Saturday, 14 January 2012

The antiquity of the Scots In Ulster

A lot of people like to make the point that the Scottish are in fact ancestrally Irish, which is only partly true. They are usually referring of course to the Scoti, a Latin name given by the Romans to describe Irish raiders, who would loot & plunder parts of northern Britain in the 4th century before later going on to carve out the kingdom of Dalriada. Of course there was already a large population of  indigenous Picts & Britons living in Caledonia (Scotland) long before the arrival of the Scoti. The kingdom of Dalriada and the greater Highlands area has always been sparsely populated and the vast majority of the Scottish people have always lived in the Lowlands. If the Scoti were indeed Irish settlers/invaders of the western Highlands (some academics now doubt this) then it's estimated there would have been only a few thousand souls that settled there during that time.  Today the population of the entire Highlands is less than 5% of the total population of Scotland, even though it covers a third of the country's land mass. In fact there is a lot more traceable Ulster genetic heritage in the Lowlands than there is in the Highlands. So while a portion of Scotland's population overall is undoubtedly descended from the Irish, the majority isn't. 

Ulster-Scottish kingdom of Dalriada

Going in the opposite direction, there has always been migration of people from Scotland to Ulster, stretching back to Mesolithic period when the first humans permanently settled in Ireland. Long before the Plantations, before the Hamilton & Montgomery settlement, before the Gallowglass (the Antrim Scots), the Scots had influence in Ulster.

In the summer of 637, the Battle Of Moira was reputed to be the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland. King Congal of Ulster and his allies from Dalriada mustered an army of Ulstermen, Cruthin, Scots, Picts & Anglo Saxons (Sassenachs) to fight against the High King of Ireland, Domnall II. The defeat & death of Congal  led to the loss of Ulaid & Dalriada territory to the Ui'Neills and the retreat of many Ulstermen/Cruthin to Scotland. The Cruthin people of Ulster were referred to by the Gaels as Picts. The Irish word Cruithne meaning that they believed the Cruthin originated in Pritani (or Qritani in Goidelic), which was Britain, most likely from modern day Scotland. Perhaps they had originally spoke the same ancient form of the Brythonic (British) celtic language as the Scottish Picts. Noted historian professor T. F. O'Rahilly said of the Cruthin, that they were "the earliest inhabitants of these islands to whom a name can be assigned".

Battle of Moira, Co. Down 673 A.D.

Even before the Ulster-Scottish kingdom of Dalriada and even before the Cruthin  there were 'Scots' (or rather people originating from northern Britain) in Ulster. One of the earliest known human settlements in Ireland is in Mountsandel, Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland. It's believed these Mesolithic peoples came here from Scotland, first settling in Co Antrim some 9000 years ago.  It is thought they were attracted to the coast of Co. Antrim in the search for flint, which they would have known was to be found in the limestone cliffs they could see distantly glinting in the sun from  the coast of modern day Scotland. Flint was a rare and valuable commodity in northern Britain. These were amongst Ireland's first people. They would have been descendants of Iberian migrants who first settled southern England and over the course of many generations, as the Ice Age receded, moved up through Britain and finally over to Ireland, maybe via a seasonal land-bridge connecting south west Scotland to the Antrim coast. The ancient stone Court Cairn tombs of the British Isles, built around 6000 years ago in the Neolithic period are most highly concentrated in South west Scotland & North East Ireland. This is proof of a common culture and shared beliefs between Scotland and Ulster going back into the midsts of time.

Mountsandel (1) and other prehistoric sites

artists impression of a Court Cairn tomb

So it is perhaps more accurate to say that the Irish are descended from the people of (what is now called) Scotland. We are indigenous peoples of this land and the migration between Ulster & Scotland has been constant throughout the millennia. Ireland, Scotland and the rest of Britain share the same ancient race of ancestors at their core. For anyone to say the Scots are foreigners in Ulster is plainly wrong and  i would suggest they take a long look back into the depths of Irish history!

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