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.

Posted by Seaghán Breathnach


  1. Thank you for better perspective on the issue that has haunted this Ireland for centuries.
    The current so-called nationalists are anything but and if a new way is to be found then what unites us rather than what separates (which I always thought was very little) us is what we should be looking for.
    In the current climate our islands are being invaded by non-Irish with the permission of our own Governments and what it is to be Irish may be lost if not recognised.


    1. Stephen Comerford 21/11/2021 at 12:06 pm

      Bang on the money. The difference with Scots and Irish is that the Scots are also a mixture of Picts (another Celtic tribe) while we are not.


  2. The writer live in the 6 Counties? Moving forward , how should we now term the ” Plantation” of Ireland so as not to offend their descendants ?

    Does this mean we should all join the marching on the 12th of July and subsequent rioting when the parades commission disallows a march down by the homes of ethnic Gaels. I mean it’s still really is called an ethno/ religious problem here.
    Very much a case of sure everyone is Irish now.


  3. Interesting perspective but I found myself trying to put my finger on something that didn’t sit right.

    For example the idea that the term ‘Planters’, doesn’t apply because the 17th century Presbyterians were in fact, using your logic, returning Gaels, and so therefore were Irish on an inter-generational holiday, doesn’t give due consideration to the nature of the culture that they ‘brought back’ and the wedge in which they tried to impose it.

    Look at the most northern Ulster Gaels before the Plantation, in Donegal and Antrim. They were exchanging blood for blood for many a moon with Scottish islanders and were a part of the same spectrum of Gaelic culture. If anything neither Gael nor Planter were the phrase: ‘Irish’, but one was definitely native to Ireland.

    I found this to be the crux of your point. In trying to aim at identifying what’s Irish—a term that has come up mostly through the English language, and has obviously changed definition between the 1600s and today—there’s more than a sense that you have dethroned the primacy of our native Gaelic culture, for having had the gall to spread beyond Ireland’s shores, and then had the further misfortune to lose its hegemony to English language culture (and all the different tribes who use it while being born and raised in Ireland).

    So it’s odd that we’ve arrived at the same point to finish. Today, merely changing the flag of the North won’t do anything. I mean who wants the Tricolour now anyway, when it, like the watered down term ‘Irish’ is merely a describer of your place of birth rather than also an identifier of your cultural expression. Granted I’m at odds with the Union flag, but what self-respecting Ulsterman would look at Dublin and think “Yea, those guys have got my back!”? By the same token “…among both Republicans and Loyalists… Ulster Protestants are not really Irish.” is only half true. Neither Republicans nor Loyalists or anyone on the island is really Irish precisely because they don’t adopt with any level of sincerity Gaelic culture, with its primary identifier, the language. All of which makes me grin when East Belfast Protestants take on Ulster Irish language classes and Southerners take out their tiny violins and whine about how oppressed they are to being forced to learn our native language in school.

    400 years in, the Planter descendent is as much a part of the Ulster landscape as anyone else but it also needs to be said that the descendent of the Gael, who wishes to say they’re Irish, needs to take active responsibility in their cultural expression or risk letting the term ‘Irish’ lose all connection to what makes us unique in the first place—our culture—Gaelic culture.


  4. Dane,Norse,Saxon,Norman-integral to the history of the Island(s)


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