The Pan-Celtic flag - six nations, one soul
The Pan-Celtic flag – six nations, one soul

From “Driving A Wedge Within Gaeldom”, an article on the post-Medieval history of Ireland and Scotland featured in the magazine History Ireland:

“From earliest times Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, united by the sea, formed part of the same cultural, linguistic, religious, economic and political ethos. The cultural and linguistic homogeneity, together with the political instability of this North Channel World, alarmed central government. For the monarchs and their ministers—whether in Dublin, Edinburgh or London—regarded the economic, political and cultural distinctiveness of its inhabitants as ‘uncivilised’ and potentially corrosive to the English and Scots-speaking polities. They classified them as barbarians, rebels, and subversives intent on de-stabilising the peripheries of the Tudor and Stewart monarchies.

…contemporaries from the king down continued to regard the Gaelic Irish and, to a lesser extent, the Highlanders, both mentally and culturally as a lower form of humanity. They were savages and barbarians who had failed to progress, to farm for their food, and to inhabit an ordered polity regulated by the law and Christian morality.

Convictions of racial superiority critically shaped attitudes about how best these remote regions could be ‘civilised’—how these unruly subjects could be reformed, their over-mighty lords tamed, thuggery and feuding replaced with law and order, and labour channelled into production rather than destruction. Crown strategies ranged from annihilation to assimilation.”

Which reminds of the famous letter dispatched to Ireland in 1315 by Roibeard Brús (Robert the Bruce), King of Scotland, where he calls upon the lords of the country to unite with him in a pan-Gaelic alliance:

“To all the kings of Ireland, the prelates and clergy and to the inhabitants of Ireland, our friends.

Whereas we and you and our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom, we have sent you our beloved kinsman, the bearers of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently strengthening and maintaining inviolate the special friendship between us and you, so that with God’s will our nation [the Irish and Scots] may be able to recover her ancient liberty.”

12 comments on “Gaels United

  1. Not sure this has anything directly to do with Gaelic culture, Bruce was a Norman lord wasn’t he? Equivalent to the “Old English” (anglo-norman) aristocracy in Ireland. Correct me if I’m wrong …


    • Scottish on his mother’s side but yes a Scots-Norman lord. His letter was a bit of political opportunism on his part but it shows how even in the 1300s the idea of a shared identity between the Irish and Scots based on related languages and cultures continued to have power and force. Right up to the 1700s Irish and Scottish writers continued to talk about both nations as two halves of a single civilization, far more so say than the contemporary Danish and Swedish writers or other closely related peoples.


      • Where did you get the idea that Scottish writers pretended that Scotland and Ireland were the same nation and people? I know a few Irish writers did, I.e the Young Irish movement of the 19th century seeking to create links with another nation before concluding that Scotland held the highest appeal to them, but I have never once seen a Scottish writter state that.


        • The “idea” that Scotland and Ireland share a common linguistic and cultural heritage has been integral to Gaelic thought for the last 1500 years. Both indigenous Scottish and Irish writers in their respective tongues have viewed their nations as the two lynchpins of Gaelic civilization in north-western Europe (not to leave out our fellow Gaels in Mann). In modern and early modern times that view may not have been shared by some anglophone Scots but it most certainly was in Gaelic circles and remains so (hence the numerous Irish students who have attended Sabhal Mòr Ostaig down through the years or the joint initiatives on Gaelic taken by Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Conradh na Gaeilge and An Comunn Gàidhealach, and indeed the governments of Ireland and Scotland both through their jointly-funded Colm Cille project and separate from that).

          All that long predates the Young Irelanders. And it still retained its force in Scotland amongst many Scottish progressives.


      • The original article you referred to was very informative. E.g. the fact that the Campbell (Caimbeul) / McDonald (Domhnalach) rivalry had an Irish dimention and how it all tied in with the wider political landscape of the times. These things tend to be discussed in isolation these days.
        OTOH I’d say there has been little real connection between Irish and Scots politics and independence movements during the past century. The Irish going for violence and armed insurrection with the inevitable backlash from the dying British Empire, while the Scots have chosen (so far, and fingers crossed) a peaceful and democratic route. It would be interesting to maybe analyse the root caused for this divergence.


  2. a d’athbhlagáil ar Míle Gaiscíoch éagus d’fhreagair:
    “Ná téir i bhfolach laistair de cheo na bhfocal. Táimid caillte sa cheo chéanna sa bhfaill os cionn an locha, tabhair so lámh dom is treoraigh mé ón bpholl.”
    And we lowly tribes fight each other? Make each other the Other? Have we ceased to be colonized, you and I? From one savage shore to another?
    Deir tú ‘neamhspleáchas,’ a rá liom ‘fuascailt.’


  3. Lenticular Leo

    This article is nonsense, it makes no mention what so ever on the Irish/Hiberni being historic enemies of the Scots/Scotti people.King Robert I of Scots letter was actually a Pan-Scotia alliance, Scots on both sides of the sea, the Scots of Scotland and Scots/Scotti settlers of Ulster/NI (whom were first recorded settlers there from the 3th century on).

    Why are the Irish nationalists so obsessed with latching onto Scotland? It makes them even less admirable because of that to some.
    For there to be a driven wedge into this 19th century artificially constructed so called ‘Celtic’ union, there would have to have been a connection in the first place, which there is not, much of this idea of ‘Celtic-ness’ is, as Brian Sykes (2006) and James Simpson (1999) says, pure Victorian fantastical nonsense, perpetrated by Irish republican terrorists and other Catholic collectives. ‘Ireland’ was imposed and planted on the island by Pope Leo X, even the Scots settlers of the north were renamed collectively as ‘Irish’ – along with the Hiberni southerners (the real historic Irish). Where as the Scots of Scotland retain their original national identity and name and have always been seperate and independent from any constructed Irish/Hiberni identity, and rightly so, Scots are not at all like the Irish, thankfully.

    First things first, ‘Ireland’ as it is now, did not exist as an entity, a united entity, until the 16th century, before that, it was a dis-united, conquered mess, the Scotti settlers of the 3rd century have since been re-named as historical Irish in pro-Irish modern history books and the Anglo-Irish as Irish as well, it was far from that in reality, the southerners were Hiberni (real historic Irish) allied with the English and Anglo-Irish upper classes whom were both united against the Scots of the north on both islands of the British isles, the Scots and Scots of Ulster, look up the Bruce’s wars in Ireland, where Irish peer Birmingham tried to execute King Robert I of Scots brother, Edward Bruce. He wrote later how the war against the Scots was beneficial for the Irish kingdom.
    Make no mistake, the Irish were never historic allies with the Scots as this article and Braveheart pounding jingoistic rubbish suggests.
    This whole attempt to re-write history in Ireland’s favour will never work, it never has, and it’s been going on a long time, it never will either.
    Ireland should mind it’s business and stop trying to butt into the affairs of foreign nations like Scotland in particular, and get on with it’s own affairs for the future instead on dwelling on it’s collection of miserable, sentimentally artificially constructed multi-pieced history, Scotland has always been foreign and different to Ireland and it always will.
    Collectivism has always failed, Individualism will always prevail.
    It’s time to be rid of this Celtic collective identity that simply is enforced in Irish favour, all those countries are there own, with their own identities, which means their own names, own cultures, own peoples, own flags, own anthems, own origins and own destinies.


    • Lenticular Leo, some interesting points though unfortunately all of them are quite counter-factual and a mess of misapplied names and identities. While a handful of Scots for reasons beyond me seem to reject or fear any association with Ireland it is beyond all reasonable doubt that historical Ireland and Scotland formed a single linguistic and cultural continuum. That is the overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion and a self-evident truth. In this they were no different from the Scandinavian nations, or indeed the historic Slav nations.

      No one in Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Iceland challenges the underlying historical commonality of their peoples. It would simply be anti-historical to do so. Ireland and Scotland (and Mann) existed and exist within the same framework. The Gaelic languages were (and are) indigenous to both and there existed both in pre-history and recorded history considerable contacts through language, culture, religion (both Celtic and Christian), trade, politics, blood, etc.

      That does not take away from other peoples in Scotland, the so-called Picts (speakers of a Q-Celtic language related to the Q-Celtic ancestor of the Gaelic languages over which was laid a P-Celtic speech ancestral to the Brythonic languages) or the Northern Britons (speakers of what we might term Cambrian in its later stages, related to modern Welsh/Cornish).

      Pointing to our shared linguistic and cultural heritage is hardly a threat to anyone or any nation. It is a cause for celebration. Ask the Scandinavians 😉

      A Celt is the speaker of a Celtic language. The Celtic languages exist. Therefore the Celts exist and existed. It really is as simple as that.


      • No evidence afaik of any Q-Celtic speech in Caledonia prior to the Irish dark age settlements. There were also Irish settlements at this time in Llŷn and Dyfed, although these were later assimilated by the locals. There are even ogham inscriptions in Cornwall. And Irish ‘saints’ turn up in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany too, those guys got around. The thing is, for several centuries the Celtic peoples of Britain and Ireland formed a cultural unit, not uniform by any means, but with a certain pooling of ideas and customs. They were not united politically, Ireland and Wales were conquered piecemeal, whereas Scotland became a nation state, always a mix of languages and peoples.


        • The suggestion of a Q-Celtic substratum in Pictish goes back to the “Celtic from the West” theory. This argues that the Celtic languages developed in situ along the western Atlantic seaboard from Iberia to Scotland. This was the earliest phase of the Celtic languages best represented by Q-Celtic, the older of the Q-/P-Celtic divide.

          The Q-Celtic dialects dominated the Atlantic seaboard. The P-Celtic dialects then developed later on the continental periphery though various linguistic innovations and changes (perhaps the result of contact with Italo-Romano, Germanic and other localised languages, Indo-European or otherwise). While the Celtic heartlands on the west retained their conservative linguistic form the east and south changed radically, those changes then filtering back westwards along with the likes of Halstatt and Le Téne artefacts (“cultures”).

          In Britain the Q- and P-Celtic tongues mixed, P-Celtic coming to dominate in the south and east (England, Cornwall, Wales and Cambria) perhaps due to migration or greater cross-region communications, while Q-Celtic withdrew to the north (western Scotland) sustained by links to Q-Celtic Ireland and Mann.

          However in the east of Scotland amongst the ancestors of the so-called Picts rather than language replacement we had a hybrid development of both dialects, P-Celtic laid over and shaped by an earlier Q-Celtic base.

          This various replacement or mixing of Q- and P-Celtic on the island of Britain accounts for the particularities of the Insular Celtic tongues, the “mysterious” nature of Pictish, the heavy P-Celtic influences on Scottish Gaelic, etc.

          Of course the alternative is the more popular view of Pictish as simply a P-Celtic speech latterly influenced by Goidelic ones to a degree far greater than anywhere else in Britain.

          They are just theories. I favour the former but don’t dismiss the latter.


          • I’m aware of this theory, but I don’t see what it’s suppose to explain. It seems politically inspired, and unless you deny that Celtic was a branch of Indoeuropean it doesn’t give you a “we were always here in the west” explanation, because however you cut it, the origin of IE must have been in SE Europe or more likely even further to the east. I’d be interested in *any* evidence of Q-celtic in Britain before the Irish dark age settlements of Argyll, West Wales and Cornwall, or even northern France for that matter.


            • I don’t believe that anyone is arguing that the Celtic languages are anything but Indo-European in origin and form.

              The “Celtic from the West” paradigm refers to the emergence of Celtic speaking peoples from pre-existing, linguistically and culturally Indo-European communities along the West Atlantic littoral in the Bronze Age or late Neolithic, depending on how early one places the presence of Indo-European cultures in central and western Europe (the old Kurgan hypothesis, Renfrew’s theory tying language distribution to the spread of agriculture, or even the more controversial Palaeolithic Continuity Theory).

              Q-Celtic tongues or those that were recently Q-Celtic are found in Ireland and the Iberian peninsula (note that by using the old terms “Q-” and “P-” I do not dismiss the later Insular/Continental classification. The two are not incompatible).

              Since the P-Celtic languages represent later innovative dialects developed in Continental Europe from an original base form of the Celtic speech of which the older, more conservative Q-Celtic dialects are a good example, one would be hard pressed to find any definitive examples in northern France. Iberia of course is a different if not straightforward matter.

              I don’t see any politics in it, to be honest. Pre-Medieval Scotland as a mix of original Goidelic, Brythonic and a Goidelic-Brythonic “hybrid” (of whatever make up or original form; whichever speech influenced or replaced which) seems perfectly reasonable to me? If “Northern British” was still spoken in the vicinity of Ail Chluaidhe I would be as supportive of it as any Gaelic tongue.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: