and power was rooted in the concept of aristocratic lordship. This paper seeks to apply this methodology to the debate on the Greater Gaeldom and considers to what extent these dynastic connections shaped Scotland’s relationship with Ireland.

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