Clans and Families
of Ireland and Scotland III. The Coming of Gaeldom
chivalry of the ancient Gauls in the
face of Roman treachery have their Gaelic counterparts in the Gaelic-English struggles of
more recent times, which culminated with the destruction of Gaeldom in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries. These Celtic traits have left their mark on Western man—on his
love of freedom—and they provide him a link with the past more direct and lasting
than is his nominal connection with Greece and Rome, or even Palestine. It is significant
to remember that the flowering of knightly chivalry in Europe during the High Middle Ages
drew much of its literary inspiration from Celtic sources (such as Welsh tales about King
Arthur and his knights).
In the realm of medieval scholarship, Gaelic vitality and confidence
was responsible for much original thought and creativity at a time when virtually everyone
else in Europe was simply copying the work of the great classical writers, rather than
doing anything innovative themselves. This state of affairs was a symptom of Europe’s
preoccupation with the backward look to Rome. In any case, such Gaelic creativitiy and
independence of thought sometimes provoked a "who do they think they are" form
of Papal criticism, for medieval Europeans set a premium on conformity, which mostly came
at the expense of creative philosophical inquiry. Rationalism would not become generally
popular until much later, though it did make a start during the High Middle Ages, (tenth through
thirteenth centuries). The Gaels, for their part, could find Europeans to be both artless
and monotonous, and seemingly lacking in nobility or subtlety as well, as they looked on
Europeans with a Gaelic perspective.
Such misunderstandings between the two spheres were the inevitable
byproduct of differences in cultural and moral emphasis and perspective (just as was the
later English preoccupation with the "barbarous" elements Gaeldom displayed). As
a nation, Gaelic energy was spent either in internal political strife, or in the Gaelic
fervor for Christian scholarship, missionary work and monasticism. However, Gaeldom was
rich in both human and agricultural resources, and thus constantly had "the wolf at
the door," as the foreigner came to forcibly partake of the richness of the land.
This unchanging fact sounded the death-knell for Gaeldom, for the Gaelic system was
outmoded in this one important sense: Ultimately it could not defend itself against the military, logistical and
economic power of the rising European nation-states of the post—Medieval period.
Gaelic society was in the end too inward-looking, too absorbed in the living and
glorifying of its own archaic culture, and thus failed to move forward with the zeal, for
instance, of the searching and farsighted English.
Though the tribes no longer rule in Gaeldom, the Gaelic language is
still spoken and still reflected in the accent, idiom and syntax of local English speech
in Ireland and Scotland. The cultural legacy of Gaeldom, as opposed to political, is still in existence
for all to appreciate. It is to this fact that this book is dedicated.
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