The GAELS (Irish pronunciation: ,
Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: ;
Irish : Na Gaeil,
Scottish Gaelic : Na Gàidheil, Manx : Ny Gaeil) are
an ethnolinguistic group native to northwestern Europe . They are
associated with the
Gaelic languages : a branch of the Celtic
languages comprising Irish , Manx and
Scottish Gaelic . Historically,
the ethnonyms Irish and Scots referred to the
Gaels in general, but
the scope of those nationalities is today more complex.
Gaelic language and culture originated in
Ireland , extending to Dál
Riata in western
Scotland . In antiquity the
Gaels traded with the
Roman Empire and also raided
Roman Britain . In the Middle Ages,
Gaelic culture became dominant throughout the rest of
Scotland and the
Isle of Man
Isle of Man . There was also some Gaelic settlement in
Cornwall. In the
Viking Age , small numbers of
Vikings raided and
settled in Gaelic lands, becoming the
Norse-Gaels . In the 9th
Dál Riata and
Pictland merged to form the Gaelic Kingdom of
Alba . Meanwhile,
Gaelic Ireland was made up of several kingdoms, with
a High King often claiming lordship over them.
In the 12th century, Normans conquered parts of
Ireland (leading to
centuries of conflict), while parts of
Scotland became Normanized .
Gaelic culture remained strong throughout Ireland, the
Scottish Highlands and
Galloway . In the early 17th century, the last
Gaelic kingdoms in
Ireland fell under English control. James I sought
to subdue the
Gaels and wipe out their culture; in
colonizing Gaelic land with English-speaking British settlers, and in
Scottish Highlands via repressive laws such as the Statutes of
Iona . In the following centuries most
Gaels were gradually anglicized
Gaelic language mostly supplanted by English. However, it
continues to be the main language in Ireland's
Outer Hebrides . The modern descendants of the
spread throughout Britain, the
Gaelic society traditionally centered around the clan , each with its
own territory and chieftain, elected through tanistry . The
originally pagans who worshipped the
Tuatha Dé Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann , venerated the
ancestors and believed in an Otherworld . Their four yearly festivals
Lughnasa – continued to be
celebrated into modern times. The
Gaels have a strong oral tradition ,
traditionally maintained by shanachies . Inscription in the Gaelic
ogham alphabet began in the 1st century. Their conversion to
Christianity accompanied the introduction of writing, and Irish Gaelic
has the oldest vernacular literature in western Europe. Irish
Brehon law were preserved, albeit Christianized. Gaelic
monasteries were renowned centres of learning and played a key role in
Insular art , while Gaelic missionaries and scholars were
highly influential in western Europe. In the Middle Ages, most Gaels
lived in roundhouses and ringforts . The
Gaels had their own style of
dress, which (in Scotland) became the belted plaid and kilt . They
also have distinctive music , dance, and sports . Gaelic culture
continues to be a major component of Irish , Scottish and Manx culture
* 1 Ethnonyms
* 1.2 Irish
* 1.3 Scots
* 2 Population
* 2.1 Kinship groups
* 2.3 Demographics
* 2.4 Diaspora
* 3 History
* 3.1 Origins
* 3.2 Ancient
* 3.3 Medieval
* 3.4 Imperial
* 3.5 Modern
* 4 Culture
* 4.1 Language
* 4.1.1 Emergence
* 4.1.2 Contemporary
* 4.2 Religion
* 4.2.1 Pre-Christian
* 5 Notes
* 6 References
* 6.1 Bibliography
* 7 External links
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Throughout the centuries,
Gaels and Gaelic-speakers have been known
by a number of names. The most consistent of these have been Gael,
Irish and Scots . The latter two have developed more ambiguous
meanings, due to the early modern concept of the nation state, which
encompasses non-Gaels. Other terms, such as Milesian , are not often
Old Norse name for the
Informally, archetypal forenames such as
sometimes used for Gaels.
The word Gaelic is first recorded in print in the
English language in
the 1770s, replacing the earlier word Gathelik which is attested as
far back as 1596. Gael, defined as a "member of the Gaelic race", is
first attested in print in 1810. The name ultimately derives from the
Old Irish word Goídel, spelled officially today as Gaedheal, Gael
(Irish and Manx ) and Gàidheal (
Scottish Gaelic ). In early modern
Irish , the words Gaelic and Gael were spelled respectively Gaoidhealg
and Gaoidheal. The more antiquarian term Goidels came to be used by
some due to
Edward Lhuyd 's work on the relationship between Celtic
languages (with the
Gaelic languages being "Q-Celtic"). This term was
further popularised in academia by
John Rhys ; the first Professor of
Oxford University ; due to his work Celtic Britain (1882).
According to the scholar
John T. Koch in his Celtic Culture: A
Historical Encyclopedia, the word in the form of Guoidel was borrowed
from a Primitive Welsh form that became an
Old Welsh term, roughly
meaning "forest people", "wild men" or later "warriors". It is
recorded as a personal name in the
Book of Llandaff . This term shared
a root with the
Old Irish fíad "deer", and was partially cognate with
Féni, from the
Proto-Indo-European *weidh-n-jo-. This latter word
is the origin of
Iverni are one of the population groups mentioned in Ptolemy
A common name, passed down to the modern day, is Irish ; this existed
English language during the 13th century in the form of Irisce,
which derived from the stem of
Old English Iras "inhabitant of
Old Norse irar. The ultimate origin of this word is
thought to be from the
Ériu , which is from Old Celtic
*Iveriu, likely associated with the
Proto-Indo-European term *pi-wer-
Ériu is mentioned as a goddess in the Lebor
Gabála Érenn as a daughter of
Ernmas of the
Tuatha Dé Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann .
Along with her sisters
Fódla , she is said to have made a
deal with the Milesians to name the island after her.
Greeks ; in particular
Ptolemy in his 2nd century
Geographia , possibly based on earlier sources; located a group known
Iverni (Greek : Ιουερνοι) in the south-west of Ireland.
This group has been associated with the
Érainn of Irish tradition by
T. F. O\'Rahilly and others. The Érainn; claiming descent from a
Milesian eponymous ancestor named
Ailill Érann ; were the hegemonic
Ireland prior to the rise of the descendants of Conn of the
Hundred Battles and
Mug Nuadat . The
Érainn included peoples such as
Corcu Loígde and Dál Riata.
Ancient Roman writers, such as
Caesar , Pliny and
Tacitus , derived from "Ivernia" the name Hibernia
. Thus the name Hibernian also comes from this root (although the
Romans tended to call the
The Romans began to use the term
Scoti to describe the
Gaels in the
Latin language from the 4th century onward. In the context of the
Gaels were raiding the west coast of Britain for hostages,
and they took part in the
Great Conspiracy ; it is thus conjectured
that the term means "raider, pirate". Although the
Dál Riata settled
Argyll in the 6th century, the term "Scots" did not just apply to
them, but to
Gaels in general. Examples can be taken from Johannes
Scotus Eriugena and other figures from Hiberno-
Latin culture and the
Schottenkloster founded by Irish
Gaels in Germanic lands. It is also
worth noting that eponymous characters were created in medieval Irish
Scota , described as an Egyptian princess, and her
Goídel Glas .
Gaels of northern Britain referred to themselves as Albannaich in
their own tongue and their realm as the
Kingdom of Alba (founded as a
successor state to
Pictland and Dál Riata). Germanic groups tended to
refer to the Gael as "Scottas" and so when Anglo-Saxon influence grew
at court with Duncan II , the
Latin Rex Scottorum began to be used and
the realm was known as
Scotland ; this process and cultural shift was
put into full effect under David I , who let the Normans come to power
and furthered the Lowland-Highland divide. Lowland Germanics in
Scotland spoke a language called Inglis , which they started to call
Scottis (Scots ) in the 16th century, while they in turn began to
Scottish Gaelic as "Erse" (from 'Irish').
Irish clans and
Clan tartan of
MacGregors . Distinctive patterns were adopted during the
In traditional Gaelic society, a patrilineal kinship group is
referred to as a clann ; this signifies a tribal grouping descended
from a common ancestor, much larger than a personal family, which may
also consist of various kindreds and septs . Using the Munster-based
Eóganachta as an example, members of this clann claim patrilineal
Éogan Mór . It is further divided into major kindreds,
such as the
Eóganacht Chaisil , Glendamnach ,
Áine , Locha Léin and
Raithlind. These kindreds themselves contain septs that have passed
down as Irish Gaelic surnames , for example the Eóganacht Chaisil
includes O'Callaghan, MacCarthy,
O'Sullivan and others.
Gaels can be grouped into the following major historical
Uí Néill ,
Clan Colla ,
Uí Maine ,
Dál gCais , Eóganachta,
Dál Riata , Dál
Fiatach , etc.),
Dál nAraidi ). In the
Highlands, the various Gaelic-originated clans tended to claim descent
from one of the Irish groups, particularly those from
Ulster . The
Dál Riata (i.e. – MacGregor, MacDuff, MacLaren, etc.) claimed
Síl Conairi , for instance. Some arrivals in the High
Middle Ages (i.e. – MacNeill, Buchanan, Munro, etc.) claimed to be
of the Uí Néill. As part of their self-justification; taking over
power from the
Norse-Gael MacLeod in the Hebrides; the MacDonalds
claimed to be from
For the Irish Gaels, the old clan system did not survive the
incorporation of the Gaelic realms into the
Kingdom of Ireland
Kingdom of Ireland and the
Flight of the Earls
Flight of the Earls . As a result of the
Gaelic revival ,
there has been renewed interest in
Irish genealogy ; the Irish
Government recognised Gaelic
Chiefs of the Name since the 1940s. The
Finte na hÉireann (Clans of Ireland) was founded in 1989 to gather
together clan associations; individual clan associations operate
throughout the world and produce journals for their septs. The
Highland clans held out until the 18th century
Jacobite risings .
During the Victorian-era, symbolic tartans, crests and badges were
retroactively applied to clans.
Clan associations built up over time
and Na Fineachan Gàidhealach (The Highland Clans) was founded in
Distribution of Y-chromosomal
Haplogroup R-M269 in Europe.
At the turn of the 21st century, the principles of human genetics and
genetic genealogy were applied to the study of populations of Gaelic
origin. It was found that the overwhelming majority belonged to
R1b in their Y-chromosome
DNA (as with much of Western
Europe ). The two other peoples who recorded higher than 85% for R1b
in a 2009 study published in the scientific journal,
PLOS Biology ,
were the Welsh and the
The development of in-depth studies of
DNA sequences known as STRs
and SNPs , have allowed geneticists to associate subclades with
specific Gaelic kindred groupings (and their surnames), vindicating
significant elements of
Gaelic genealogy , as found in works such as
Leabhar na nGenealach . Examples can be taken from the Uí Néill
(i.e. – O'Neill, O'Donnell, Gallagher, etc.), who are associated
with R-M222 and the
Dál gCais (i.e. – O'Brien, McMahon, Kennedy,
etc.) who are associated with R-L226. With regard to Gaelic genetic
genealogy studies, these developments in subclades have aided people
in finding their original clan group in the case of a non-paternity
event , with
Family Tree DNA having the largest such database at
In countries where
Gaels live, census records documenting population
statistics have taken place. The following includes the number of
speakers of a
Gaelic language (either Gaeilge, also known as Irish,
Gàidhlig, known as Scottish Gaelic, or Gaelg, known as Manx). The
question of ethnic identity is slightly more complex, but included
below are those who identify with Irish or Scottish ethnicity. It
should be taken into account that not all will have Gaelic descent,
especially in the case of
Scotland , due to the nature of the Lowlands
. It also depends on the self-reported response of the individual and
so is a rough guide rather than an exact science.
The two comparatively "major" Gaelic nations in the modern era are
Ireland (which in the 2002 census had 185,838 people who spoke Irish
"daily" and 1,570,894 who were "able" to speak it) and Scotland
(58,552 "Gaelic speakers" and 92,400 with "some Gaelic language
ability" in the 2001 census ). Communities where the languages are
still spoken natively are restricted largely to the west coast of each
country and especially the
Hebrides in Scotland. However, a large
proportion of the Gaelic speaking population now lives in the cities
Edinburgh in Scotland, and
Galway , Cork and
Dublin in Ireland. There are about 2,000
Scottish Gaelic speakers in
Canadian Gaelic dialect), although many are elderly and
Nova Scotia and more specifically
Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island .
According to the 2000 US Census, there are over 25,000
Irish-speakers in the
United States with the majority found in urban
areas with large Irish-American communities such as
Boston , New York
City and Chicago.
United Kingdom and dependencies
Irish diaspora and
Scottish diaspora The
Emigrants, painting from 1844. This depicts a Highland Scots family in
Gaelic dress migrating to
New Zealand .
As the Western
Roman Empire began to collapse, the
Gaels (along with
the Anglo-Saxons) were one of the peoples able to take advantage in
Great Britain from the 4th century onwards. The proto-
Liatháin and the
Déisi Muman of Dyfed both established colonies in
Wales . Further to the north, the Érainn's Dál Riata
Argyll (eventually founding Alba ) and there was a
significant Gaelic influence in
Northumbria and the MacAngus clan
arose to the Pictish kingship by the 8th century. Gaelic Christian
missionaries were also active across the
Frankish Empire . With the
coming of the
Viking Age and their slave markets,
Gaels were also
dispersed in this way across the realms under Viking control; as a
legacy, in genetic studies,
Icelanders exhibit high levels of
Since the fall of Gaelic polities, the
Gaels have made their way
across parts of the world, mainly under the auspices of the British
Empire , but to a lesser extent under the
Spanish Empire . Core
destinations for "exiles" have been
North America (what is today the
United States and
Canada ) and
New Zealand ).
There has also been a mass "internal migration" within the British
Isles from the 19th century, with Gaelic Irish peasantry and
Highlanders migrating to the English-speaking industrial cities of
Edinburgh and others. Many underwent a linguistic
"Anglicisation" and some eventually merged with Anglo populations.
Goídel Glas voyaging from Egypt. From the 15th
century chronicle the
In their own national epic contained within medieval works such as
Lebor Gabála Érenn
Lebor Gabála Érenn , the
Gaels trace the origin of their people
to an eponymous ancestor named
Goídel Glas . He is described as a
Scythian prince (the grandson of
Fénius Farsaid ), who is credited
with creating the
Gaelic languages . Goídel's mother is called Scota
, described as an Egyptian princess (some modern writers associate her
with Meritaten ). The
Gaels are depicted as wandering from place to
place for hundreds of years; they spend time in
Scythia , the
Caspian Sea and Getulia , before arriving in
where their king,
Breogán , is said to have founded Galicia .
Gaels are then said to have sailed to
Ireland via Galicia in the
form of the Milesians , sons of
Míl Espáine . The
Gaels fight a
battle of sorcery with the
Tuatha Dé Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann , the gods, who inhabited
Ireland at the time.
Ériu , a goddess of the land, promises the Gaels
Ireland shall be theirs so long as they pay tribute to her. They
agree, and their bard Amergin recites an incantation known as the Song
of Amergin. The two groups agree to divide
Ireland between them: the
Gaels take the world above, while the Tuath Dé take the world below
(i.e. the Otherworld ).
DNA studies have revealed some clues about the origin of
Gaels (who are associated with paternal
R-L21 ). Haplogroup R
originated 26,800 years ago in
Central Asia during the Last Ice Age .
R1b branch had broken off by the
Paleolithic and its derivative
R-M269 was found at the
Pontic-Caspian steppe by the
Kurgan hypothesis makes these speakers of
First entering Europe proper 7,000 years ago, the Indo-Europeans
developed bronze weapons and domesticated the horse, giving them the
upper hand in their conquest of the Old Europe and the proliferation
of their lineages. After the
R-L51 subclade founded the Unetice
culture , a derivative
R-L21 moved West, arriving in Britain c. 2100
Ireland c. 2000 BCE, becoming the Gaelic people.
See also: Prehistoric
Ireland , Prehistoric
Scotland , Protohistory
Ireland , and
Scotland during the
Roman Empire The Lia Fáil
at the Hill of Tara, sacred site of inauguration for the Gaelic High
According to the
Annals of the Four Masters , the early branches of
Gaels were the
Heremonians , the
Heberians and the Irians
, descended from the three brothers
Éber Finn and Ír
respectively. Another group were the Ithians, descended from
uncle of Milesius) who were located in South
Leinster (associated with
Brigantes ) but they later became extinct. The Four Masters date
the start of Milesian rule from 1700 BCE. Initially, the Heremonians
dominated the High Kingship of
Ireland from their stronghold of Mide ,
Heberians were given
Munster and the
Irians were given
Ulster . At
this early point of the Milesian-era, the non-Gaelic
Fir Domnann held
Leinster and the
Fir Ol nEchmacht held what was later known as
Connacht (possibly remnants of the
Fir Bolg ).
Iron Age there was heightened activity at a number of
important royal ceremonial sites, including Tara ,
Dún Ailinne ,
Emain Macha . Each was associated with a Gaelic
tribe. The most important was Tara, where the High King (also known as
King of Tara ) was inaugurated on the
Lia Fáil (Stone of
Destiny), which stands to this day. According to the Annals, this era
also saw, during the 7th century BCE, a branch of the Heremonians
known as the
Laigin , descending from
Úgaine Mór 's son Lóegaire
Lorc , displacing the
Fir Bolg remnants in Leinster. This was also a
critical period for the
Ulaid (earlier known as the Irians) as their
kinsman Rudraige Mór took over the High Kingship in the 3rd century
BCE; his offspring would be the subject of the
Ulster Cycle of heroic
tradition, including the epic
Táin Bó Cúailnge
Táin Bó Cúailnge . This includes the
Conchobar mac Nessa and
Fergus mac Róich .
After regaining power, the Heremonians, in the form of Fíachu
Finnolach were overthrown in a 1st-century AD provincial coup. His
Túathal Techtmar was exiled to
Roman Britain before returning to
claim Tara. Based on the accounts of
Tacitus , some modern historians
associate him with an "Irish prince" said to have been entertained by
Agricola , Governor of Britain and speculate at Roman sponsorship.
Conn Cétchathach , is the ancestor of the
would dominate the Irish Middle Ages. They gained control of what
would now be named Connacht. Their close relatives the
groups descend from
Óengus Tuirmech Temrach ) and the
later lose out to them in Ulster, as the descendants of the Three
Niall Noígíallach in
Ailech extended their
hegemony. The Isles in the 5th century. Mainly Goidelic areas.
Mainly Pictish areas. Mainly Brythonic areas.
Gaels emerged into the clear historical record during the
classical-era, with ogham inscriptions and quite detailed references
Greco-Roman ethnography (most notably by
Ptolemy ). The Roman
Empire conquered most of Britain in the 1st century, but did not
Ireland or the far north of Britain. The
Gaels had relations
with the Roman world , mostly through trade. Roman jewelry and coins
have been found at several Irish royal sites, for example. The Gaels,
known to the Romans as
Scoti , also carried out raids on Roman Britain
, together with the
Picts . These raids increased in the 4th century,
as Roman rule in Britain began to collapse . This era was also marked
by a Gaelic presence in Britain; in what is today Wales, the Déisi
Kingdom of Dyfed and the
Uí Liatháin founded Brycheiniog
. There was also some Irish settlement in
Cornwall . To the north,
Dál Riata are held to have established a territory in
Main articles: Medieval
Scotland in the Middle Ages
Ireland during the 5th century, most famously
through a Romano-British slave Patrick , but also through
as Declán , Finnian and the Twelve Apostles of
Ireland . The abbot
and the monk eventually took over certain cultural roles of the aos
dána (not least the roles of druí and seanchaí ) as the oral
culture of the
Gaels was transmitted to script by the arrival of
Ireland during this early time retained
Gaelic culture .
In the Middle Ages,
Gaelic Ireland was divided into a hierarchy of
territories ruled by a hierarchy of kings or chiefs. The smallest
territory was the túath (plural: túatha), which was typically the
territory of a single kin-group. Several túatha formed a mór túath
(overkingdom), which was ruled by an overking. Several overkingdoms
formed a cóiced (province), which was ruled by a provincial king. In
Middle Ages the túath was the main political unit, but
during the following centuries the overkings and provincial kings
became ever more powerful. By the 6th century, the division of
Ireland into two spheres of influence (
Leath Cuinn and Leath Moga )
was largely a reality. In the south, the influence of the Eóganachta
based at Cashel grew further, to the detriment of
Érainn clans such
Corcu Loígde and
Clann Conla . Through their vassals the
Déisi (descended from
Fiacha Suidhe and later known as the Dál gCais
Munster was extended north of the
River Shannon , laying the
Thomond . Aside from their gains in
Ulaid ), the
Uí Néill 's southern branch had also
pushed down into Mide and Brega . By the 9th century, some of the most
powerful kings were being acknowledged as
High King of Ireland
High King of Ireland .
Some, particularly champions of Christianity, hold the 6th to 9th
centuries to be a Golden Age for the Gaels. This is due to the
influence which the
Gaels had across
Western Europe as part of their
Christian missionary activities. Similar to the
Desert Fathers ,
Gaelic monastics were known for their asceticism . Some of the most
celebrated figures of this time were
Columba , Aidan ,
others. Learned in Greek and
Latin during an age of cultural
collapse, the Gaelic scholars were able to gain a presence at the
court of the
Frankish Empire ; perhaps the best known
Johannes Scotus Eriugena . Aside from their activities
abroad, insular art flourished domestically, with artifacts such as
Book of Kells
Book of Kells and
Tara Brooch surviving.
Glendalough , Clonard , Durrow and
Inis Cathaigh are some of the more
prominent Ireland-based monasteries founded during this time.
There is some evidence that the
Gaels may have visited the Faroe
Iceland before the Norse , and that Gaelic monks known as
papar lived there before being driven out by the incoming Norsemen.
Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill was one of the leaders in
the struggle with the Norsemen.
The late 8th century heralded outside involvement in Gaelic affairs,
Scandinavia , known as the
Vikings , began to raid
and pillage settlements looking for booty. The earliest recorded raids
Iona in 795; these hit and run attacks continued
for some time until the
Norsemen began to settle in the 840s at Dublin
(setting up a large slave market),
Waterford and elsewhere.
Norsemen also took most of the
Hebrides and the
Isle of Man
Isle of Man from
Dál Riata clans and established the
Kingdom of the Isles .
At the same time, the
Picts were becoming Gaelicised, and the Gaelic
Dál Riata merged with
Pictland to form the Kingdom of Alba
Kenneth MacAlpin and the
House of Alpin are most associated with
After a spell when the
Norsemen were driven from
Cerball mac Muirecáin , they returned in the reign of
Niall Glúndub , heralding a second Viking period. The Dublin
Norse—some of them, such as
Uí Ímair king
Ragnall ua Ímair
Ragnall ua Ímair now
partly Gaelicised as the
Norse-Gaels —were a serious regional power,
with territories across
Northumbria and York . At the same time, the
Uí Néill branches were involved in an internal power struggle for
hegemony between the northern or southern branches. Donnchad Donn
Munster and took
Cellachán Caisil of the
The destabilisation led to the rise of the
Dál gCais and Brian
Bóruma . Through military might, Brian went about building a Gaelic
Imperium under his High Kingship, even gaining the submission of Máel
Sechnaill mac Domnaill . They were involved in a series of battles
against the Vikings: Tara , Glenmama and Clontarf . The last of these
saw Brian's death in 1014. Brian's campaign is glorified in the Cogad
Gáedel re Gallaib ("The War of the
Gaels with the Foreigners").
The Irish Church became closer to Continental models with the Synod
of Ráth Breasail and the arrival of the
Cistercians . There was also
more trade and communication with Normanised Britain and France.
Between themselves, the
Ó Briain and the
Ó Conchobhair attempted to
build a national monarchy.
The remainder of the
Middle Ages was marked by conflict between Gaels
and Normans . The
Norman invasion of Ireland took place in stages
during the late 12th century. Norman mercenaries landed in
1169 at the request of
Diarmait Mac Murchada
Diarmait Mac Murchada , who sought their help
in regaining his throne. By 1171 the Normans had gained control of
Leinster, and King
Henry II of England
Henry II of England , with the backing of the
Papacy, established the Lordship of
Ireland . The Norman monarchy in
England claimed sovereignty over this territory, leading to centuries
of conflict between the Normans and the native Irish. The origins of a
literary anti-Gaelic sentiment was born at this time, and developed by
the likes of Gerald of
Wales , as part of a propaganda campaign (with
a Gregorian "reform" gloss) to justify taking Gaelic lands. Scotland
also came under Norman influence in the 12th century. The Davidian
Revolution saw the Normanisation of Scotland's monarchy, government
and church; the founding of burghs , which became mainly
English-speaking; and the royally-sponsored immigration of Norman
aristocrats. This Normanisation was mainly limited to the Scottish
Lowlands . In Ireland, the Normans carved out their own
semi-independent lordships, but many Gaelic Irish kingdoms remained
outside Norman control and gallowglass warriors were brought in from
the Highlands to fight for various Irish kings.
In 1315, a Scottish army landed in
Ireland as part of Scotland's war
against England . It was led by
Edward Bruce , brother of Scottish
Robert the Bruce
Robert the Bruce . Despite his own Norman ancestry, Edward urged
the Irish to ally with the Scots by invoking a shared Gaelic ancestry
and culture, and most of the northern kings acknowledged him as High
King of Ireland. However, the campaign ended three years later with
Edward's defeat and death in the
Battle of Faughart .
A Gaelic Irish resurgence began in the mid-14th century: English
royal control shrank to an area known as the Pale and, outside this,
many Norman lords adopted Gaelic culture, becoming culturally
Gaelicised. The English government tried to prevent this through the
Statutes of Kilkenny (1366), which forbade English settlers from
adopting Gaelic culture, but the results were mixed and particularly
in the West, some Normans became Gaelicised.
Gaelic Irish men and noblewomen, c.1575 See also: History of
Ireland (1536–1691) and
Scotland in the early modern period
During the 16th and 17th centuries, the
Gaels were affected by the
policies of the
Tudors and the Stewarts who sought to anglicise the
population and bring both
Ireland and the Highlands under stronger
centralised control, as part of what would become the British Empire
. In 1542,
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII of England declared the Lordship of
Kingdom and himself King of Ireland. The new English, whose power lay
in the Pale of Dublin, then began to conquer the island . Gaelic kings
were encouraged to apply for a surrender and regrant : to surrender
their lands to the king, and then have them regranted as freeholds .
Those who surrendered were also expected to follow English law and
customs, speak English, and convert to the Protestant Anglican Church
. Decades of conflict followed in the reign of Elizabeth I ,
culminating in the Nine Years\' War (1594–1603). The war ended in
defeat for the Irish Gaelic alliance, and brought an end to the
independence of the last Irish Gaelic kingdoms.
In 1603, with the
Union of the Crowns
Union of the Crowns , King James of
became king of England and Ireland. James saw the
Gaels as a barbarous
and rebellious people in need of civilising, and believed that Gaelic
culture should be wiped out. Also, while most of Britain had
converted to Protestantism, most
Gaels had held on to Catholicism.
When the leaders of the Irish Gaelic alliance fled
Ireland in 1607,
their lands were confiscated. James set about colonising this land
with English-speaking Protestant settlers from Britain, in what became
known as the Plantation of
Ulster . It was meant to establish a loyal
British Protestant colony in Ireland's most rebellious region and to
sever Gaelic Ulster's links with Gaelic Scotland. In Scotland, James
attempted to subdue the Gaelic clans and suppress their culture
through laws such as the
Statutes of Iona . He also attempted to
Isle of Lewis with settlers from the Lowlands .
Since then, the
Gaelic language has gradually diminished in most of
Ireland and Scotland. The 19th century was the turning point as The
Great Hunger in Ireland, and across the
Irish Sea the Highland
Clearances , caused mass emigration (leading to Anglicisation, but
also a large diaspora ). The language was rolled back to the Gaelic
strongholds of the north west of Scotland, the west of
Cape Breton Island
Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.
Gaelic revival also occurred in the 19th century, with
organisations such as
Conradh na Gaeilge and An Comunn Gàidhealach
attempting to restore the prestige of
Gaelic culture and the
socio-communal hegemony of the Gaelic languages. Many of the
participants in the
Irish Revolution of 1912–1923 were inspired by
these ideals and so when a sovereign state was formed (the Irish Free
State ), post-colonial enthusiasm for the re-
Gaelicisation of Ireland
was high and promoted through public education. Results were very
mixed however and the
Gaeltacht where native speakers lived continued
to retract. In the 1960s and 70s, pressure from groups such as
Misneach (supported by
Máirtín Ó Cadhain ), the Gluaiseacht Chearta
Siabhialta na Gaeltachta and others; particularly in
Connemara ; paved
the way for the creation of development agencies such as Údarás na
Gaeltachta and state media (television and radio) in Irish.
The last native speaker of Manx died in the 1970s, though use of the
Manx language never fully ceased. There is now a resurgent language
movement and Manx is once again taught in all schools as a second
language and in some as a first language.
Gaelic Ireland and
Culture of Scotland in the High
Gaelic society was traditionally made up of kin groups known as
clans, each with its own territory and headed by a male chieftain.
Succession to the chieftainship or kingship was through tanistry .
When a man became chieftain or king, a relative was elected to be his
deputy or 'tanist' (tánaiste). When the chieftain or king died, his
tanist would automatically succeed him. The tanist had to share the
same great-grandfather as his predecessor (i.e. was of the same
derbfhine ) and he was elected by freemen who also shared the same
great-grandfather. Gaelic law is known as the Fénechas or Brehon
law . The
Gaels have always had a strong oral tradition , maintained
by shanachies . In the ancient and medieval era, most
Gaels lived in
roundhouses and ringforts . The
Gaels had their own style of dress,
which became the modern belted plaid and kilt in Scotland. They also
have their own style of music and dance, and their own sports (see
Gaelic games and
Highland games ).
Main article: History of the
Auraicept na n-Éces
Auraicept na n-Éces , 7th century, explaining ogham .
Gaelic languages are part of the
Celtic languages and fall under
Indo-European language family. There are two main historical
theories concerning the origin and development of the Gaelic languages
Proto-Celtic root: the North Atlantic-based Insular Celtic
hypothesis posits that Goidelic and
Brythonic languages have a more
recent common ancestor than Continental
Celtic languages , while the
Q-Celtic and P-Celtic hypothesis posits that Goidelic is more closely
related to the
Celtiberian language , while Brythonic is closer to the
Gaulish language .
Estimates of the emergence of proto-Gaelic in
Ireland vary widely
from the introduction of agriculture c. 7000–6000 BC to around the
first few centuries BC. Little can be said with certainty, as the
language now known as
Old Irish —ancestral to modern Irish , Scots
Gaelic and Manx —only began to be properly recorded with the
Ireland in the 4th century, after the introduction
Roman script .
Primitive Irish does appear in a specialised
written form, using a unique script known as
Ogham . The oldest
Ogham have survived in the form of memorial inscriptions
or short epitaphs on pillar-like stone monuments (see Mac Cairthinn
mac Coelboth ).
Ogham stones are found throughout
neighbouring parts of Britain. This form of written
Primitive Irish is
thought to have been in use as early as 1000 BC. The script frequently
encodes a name or description of the owner and surrounding region, and
it is possible that the inscribed stones may have represented
Respondents who stated they could speak Irish and Gaelic
in the 2011 censuses.
Gaelic languages have been in steep decline since the beginning
of the 19th century, when they were majority languages of
the Scottish Highlands; today they are endangered languages . The
spread of the
English language has resulted in a vast majority of
people of Gaelic ancestry being unable to speak a Goidelic language.
As far back as the
Statutes of Kilkenny in 1366, the British
government had dissuaded use of Gaelic for political reasons. The
Statutes of Iona in 1609 and the SSPCK in the Highlands (for most of
its history) are also notable examples. As the old Gaelic aristocracy
were displaced or assimilated, the language lost its prestige and
became primarily a peasant language, rather than one of education and
During the 19th century, a number of Gaeilgeoir organisations were
founded to promote a broad cultural and linguistic revival. Conradh na
Gaeilge (English: the Gaelic League) was set up in 1893 and had its
origins in Charles Owen O\'Conor 's Gaelic Union, itself a derivative
Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language . Similar
Highland Gaelic groups existed, such as
An Comunn Gàidhealach . At
this time, Irish Gaelic was widely spoken along the Western seaboard
(and a few other enclaves) and the Gaelic League began defining it as
Gaeltacht ", idealised as the core of true Irish-Ireland, rather
than the Anglo-dominated Dublin. Although the Gaelic League itself
aimed to be apolitical, this ideal was attractive to militant
republicans such as the
Irish Republican Brotherhood , who formulated
and led the
Irish Revolution at the turn of the 20th century; a key
Pádraig Pearse , imagined an
Ireland "Not merely Free but
Gaelic as well – Not merely Gaelic but Free as well." Scottish
Gaelic did not undergo as extensive of a politicalisation at this
juncture, as nationalists there tended to focus on the Lowland mythos
William Wallace rather than the
During the 1950s, the independent Irish state developed An Caighdeán
Oifigiúil as a national standard for the
Irish language (using
elements from local dialects but leaning towards
Connacht Irish ),
with a simplified spelling. Until 1973, school children had to pass
Modern Irish to achieve a Leaving Cert and studying the subject
remains obligatory. There are also
Gaelscoileanna where children are
taught exclusively through the medium of Irish. In the Gaeltacht
itself, the language has continued to be in crisis under the pressure
of globalism, but there are institutions such as Údarás na
Gaeltachta and a Minister for the
Gaeltacht , as well as media outlets
RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta to support it. The last
native Manx Gaelic speaker died in 1974, although there are ongoing
attempts at revival. While the
Gàidhealtachd has retracted in the
Scottish Gaelic has enjoyed renewed support with the
Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 , establishing the Bòrd na
Gàidhlig under the devolved
Scottish Government . This has seen the
growth of Gaelic medium education . There are also media outlets such
BBC Alba and
BBC Radio nan Gàidheal , although these have been
criticized for excessive use of English and pandering to an
An artistic rendering of the hero
Fionn mac Cumhaill
Fionn mac Cumhaill and the
Fianna warrior band.
The traditional, or "pagan ", worldview of the pre-Christian
Ireland is typically described as animistic , polytheistic , ancestor
venerating and focused on the hero cult of archetypal Gaelic warriors
Cú Chulainn and
Fionn mac Cumhaill
Fionn mac Cumhaill . The four seasonal
festivals celebrated in the
Gaelic calendar , still observed to this
Samhain . While the
general worldview of the Gaelic tradition has been recovered, a major
issue for academic scholars is that
Gaelic culture was oral prior to
the coming of
Christianity and monks were the first to record the
beliefs of this rival worldview as a "mythology" . Unlike other
religions, there is no overall "holy book " systematically setting out
exact rules to follow, but various works, such as the Lebor Gabála
Táin Bó Cúailnge
Táin Bó Cúailnge and
Acallam na Senórach ,
represent the metaphysical orientation of Gaelachas.
The main gods held in high regard were the
Tuatha Dé Danann
Tuatha Dé Danann , the
superhuman beings said to have ruled
Ireland before the coming of the
Milesians, known in later times as the aes sídhe . Among the gods
were male and female deities such as
The Dagda ,
Nuada , The
Áine , as well as many others. Some
of them were associated with specific social functions, seasonal
events and personal archetypal qualities. Some physical locations of
Ireland related to these stories include the Brú na
Hill of Tara
Hill of Tara and
Hill of Uisneach . Although the sídhe were
held to intervene in worldly affairs sometimes, particularly battles
and issues of sovereignty, the gods were held to reside in the
Otherworld , also known as
Mag Mell (Plain of Joy) or Tír na nÓg
(Land of the Young). This realm was variously held to be located on a
set of islands or underground. The
Gaels believed that certain heroic
persons could gain access to this spiritual realm, as recounted in the
various echtra (adventure) and immram (voyage) tales.
High cross on
Iona , where
Columba founded a monastery. Main
Christianisation during the 5th century and that
religion, de facto, remains the predominant one to this day, although
irreligion is fast rising. At first the
Christian Church had
difficulty infiltrating Gaelic life:
Ireland had never been part of
Roman Empire and was a decentralised tribal society, making
patron-based mass conversion problematic. It gradually penetrated
through the remnants of
Roman Britain and is especially associated
with the activities of Patrick , a Briton who had been a slave in
Ireland. He tried to explain its doctrines by using elements of
native folk tradition, so
Gaelic culture itself was not completely
cast aside and to some extent local
Christianity was Gaelicised. The
last High King inaugurated in the pagan style was Diarmait mac
Cerbaill . The 6th-9th centuries are generally held to be the height
Christianity , with numerous saints, scholars and works of
This balance began to unravel during the 12th century with the
Bernard of Clairvaux
Bernard of Clairvaux , who attacked various Gaelic customs
(including polygamy and hereditary clergy) as "pagan". The Catholic
Church of the time, fresh from its split with the
Orthodox Church ,
was becoming more centralised and uniform throughout Europe with the
Gregorian Reform and military reliance on
Germanic peoples at the
Latin Christendom , particularly the warlike Normans. As
part of this, the
Catholic Church actively participated in the Norman
conquest of Gaelic Ireland, with the issuing of
to gift the
King of England the title "Lord of
Ireland ") and in
Scotland strongly encouraged king David who Normanised that country .
Even within orders such as the
Franciscans , ethnic tensions between
Norman and Gael continued throughout the later Middle Ages, as well
as competition for ecclesiastic posts.
During the 16th century, with the emergence of Protestantism and
Tridentine Catholicism, a distinct Christian sectarianism made its way
into Gaelic life, with societal effects carrying on down to this day.
The Tudor state used the Anglican Church to bolster their power and
enticed native elites into the project, without making much initial
effort to convert the Irish Gaelic masses; meanwhile, the mass of
Gaeldom (as well as the "
Old English ") became staunchly Catholic .
Due to the geopolitical rivalry between Protestant Britain and
Catholic France and Spain, the Catholic religion and its mostly Gaelic
Ireland were persecuted for a long time. In the Scottish
Highlands too, the
Gaels were generally slow to accept the Scottish
Reformation. Efforts at persuading Highlanders in general of the value
of this primarily Lowland movement were hampered by the complicated
politics of the Highlands, with religious rivalries and clan
antagonism becoming entwined (a prominent example was the intense
rivalry, even hatred, between the generally Presbyterian Campbells and
the generally Catholic MacDonalds ), but most Highlanders later
Presbyterianism in the 19th century during the breakdown
of the clan system. In a few remote areas, however, Catholicism was
kept alive and even rejuvenated to some extent by Irish Franciscan
missionaries, but in most of the Highlands it was replaced by
The adoption of the Free Church of
Scotland (1843–1900) in the
Highlands following the
Disruption of 1843
Disruption of 1843 was a reassertion of Gaelic
identity in opposition to forces of improvement and clearance.
Gaels have not yet received official recognition of being an
indigenous people or the victims of colonization , however this
argument has been advanced in regards by
Scotland by notable
historians such as Michael Newton , Alastair MacIntosh and Iain
* ^ The census returns for the
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White Irish was an option in the ethnicity
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Anglo-Irish descent. The results for this were; 531,087 in England and
Wales , 517,907 in Northern
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