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Claims of Ireland
by Sharron Gunn

I agree with some of the interpretations in the article "Claims of Ireland" and disagree with others.

    Anyone who speaks Scottish Gaelic and has some knowledge of Irish Gaelic will recognize the similarity of the languages. The dialects of Donegal are quite comprehensible to the people of Islay and Colonsay for instance. A Lewis person would have a great deal of difficulty understanding a person from Kerry. Still after a few months of acquaintance they will be able to communicate in Gaelic.

    The folklore and mythology of Gaelic Scotland and Ireland is shared. Until the early 20th century the most popular stories in Gaelic were about Fionn MacCumhail. In Ireland 100 different story motifs about Fionn have been collected and from Scotland 400 motifs about Fionn have been collected. The repetoire of Scots and Irish Gaelic storytellers is startingly similar: stories of Fionn, Gràinne, Cuchallain, Deirdre, the Speckled Bull, the Battle of the Birds etc. Belief in the supernatural much the same: the Banshee, Banbha (Banff), the ways of making prophecies and of cursing and blessing.

    The "Book of Kells" was most likely written in Iona. The "Chronicles of Iona" are embedded in the "Annals of Ulster". The "Book of Durrow" was likely written in the Kingdom of Northumbria. Today no one doubts that the "Book of Deer was written by Scottish Gaels in the monastery of Deer. (Deer at that time was Gaelic-speaking.) Bergin's "Irish Bardic Poetry" contains poems by Scottish poets to Irish patrons and poems by Irish poets to Scottish patrons. "Duanaire Finn", a 17th century manuscript collection of Fionn stories (published by the Irish Texts Society), was commissioned by a MacDonald of the Isles. Rather than say the manuscripts which survive as "belonging to Scotland or Ireland", it would be more accurate to say that they were written by Gaels wherever they were living. Irish scholars make copious use of Scottish sources and their titles would be more accurate if the word "Gaelic" were used instead of "Celtic" or "Irish".

    The literary dialect of Gaelic, used by poets and historians, was taught in formal schools mostly in Ireland and was in use until the early 18th century. The last poet to use the literary dialect was a Scottish Highlander called Dòmhnall MacMhuirich who died about 1740. He was descended from a poetic dynasty who made a living from poetry and history for more than 20 generations. Scholars cannot discern the origin of a poet who used this dialect which was common to all of Gaelic Scotland and Ireland.

    Most historians agree that a considerable migration took place in the 5th-6th centuries AD; however, there have been migrations between Ireland and Scotland (and the other bits of Britain) for millenia. The society of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, whose basic unit was the clan (Gaelic: fine) is similar as is the Gaelic terminology to describe it. The laws were shared, although differentiated by contact with feudal law, introduced by French and English-speaking peoples.

M.A. (honours) Scottish History and Celtic Studies, Glasgow University


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Revue Celtique
Scottish Gaelic Studies
Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness

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