The relationship between the peoples of Ulster and Scotland goes back many thousands of years. Long before the establishment of the Gaelic overkingdom of Dál Riata in the 5th century, Ulster and the western coast of Alba (Scotland) were united by language, culture, clann relationships, marriages, trade and commerce.
Indeed, when we look at the proximity of both regions on the map, and consider the geological barriers to travel within mainland Ireland and Scotland, it is easy to imagine how the sea facilitated the forging of close relationships between Ulster and Scotland’s west coast. The Gaelic language and culture in both regions have managed to survive to the present day, despite successive waves of invasion, clearance, plantation, famine and warfare. An Ghaeilge and Gàidhlig are close linguistic cousins and are becoming a fulcrum for increased cooperation and mutual understanding between the peoples on both sides of Sruth na Maoile – the Gaelic name for the short stretch of the Irish Sea which seperates Ireland and Scotland.
Armagh, well known for its historical role in the development of both Celtic paganism and early Christianity, has links to Scotland which transcend national identity, religious beliefs, politics, history and cultural traditions. Since the 1970s, relationships between the Gaels of Armagh and their fellow Gaels in western scotland have been rejuvenated and strengthened by cultural initiatives such as the William Kennedy International Piping Festival. Other new initiatives have been bolstered by assistance from Colmcille – a partnership programme between Foras
na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, promoting the use of Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland and between the two countries. Colmcille aims through its work to foster understanding of the diverse experience and culture of the Irish and Scottish Gaelic communities, and to encourage debate on common concerns in social, cultural and economic issues with a view to building self-confidence within the Gaelic language communities.
Aonach Mhacha, the new community based Irish language enterprise based in Armagh City, was recently successful in obtaining funding from Colmcille for an exchange study visit to Glasgow, Inverness, the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Skye. Representatives from the group were hosted by Sabhal Mór Ostaig, a unique, Gaelic, third level education campus on the Isle of Skye which also hosts a media centre, a technological and research centre, business incubation units and arts and performance spaces. While there, the Armagh group were given access to all areas of the campus and had discussions with lecturers, academics and directors at the College about language community development and ways of building linkages between the Gaels of Skye and Armagh.
The trip was further enhanced with visits to An Lóchran, a cultural hub for Scottish and Irish Gaels in the centre of Glasgow City and to An Lanntair, a pioneering modern arts and cultural centre in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. The Armagh group completed their visit with a trip to the Culloden Heritage Centre outside Inverness. Enthused by the knowledge-sharing and relationship building aspects of the trip, Aonach Mhacha representative Gearóid Ó Machail had this to say upon his return:
“The modern Gaelic cultural revival has the potential to deliver strong and lasting relationships between the peoples of Ireland and Scotland. Our shared history and traditions offer us a foundation stone upon which to build a culture of mutual respect and understanding throughout these islands. The peoles of the Western Isles of Scotland are our nearest off-shore neighbours and they illustrate how Gaelic culture is not synonymous with one religious creed, nationality or religion. We look forward to building even closer relationships with the Gaels of Scotland who we hope will become frequent visitors to the proposed new cultural hub in Armagh City, upon its completion”.