Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Culture Matters (6)

Ulster and Scotland

Some years ago the BBC published a book entitled The People of Ireland, which contained a chapter on the Scots by Professor Finlay holmes,  In it he said that, 'History and geography have combined to make Ulster as much a Scottish as an Irish province.'

Today we tend to think of the sea as a barrier but in the past, before the development of a modern road system, it was much easier to travel by sea than by land. Indeed down through the centuries that narrow sea between Ulster and Scotland has been more of a bridge than a barrier. For thousands of years men have crossed and re-crossed it in both directions.   Ulster and Galloway are so close that it was possible, even then, to travel across the narrow sea and back within a day.

On the other hand geography tended to separate Ulster from the south of Ireland. The border between Ulster and the south was a natural, almost impenetrable, barrier. It was, according to the Dutch geographer Dr M W Heslinga, ‘one long chain of lakes, forests and mountains, where the only passes were the Gap of the North ... on the one hand and the fords of the Erne at Enniskillen and Ballyshannon on the other’. [The Irish Border as a Cultural Divide p 150]

Indeed in earlier times that natural barrier was supplemented at its weaker points by a man-made structure, the Black Pig’s Dyke, which ran from Carlingford Lough in the east to Donegal Bay in the west.

The Scottish influence in Ulster goes back over thousands of years but the greatest and most enduring influence was that of the Lowland Scots who settled in Ulster four hundred years ago, at the start of the 17th century, and thereafter. They became the Scots in Ulster and ultimately the Ulster-Scots. 

When two Scottish lairds, Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton, arrived in Ulster in 1606 and settled their lands in North Down with Lowland Scots settlers, they were the founding fathers of the Ulster-Scots and that settlement was the dawn of the Ulster-Scots.

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