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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: July 2009

7 - Anglo-French acculturation and the Irish element in Scottish identity


It is well known that in the central Middle Ages the native populations of Ireland and most of Scotland shared the same language, ‘high culture’ and major saints' cults. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that they formed a single people – identified in their own language as Gáedil – who stretched from Munster in the south to Moray in the north, and whose élite interacted with each other culturally and politically irrespective of any division into Ireland and Scotland. We should not be surprised, for instance, that the first record of a mormaer of Mar (a region straddling the rivers Dee and Don in Aberdeenshire) is as a casualty fighting for Brian Bóruma at the battle of Clontarf (1014). Another example of this pan-Gaelic vision is King Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair's famous endowment, in 1169, of funds to assist the fer léginn (lector) of Armagh in the instruction of students from Ireland and Scotland. And when Robert Bruce faced his destiny in 1306–7, he asked Irish kings to support him because ‘we come from the seed of one nation’.

By the time Robert Bruce dispatched his words of pan-Gaelic fraternity to Ireland, however, what being Scoti was understood to mean – at least as articulated by the kingdom's literati – had taken a new form.