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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
II. Gaelic Society


Before their political eclipse in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Gaelic people of Ireland and northern Scotland had lived since prehistoric times in a society which was tribal and pastoral in nature, and whose essential elements had come together toward the beginning of the medieval period. Gaelic society in the early eighth century A.D. thus represented a fusion between the old pagan, Heroic traditions and culture and the new Christian society with its scholarship and monasticism.

This fusion, in its inception, was the bed upon which Gaelic society would flower. It was a cultural synthesis born of a long history of ethno-tribal relationships on Irish soil, and it would, through invasions by Vikings (mainly Norwegians) and Normans, attain new equilibriums with each contact, and continue on in its essentially Gaelic fashion. The resultant culture would maintain its vitality well into the modern period, retaining both its ancient flavor and the universality of its appeal. Far from being on the retreat, it would absorb the Viking and Norman invaders, while by its own expansion it would convert the Picts of Albany (North Scotland) and the Britons of Strathclyde (South Scotland) as well, covering most of medieval Scotland in the process.

The absorption, however, of the Vikings and Normans who settled in Gaeldom worked both ways. The Vikings brought towns, merchant and seafaring expansion, and new blood. Their Norman cousins brought castles and mounted knights in armor, both of which came to play a central role in all later political struggles in the Gaelic areas. The Normans changed the face of Gaeldom forever with efficient land use, encouraging the development of the previously emergent "tribal-dynastic feudalism" of the native kings with a healthy infusion of their own purely Norman feudalism. Thus, while the Normans were Gaelicized, the Gaels were themselves Normanized as well.

Gaeldom in its sixteenth century heyday consisted of a series of tribal kingdoms (tuaths) stretching from the bottom of Ireland, clockwise, to the northern tip of Scotland. For most of their history these kingdoms were under the often nominal or largely symbolic high-kingships of either Ireland or Scotland. Medieval Scotland had in fact resulted from the ninth-century


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