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Throughout the Middle Ages, parts of the west of Scotland and the Southern Hebrides had close cultural and political links with north Ulster. These links were the result of a complex history of communication and movement that took place over millennia. By the early medieval period, a series of historiographies emerged among various groupings across the region that were used to justify lineages and support territorial ambition. These historiographies were dominated by the politicized construction of Irish-origin myths. Most actual movement or migration originated in Scotland, dominated in particular during the later Middle Ages by fighting men. The region never attained political unity, but this maritime province contained elements of shared cultural traditions and belief systems. These shared elements, however, were not a singular conformist set of traditions, but instead featured variations in architecture, material culture, and landscape usage.
Over the course of the late 14th century and throughout the 15th century, the O'Donnells of Tyrconnell established themselves as one of the most powerful aristocratic dynasties in Ireland. By the early 16th century, the authority of the lords of Tyrconnell extended across most of the northern half of Ireland. Their rise to prominence has received a considerable amount of scholarly attention. Much of this has focused on the expansion of O'Donnell power within Ulster—namely the ability of successive O'Donnell chieftains to raise considerable military forces within the lordship of Tyrconnell, which they then used to impose their overlordship upon large areas of Ulster. O'Donnell power and prestige, however, extended well beyond Ulster, and much of their strength derived from their ability to create and uphold a broad web of dynastic alliances stretching across the island of Ireland—a topic which has received very little attention within the historiography of late Medieval Ireland. Moreover, a strong maritime dimension underpinned many of their alliances. The O'Donnells' capacity to raise fleets from among their MacSweeny urríthe (sub-kings, or vassals) within Tyrconnell and their ability to create alliances with powerful maritime kindreds such as the O'Malleys and Burkes of Mayo in Connacht gave them a major tactical and strategic advantage over their traditional rivals, the O'Neills of Tyrone. Drawing upon a broad range of material from within the wider Gaelic world (including Ireland and Scotland) as well as English and Scottish governmental material, this essay explores the maritime dimension underpinning the O'Donnells' rise to prominence during the later Middle Ages, charts the development of the O'Donnell lordship within its maritime context, and demonstrates the importance of maritime power within Gaelic Irish politics during this period.
The following paper is an updated version of that given at the Maritime Communities conference in 2013, which reported on and discussed aspects of the findings of the Dùn Èistean project excavations. Dùn Èistean remains one of only a few late to post-medieval settlements to have been excavated in the Hebrides, and this work has since been published. The following paper provides a resumé of the results of the excavations and then focuses on one particular aspect of the site—that of the strong local identity evidenced in the archaeological record, and how this fits with the location of the stronghold in the wider maritime world of the northwest Highlands and Islands.
The relationship of the Gàidhealtachd with the rest of Scotland and with Britain was transformed in the period 1540–1630. Having been relatively autonomous, Scottish Gaelic chiefs were now drawn deeper into the orbit of the Scottish and then British crown, particularly during the adult reign of James VI (and I) (1587–1625). Scholarly study of the Highlands and Islands during the period has tended to concentrate on crown-clan relationships and the way in which the centre imposed reform on the peripheral Gàidhealtachd (Highlands and Islands). Indigenous (Highland/Hebridean) and maritime perspectives have been less well developed in these narratives. Gaelic Scots and visiting Lowland fishermen had different approaches to the exploitation of marine resources. The approaches of both parties, of Gaelic Scots, as well as Lowland fishermen and merchants, to the maritime environment are examined here: a study which can bring new insights into older debates on crown—clan relations if not plantation, state formation, and colonial approaches to resource appropriation and exploitation.
The article sets the Scottish and British Crown's colonizing measure vis-à-vis the Scottish communities of the North Atlantic arc within a broader imperial framework. Underlying such course of action was the articulation of a rhetoric as a vital linguistic tool for its plantations' raison d'être. The study delineates key aspects in the major plantation schemes of Scotland that were implemented between the 1590s and 1630s. Both the internal colonizing project of Lewis and the external ones of Ireland, briefly, and Nova Scotia, will be primarily assessed from the bottom-up perspective of the maritime communities of the northern Highlands. Distancing themselves from the governmental rhetoric, these ventures helped reconfigure clan allegiance and dynamics in the Lewis case, and reposition the role and identity of these far-northerners in the Irish and Nova Scotia plans as well as in redefining these enterprises' nature.
Plantation by the English in Ireland, and Ulster in particular, has received considerable scholarly attention, and it continues to do so. While plantation as a policy developed out of efforts to secure the coastal region from the continuous arrival of Highland Scots, most studies examine how the English plantations developed. Less attention is paid to the Scottish settlement in Ulster and their efforts to utilize the land for their own purposes. At the same time, few studies examine the wider maritime context. Both the English and the Scots in Ulster had to traverse the North Channel to reach Ulster, and this article seeks to examine the wider maritime context that either facilitated or obstructed the efforts of both the Scots and the English in Ulster.