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THE SCOTCH-IRISH BLEND
THOSE who have studied deeply the subject of the ethnology of the Scotch and Irish races will know, and have often used as an illustration, the likeness, which is discernible to all, between the inhabitants of the Hebrides, off the coast of Scotland, and those who people the islands off Mayo and Galway, and indeed those who live on the western shores of the Irish mainland itself.
In the Scottish islands Gaelic is still spoken, of a variety easily understood by Irish-speaking people. Observing the striking similarity in language, physique, and mode of life, one is led to investigate the history, social and otherwise, of these islands, and learn something of their past records. With advantages for travel existing in this twentieth century, one is prone to underrate the intercourse that took place between the peoples living widely apart in ancient times. As far as the Hebrides are concerned, their intercourse with Ireland was much greater centuries ago than it is now. In the early ages of Christianity, and for many centuries afterward, the Irish had a great disposition for roaming all over Western Europe, either as teachers, missionaries, or soldiers.
Before the Christian era, one can trace many connecting links between the Scottish Isles and Ireland. It is recorded that one of the very first Irish kings, Lugh Lamhfada, spent his early years in the island of Mull, and, closer to Christian times, Irish warriors crossed the sea to Alba for their military training. The renowned Ulster hero, Cuchullain, with several companions, visited the island of Skye for the same purpose, and a range of hills called the Cuchullins in that island still retains his name.
A little to the east of Ballycastle, toward Fair Head, is a long, projecting rock, which forms a little sheltered spot still known as Port Usnach. In the first century of our era there was here perpetrated a great massacre of the royal family and Milesian nobility of Ireland, known in history as the Attacotti rebellion. The son of a Scottish princess came in after years to revenge the treachery, and was joined by a great number of local sympathizers. A great battle was fought, in which the stranger was entirely successful, with the result that he became king, and was known as Tuathal Teachtmar.
He reigned wisely and well for many years after, and the country became ever and ever more prosperous. The incident is mentioned here as showing a connecting link between Ireland and Scotland at a very remote time.
Passing through the centuries, the intercourse between Ireland and the Scottish Isles became very close indeed. About the year A. D. 500, a great colony left what is now County Antrim and sailed in their curraghs across the narrow sea that separates it from the Mull of Cantire, whence they colonized Islay, Jura, and Iona, and other Scottish islands, where their direct descendants still live. To understand this migration, one must recall that about the year 500 A. D. a great movement of this sort occurred in the north of Ireland to the opposite coast of Alba, now called Scotland. Three brothers, who were paramount chiefs of a territory known as Dalriada, called Loarn, Angus, and Fergus, removed with their people to Cantire. These brothers were great-grandsons of Colla Uaish, a King of Tara, who wedded a Scottish princess. Colla Uaish was one of the three Collas who invaded Emania two centuries before the northern Irish province was ruled from Emania by the Clan Rury for over six hundred years. On leaving Antrim, Loarn, the eldest brother, occupied the territory in the west of Scotland, still known as Lorne, and from which the eldest son of the Duke of Argyle takes his title as Marquis of Lorne. The next brother, Angus, occupied the islands of Islay, Jura, and Iona. Fergus, the youngest brother, who had the largest following, occupied Cantire, Cowal, and Argyle. Fergus survived his two brothers, and, after their death, consolidated the three territories into a kingdom, which he called Dalriada, after his native territory in Ireland. This kingdom was the foundation of the Scottish kingdom, and extended from the estuary of the Clyde in the south to Lough Broom in Sutherland in the north, and was separated from the Pictish kingdom on the east by a chain of mountains; it also included the Hebrides and other islands of the west coast.
Fergus’s residence in Scotland was Dunstaffnage, on the west coast, near to the Sound of Mull, which continued to be the residence of the Scottish kings for many centuries afterward. King Edward VII. traces his pedigree back through the Scottish Stuarts to this King Fergus. At a late period of his life, Fergus wished to revisit his native country, but was unfortunately wrecked on the voyage and drowned. His body was landed at Carrickfergus, from which incident that ancient town derived its name. For half a century this domain in Scotland was held by the new settlers, under three different kings, but the king of the Picts gave them a severe defeat in the year 560.
It was at this time that Columba formed the idea of going to Scotland and attempting the conversion of the Picts to Christianity. He had spent the first forty years of his life in Ireland, founding churches and monasteries, and, as an itinerant missionary, preaching all over Ireland. He started from Derry, where stood his favourite monastery, and proceeded, accompanied by twelve of his followers, along the beautiful shores of Lough Foyle to Innishowen Head, where the little bay is still shown from which his curragh sailed to the Scottish Isles. It was about the year 563 when he left Ireland, and, as he was born in 521, he was then forty-two years of age. Monasticism had already taken a firm hold in Ireland, and the more zealous of the Irish monks were founding monasteries in the islands around the Irish coast, as well as on islands in the larger lakes. Islands were the favourite spots where these institutions flourished. What was for their safety and security at first, — that is, their isolated position, — ultimately, during the Danish period, led to their destruction. Columba stopped at several islands on his way. He called at Oransay with the idea of remaining, but, as he could see the summits of the mountains of Ireland from it, he proceeded to Iona, where he got a grant of land and founded his famous monastery. For two years he never left the island, getting the little community into order, building his monastery, and tilling his ground. By his holy life, example, and conversation, he impressed most favourably all who came in contact with him. His little colony was like an oasis in the desert of that wild country. During this period he was studying the Pictish tongue, of the same family as the Gaelic, as the most likely means to succeed in his mission. He formed the bold resolution of going direct to King Brude, and preaching first to him, well knowing that if he succeeded with the king the nobles and people would follow. The stronghold of the king of the Picts was situated near Inverness. Columba was wise, for he took with him two of his disciples, who were Irish Picts by birth, namely, Comghal, who was born at Muckamore, and afterward founded the great monastery of Bangor, and Canice, who afterward gave his name to the church and the town of Kilkenny. King Brude was at first unwilling to receive Columba, as one learns from the history of his life, written by his successor, Adamnau, Abbot of Iona. This life, as is well known, was translated by Bishop Reeves, and, thanks to Adamnau and Bishop Reeves, there is no saint in the early Irish calendar of whom so much is known. He was entirely successful in his mission to the Pictish king, who became a convert to the Christian faith. The leading nobles followed, and, for years after, his labours amongst the Pictish nation never flagged until the whole nation embraced Christianity. The result which he anticipated followed, and the mellowing influence of the gospel caused a marked improvement in the relations between the Picts and the Scots, and led to their ultimate union into one Scottish kingdom.
The monastery of Iona became celebrated over Western Europe, and for centuries afterward shone as a bright beacon of Christianity in this far-off isle of the sea. In the burial-ground known as the Relig Oran there are buried forty-eight Scottish kings, four Irish kings, eight Norwegian kings, and Egfrid, a King of Northumbria; few spots on earth contain more remains of illustrious dead than does Iona. It was the parent of many monasteries, not alone in Scotland and the isles, but in Ireland and the north of England. The monastery of Kells, in Meath, also acknowledged Iona as the head of the Columban monasteries. During all the time it remained a Columban monastery, the abbots were Irishmen, that is, for a period of almost seven hundred years.
The Danish invasion of Ireland, which began toward the end of the eighth century, had an important effect on the Scottish Isles as well as on Ireland. For more than two centuries the northerners dominated everything in both countries. In the twelfth century, however, a great leader arose in Argyle, called Somerled, who drove the Northmen out of the west of Scotland as well as from the isles. He was the ancestor of the Macdonnells, Lords of the Isles, and it was he who laid the foundations of their power. This great leader was ultimately assassinated, and was succeeded by his son Randal, who had two sons, Donal and Rorie. The first was founder of the Macdonnells of Islay, and the latter of the MacRories. Islay was the territory and residence of the Macdonnells, Lords of the Isles, and Bute that of MacRory.
O’Donnell, of Tyconnell, employed these two sons of Randal to cross over and assist him against the O’Neills. They arrived in their galleys in Derry in the year 1211, with over a thousand followers. Three hundred and fifty years later, Red Hugh O’Donnell employed a large number of these Scotchmen, who arrived from the isles in seventy galleys, to assist him against the English. O’Cleary, in his life of Red Hugh O’Donnell, describes these Highland mercenaries as follows: “These were recognized among the Irish soldiers by the difference of their arms and clothing, their habits and language, for their exterior dress was mottled cloaks to the calf of the leg, with ties and fastenings. Their girdles were over the loins outside the cloaks. Many of them had swords with hafts of horn, large and fit for war, from their shoulders. It was necessary for the soldier to put his two hands together at the very haft of his sword when he would strike a blow with it. Others of them had bows of carved wood, strong for use, with well-seasoned strings of hemp, and arrows, sharp-pointed, whizzing in flight.”
From this point onward it is more easy to follow the development of the special characteristics caused by the intermingling of the Scotch and Irish races.
Donal was succeeded in Islay by his son Angus. He brought the Norwegian King Hako to assist the islanders against Alexander, the third King of Scotland, when they fought the battle of Largs. Angus had a son, Angus Oge, who succeeded him. He married a daughter of O’Cahan, an Irish chieftain of the family of O’Neill, who owned all the territory of the present County Derry. Angus had greatly befriended Robert Bruce in the time of his adversity; he brought him to Rathlin Island, off the Giant’s Causeway, and kept him there when pursued by his enemies. When Bruce became king, he rewarded Angus Oge by granting him the isles of Mull, Jura, Coll, and Tiree; he previously owned Islay and Cantire. Angus was succeeded by his son John, who married for his second wife Margaret Stuart, daughter of King Robert the second, the first Stuart king of Scotland. John had by her several sons and one daughter, who married Montgomery of Eglinton. John was the first of the island kings to make an alliance with England, — a policy continued by his successors, and which ultimately led to the downfall of his principality.
It is easy to trace the progress by which the Macdonnells became connected with Antrim, and formed an Irish family, whose head is the Earl of Antrim. John Mor Macdonnell, son of Eion of Islay, and grandson through his mother of King Robert the Second, came to Antrim to seek the hand of Margery Bysett, the heiress to all the lands included in the Glens of Antrim. The Bysetts were an outlawed Scotch family who, about the year 1242, were exiled from Scotland on a charge of supposed murder. With their means they acquired their Irish territory. This lady’s father had married a daughter of the O’Neill, and, being the only child, the property fell to her. After the marriage between John Macdonnell and Margery Bysett in 1399, a greater number of the islanders settled in the Glens, which continued to be a favourite resort and hiding-place when any trouble arose in Scotland. The intercourse between Antrim and the Isles, particularly Islay and Cantire, from this time became very close. There was constant going to and from the Isles, and occasional forays were made as far as Castlereagh, whence large preys of cattle would be driven back to the Glens, and thence to Rathlin, to be taken afterward to Islay at their convenience. In the year 1551 a feud existed between the O’Neills of Castlereagh and the Macdonnells, “and the latter made an incursion into Clannaboy, from which a great prey of cattle and other valuables were lifted and removed to Rathlin.”
The Macdonnells were able to strike a blow at England more easily through the north of Ireland than any other quarter, and the government in Dublin made up its mind to put them down. In 1551 four ships were fitted out, and a large number of soldiers placed on board to proceed to Rathlin, and, if possible, to carry off the plunder which was supposed to be stored there. The ships, on their arrival, proceeded to land an armed force of three hundred gunners and archers. The Macdonnells awaited them on the shore, prepared to give them a warm reception. By a sudden upheaval of the sea, the boats were driven high on the rocks, and, before they could recover themselves, the Macdonnells attacked and slew every man, except the two captains of the expedition. These were retained as hostages, and afterward exchanged for the younger brother of the chief, the afterward celebrated Sorley Boy, who was then a prisoner in Dublin Castle.
The intimacies and relations between the Scotch and the Irish were growing more and more involved, and a new race — a blend of the most admirable qualities of both — was being propagated. The Macdonnells at this time owned Dunluce Castle, which had been taken from the MacQuillans, also Kenbane Castle and Dunanynie Castle, built on a cliff near the sea at Ballycastle. Ballycastle, previously called Port Brittas, was the place principally used for landing or embarking for Cantire. It was also from here that Fergus was supposed to have embarked when he and his brothers founded the Scottish kingdom. A little to the east of Ballycastle is Port Usnach, whence Naysi and Derdrie sailed to Alba. There were frequent intermarriages between the Macdonnells and the leading families in the north of Ireland. John Mor, as already stated, married Margery Bysett. Donald Ballach married a daughter of the O’Donnells of Donegal. John of Islay married a daughter of the O’Neills. Shane Cathanach married a daughter of Savage of the Ards. James Macdonnell married Agnes, daughter of the Earl of Argyle, and their daughter married Hugh, Prince of Tyconnell, and became the mother of the celebrated Red Hugh O’Donnell. After the death of James Macdonnell, his widow, the Lady Agnes, became the second wife of Turlough Luineach O’Neill, and thus mother and daughter married the two most powerful chiefs in Ulster.
James Macdonnell died in the dungeons of Shane O’Neill, and was succeeded by his younger brother, Sorley Boy, the greatest of all the Macdonnells of Antrim. During the latter half of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, Sorley Boy was able to hold his own against all the queen’s generals, as well as against the MacQuillans, O’Cahans, and O’Neills. He died in 1589 in his castle of Dunanynie, and was buried at Bun-na-Margie Abbey. His wife was Mary O’Neill, daughter of Conn, first Earl of Tyrone, who died in 1582. He left five sons, and was succeeded by his third son, who died suddenly in Dunluce Castle on Easter Monday, 1601.
His younger brother, Randal, next succeeded, who, in the reign of James the First, was, in 1618, created Viscount Dunluce, and two years later, in 1620, Earl of Antrim. James gave him a grant of all the lands lying between the Bann of Coleraine and the Corran of Larne, a territory equal to the ancient kingdom of Dalriada.
The second earl succeeded in 1644, and was created a marquis by Charles the First. He was afterward deprived of his vast property by the Cromwellians. In the reign of Charles the Second, after many difficulties had been surmounted, he had the greater part of it reconveyed to him. He died in 1682, and was succeeded by his younger brother, Alexander, who was in time succeeded by his son Randal, who died in 1721. The Macdonnells succeeded in holding a large portion of their Irish property, whilst they lost Islay and Cantire.
From these brief facts one readily evolves the process by which grew up the ancient and intimate connection between the Scotch and the Irish. One realizes full well, too, that the peoples of the north of Ireland and of the Scottish Isles were of the same race and language, and to a great extent are so to-day.
In manners, customs, and arts, as well, there is a blending greatly to be remarked. In Dunvegan Castle in Scotland one is shown a drinking-cup made in the north of Ireland four hundred years ago. Naguire, of Fermanagh, in the fifteenth century, married a lady from Skye, Catherine Magrannal, and this cup was made at her expense and forwarded as a present to her relatives there. The high crosses of Ireland are reproduced in Scotland and the Isles, and the island monasteries of Ireland and Scotland were similar in both architecture and discipline, and ruins in the Flannan Islands and North Rona have their counterparts in Innismurray, Arran, and the Skelligs.