When considering the discourse regarding reconciliation among the peoples of these islands, a substantive Gaelic perspective must appraise this matter without automatically assuming that this is based on undue deference to Ulster Unionists. While such deference does exist, there is a value in considering the complexities among the peoples of these islands.
Beginning with the establishment of Dal Riada in the 6th century, Irishmen introduced the Irish language into Scotland, and by the early 12th century nearly all of modern Scotland spoke Gaelic. So deep is the cultural transfer among these islands that a native Gaelic speaker in Scotland is not considered to be part of the Irish diaspora. That Gaelic expanded from being spoken in Ireland to Scotland demonstrates that Gaeldom is not the same as Irishness, and that the Gael never did historically ‘stand alone’. As Gaelic is still spoken in the Outer Hebrides, when considering Gaelicness one must not have regard for this island but rather these islands.
Furthermore, when Scottish Presbyterians started settling in Ireland in the 17th century, they were known from the outset to promote the Gaelic language; it is estimated that at least half of the settlers were Gaelic speakers. Thus, Hebridean Gaelic speakers nowadays are not considered Irish, while some Ulster-residing Irishmen who have a legal birth right to Irish citizenship reject the description of Gael or Irishman. The settlement of Gaels in Scotland, and the settlement of some of their descendants in Ulster, demonstrates that terms like ‘planter’ are nonsensical, and that aside from some differences in religious affiliation, the Irish and the Scots are so much one and the same people.
It is the case that most of the celebrated Irishmen of recent centuries were Protestants, such as Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, Robert Boyle, Edmund Burke, Wolfe Tone, Bram Stoker, Lady Gregory, and W.B. Yeats. Protestants also played a prominent role in the Gaelic League; a Protestant, T O’Neill Russell, lobbied the Home Rule movement for the preservation of the Irish language. The ignorance or obliviousness to these complexities has created a view, among both Republicans and Loyalists, that Ulster Protestants are not really Irish.
A remarkable manifestation of the complexity of identity was that during the Troubles, the IRA had commanders with surnames such as Adams, Bell, Hughes, and Davison; while the most notorious Loyalist murderer was called Murphy. It is also the case that there are more first, second, and third generation Irishmen living in Britain than in Ireland.
Therefore it is not anti-national to talk about ‘these islands’, or to acknowledge that Irishness is a complex identity, or that Irishness will not necessarily be advanced by the Irish State having sovereignty over the ‘six counties’. There will not be a meaningful development in Irishness if there is merely to be a change to the colour of the post boxes in the six counties.