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Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland
II. Gaelic Society

merger of the Kingdoms of the Scots, or Irishmen from Dal Riada in northeast Ireland (long settled in Argyle on the west coast of Scotland), with the people known as the Cruithne (or Picts), the native people of the rest of what would eventually become Scotland. Much of the subsequent history of these areas centered around the attempts of their chief tribal dynasties to make these "over kingdoms" a political reality.

Meanwhile, geographical factors in Scotland and Ulster, such as mountains and glens, together with the presence of sparser, less diverse population groups, combined to encourage the development of more tightly knit, formalized clan groups, especially toward the sixteenth century. It was precisely these clans and families who were successful in maintaining their group identity beyond the Gaelic period, which ended between 1600 and 1750. The people of these areas could more generally share in the Heroic tradition of Gaelic literature, as members of an Heroic aristocracy, and this is reflected in the number of northern families tracing themselves back to characters in that Heroic literature, particularly the "Ulster Cycle." As a genealogical note however, it should be pointed out that, especially in Scotland, the tribal following of a chief was often encouraged to take the name of the chief, once surnames came into general use in place of clan names. What this means is that not every clansman who bore the name "Robertson" (Mac Raibeirt) was descended from a Robertson chief in the male line, although somehow related either in the female line, or as a male-line branch from before the time of Raibeirt, eponymous ancestor of the Robertson chiefs. This taking of the chief’s name was an expression of the old kinship, and was a way for the group to promote their solidarity as a socio-political entity, a phenomenon aided by the relatively late (fourteenth century) general adoption in Scotland of surnames as opposed to clan-names. In Ireland to the south of Ulster, and especially in Munster, society continued to reflect the ancient tribal patterns which emphasized a more limited, numerically inferior warrior aristocracy (the Eoghanacht) in overlord status over an ethnically diverse population.

Nevertheless, Gaelic society in general involved a shared racial-national heritage. This was a time-honored culture which was no more and no less than the lasting expression of its active bearers, the men and women who lived it, made it, and passed it on to their descendants. The culture itself was superimposed over a latticework of tribal divisions; some independent, some semi-independent but owing tribute to another. Central to it was a tribal spirit of patriarchal, extended-family independence. In this spirit, honor was upheld by the working of the clan-lands, and by the demonstrated ability and strength to hold those lands by the sword. A family lost face if it failed to uphold its tribal obligations, for the strength of a tribe was the strength of the honorable commitments made by its constituent kindreds, or basic extended-family units, and was therefore a function of tribal unity.

In spite of inter-tribal political and economic competition, Gaelic society

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