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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
I. The Identity of the Gaels

The basic organization of Gaelic society before the seventeenth century remained tribal; changes brought on by outside influences were secondary in nature and were generally adapted to the existing social order. Thus the society expressed the vitality of an unbroken connection with its most ancient origins until the power of the Gaelic tribes in Ireland and Scotland was broken by the English. The English facilitated their conquest of Gaeldom with great cruelty, conquering with bravery, political treachery and great military and logistical strength. The Gaelic people were completely disenfranchised and denied education as well. This struck at the very heart of Gaelic society, one of the truly great learned societies since ancient times. However, education did not entirely die. Traditions continued to be passed down, and some semiformal education continued in furtive "hedge row" schools, often run by priests on pain of death.

The Christian church in Gaelic Ireland and Scotland (the Celtic church) had a unique character, and maintained its independence and power from about the time of St. Patrick (ca. 400) to the coming of the Normans (ca. 1200). It was not fully submerged until after the end of the Gaelic period in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Celtic church was from the beginning very important both in missionary activity and in the advancement of learning in Europe. Indeed, many of the oldest European religious houses were founded by Gaelic saints, or had Gaelic pilgrims associated with their beginnings. Throughout history, Gaelic scholar-clerics continued to find a welcome at the courts and monasteries of the Continent. Gaelic missionary and monastic activity (sixth to twelfth centuries) also show a Gaelic wanderlust which is mirrored in the military sphere by Gaelic mercenaries of the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, who fought for hire under foreign lords, as antecedents to the so-called "Wild Geese" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

During the nineteenth century, Gaels in great numbers were cleared from their once-healthy homeland to make way for British agriculture and livestock; the removal was a dirty business which the English rationalized by quaint economic theories proclaiming the Gaelic situation as "hopeless in any case". There was, however, a population explosion in Ireland at this time, and with the coming of the Great Potato Famine of the late 1840s in Ireland, millions of Gaels starved for want of potatoes, while the real agricultural fruit of the land passed on unhindered into England, as per British policy. No less tragic was the clearing of the loyal Highlanders of northern Scotland from the homes of their ancestors of a thousand years, to make way for sheep. On the brighter side of irony is the fact that there are, as a result of immigration (especially in North America), many millions more Gaels in the world community than could ever have been nurtured on the "old sod" of Ireland and Scotland alone.

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