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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
III. The Coming of Gaeldom


Scotland, and this epithet was symbolic of the fact that the Scottish kingship was over a national family of related tribes, wherever they might be, and not just over a population arbitrarily residing within a particular territory. The many kingdoms of Ireland were similarly tribal, as were the early Germanic kingdoms of Europe (such as the Kingdom of the Franks), though the Germanic peoples tended to emphasize the ties of chieftain and follower (such as with a band of warriors) along with those of kinship, and this certainly made it easier for them to let go of tribalism in favor of something new. After the high-kingship of the Picto-Scots was finally transformed into a secure central kingdom of Scots under the Stewarts during the fifteenth century, the Gaelic part of that kingdom looked on their king as one who derived his mandate to rule from being the chief of chiefs, i.e., as the chief was to the clan, so the king was to all the clan chiefs themselves. Tribal systems provided for a more personal relationship between king and people, manifest at all levels of society, as discussed in the previous chapter.

It is important not to associate Gaeldom with the general decline of Celtic societies on the Continent, for long after the P—Celts of the European mainland had seen their fortune wane, the Q—Celts of Gaeldom were expanding their territory with all the vitality of their Indo-European cousins and contemporaries, the fifth-century Germanic tribes of Europe. Gaeldom had never bowed its head to the foreigner, and its perspective was one of pride, confident strength, and expansion. This is reflected later in the attitude of the native Irish chiefs of the sixteenth century, as they were (perhaps regrettably) for the most part unrelenting and disdainful of English conquest. Foppish Elizabethan ways certainly elicited a boisterous reaction from members of the O’Neill’s heavily armed bodyguard on his historic visit to London in 1562.

Throughout the medieval period, Gaels had been involved in European warfare, primarily as mercenaries. They were also continuously at the heart of European scholarship and monasticism, and continued to send monks or mercenaries as the whim took them, throughout their history, demonstrating in the process the wanderlust so typical to the Indo-European psyche. Here we see mirrored in the Gaelic pilgrimage the wanderings of the early Germanic tribes as they took possession of Europe after Rome, and also the drive that took other Indo-Europeans as far afield as India, Persia and Asia Minor.

The still-pagan Vikings were the last of the great Germanic wanderers from the North, and it is interesting to point out that in their westerly exploration (ninth to twelfth centuries) they found themselves preceded at every turn by the Gaelic lay-monastic settlements: In the Outer Isles of the Hebrides, Iceland and even in North America, where, according to the saga evidence, they found a European community they called Great Ireland, or Whitemen’s Land (Anderson 337—338). In Iceland, even today, the Christian church is strikingly similar in its social adaptation to the Celtic original, a situation indicative of both its Celtic antecedent, and the continued social pressures of


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