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The Gaels

GAIDHLIG, Gàidheal. Ir. Gaoidhilig, Gaedhilig, the Erse and the Irish language. Gàidheal, a highland Scot; Gaoidheal, an Irishman, EIr. Góedel, (1100 AD). Also seen as Gaideli. The Cy. Gwyddel, Irishman. The root may be ghâdh, the Eng. good, god, thus "god-like," Germ. gud, etc. The word has been compared with the Gaul. Geidumni, which confers with the Lat. hoedus, a goat or "goat man." Notice that the Scots were, in historic times, referred to as "goat-men" by Continentals. The Gaelic root-word appears to be ghadh from which their word gabhar and gabhlan, a wandering man, one devoid of care. Gaelic is currently considered to be the name of the language and people of the Scottish Highlands although the former is sometimes termed Erse. The oldest foreign reference to Ireland, in the sixth century before Christ, gives it the name Ierna. Aristotle in his Book of the World also favoured this name.

In the first half of the first century Pomponius Mela called it Iuvernia, but the Romans preferred Hibernbia or Scotia. The Scottish matter is probably the most confusing element in Irish history, since the related word Scotland was eventually applied to Ireland's northwestern neighbour, the land at first called Alba. Scotia is a name from literate times but was claimed to be derived from Scota, the first queen-mother of the Milesians (and thus a counterpart of Danu). The term Scoti was definitely preferred by continental writers as the name for the people of Eiru. Thus it is explained that "Hibernia is the nation of the Scots," Scotia being a name "which links itself to no land on earth." As late as the seventh century, we find native "Irishmen" referring to themselves as "Scots" when they were in exile. Further, as time passed, they even began to designate their homeland as "the land of Scots."

In the third century the Scots began a colonization of the southwestern peninsula of Dal Riada in Alba. The first colonies in this new place received military help from Tara in order to put down the neighbouring Picts. In the following century, a Munsterman, Lugaid mac Conn, fleeing from enemies, made himself the chief power in this new land. From his son came the ancestors of the lords of Argyle; the MacAllens, Campbells and the MacCallums. A hundred years further on Cabri Riata established kingdoms in both Ireland and Scotland. The Picts were not enamoured of any of this and would have driven the Scots from their land, except for the efforts of the high-king Niall of the Nine Hostages. The effect of all this was the establishment of a huge military presence in Alba by the sixth century, when it became an independent kingdom under Aedh ard-righ. For a time it was powerful enough to hold Antrim, in Ireland proper, as an appanage. That was the state of things until the end of the eight century when the southern Irish began to pressure them in Argyllshire and Dalriada. Looking for a more secure place they marched into Pictland and conducted campaigns against these people until 850 A.D., when Cinead (Kenneth) mac Alpein completely overthrew the Picts by very devious means, and became high-king of all Scotia, Some claim that he even subdued the Britons on his southern borders and the Anglo-Danish population of the southeast. At this time, with the Scotic people in a position of power, Ireland was called "Scotia Major " and Scotland, "Scotia Minor," but the title fell away from Ireland as their power there waned. In the eleventh century, when all Scotland was dominated by Gaelic-speakers (excepting headlands, and the western and northern islands which were under the Norse), the kingship passed to Mylcollum (Malcolm) who married Margaret, a daughter of King Edmund, an Anglo-Saxon monarch. Unfortunately for the Scots, he was easily swayed by her, and their son Edgar was entirely English in name and outlook. When he was crowned king, a division developed between the highland tribes and the lowland English kinsman of the king. In the thirteenth century, Gaeldom flickered and went out as a force in the north, the old Irish line becoming extinct with Alisdair (Alexander III) in 1297. Afterwards, there began the long wars for succession which ended with the old-English families of Bruce and Balliol firmly on the throne of Old Scotland. There is some correspondence between the old warrior-magicians of pre-Milesian times and the Scots: When the Scots invaded Alba they found present-day Scotland divided into seven territories, and they continued with these divisions. "Each district was termed a Tuath or tribe; several Tuaths formed a Mortuath (sea-tribe) or great tribe, two or more Mortuaths a Coicidh or province, at the head of which was the righ, or King. Each province contributed a portion of its territory at their junctions to form a central district, which was the capital of the whole country, and the King who was elected to be its sovereign had his seat of government here. The central district, where the four southern met was Perthshire and counted Scone as its capital. The northern Tuaths adjoined at Moraigh (near the sea).

In the twelfth century the system was modified and the righ was no longer held by the heads of the Tuath and Mortuath. but at the head of the former was the toiseeach (the beginning or front one) and of the Mortuath, the mormaer (the great mayor or major, the sea-ruler, or great steward)." It is possible that these designations were picked up from the Picts, but it is more likely they were names visited upon the Scots by their Irish enemies. If this is so, it is likely that sea-faring Scots numbered survivors from the old Fomorian sea-kingdoms in the west. It is almost a homely to say that pre Roman Britain was inhabited by a people "who were mainly Celtic and that the Celts reached this country in three principal waves of immigration. One wave came to the east coast by way of the North Sea, another by way of the Gaul to the South of England, and the third from the Continent by way of Irealand." This is the view of most historians, although there is no written magic to back up the idea that all the peoples of the islands arrived from the east. In the black well of times long past historians are as much adrift as mythologists, and many of these have a contrary opinion. These is the problem of Irish Gaelic, which is still considered the most antique of all the Celtic tongues. Aryan scholars say that the Indo European tongues started in northern India and spread slowly from there westward. Professor Schleider (1874) that this Celtic tongue has the appearance of a separation from the supposed root (Sanskrit) at a later date than the Cymric and Brythonic tongues, but they are supposedly of more recent evolution. Worse still, Gaelic has the look of being more closely allied with Latin than any of the supposed Indo-European affiliates. These idiosyncracies suggest that Gaelic might have spread from Ireland to the east, where it collided with, and became associates of the west-bound language which is now preserved in English, German and the Scandinavian tongues. We are then left with the question of where the Gaelic vocabulary originated and are led back to the fact that the Celto Iberian tongues have "more analogies with American types than with any other." In his book, On the Phenomena of Hybridity in the Genus Homo,, Paul Broca (1869) said that "Of all Europeans, we must provisionally hold the Basques to be the oldest inhabitants of our quarter of the world." He said that their language, the Euscara, "has some common traits with the Magyr (Hungary), Osmanli, and other dialects of the Altai family, as for instance, with the Finnic, on the old continent, as well as the Algonquin-Lenape languages and others in America." Gaelic has been given similar attachments both from a shared vocabulary with the Algonquin languages and with parallels in the myths of the two people. Folklorist Mary L. Fraser has examined some of these correspondences and concludes that, "The closeness of the (mythic) parallels show that the Indians and the Celts in the far distant past were in direct communications with one another, or were in touch with the same source of inspiration. According to Indian tradition, the white man came from the East, and the Indians from the West, yet there must have been a (very early) common meeting-ground somewhere, sometime."

The text on this page is courtesy of Rod C. Mackay.

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