Chair: Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart
Over the course of the later middle ages (c.1300-c.1500), a series of political and environmental factors saw English and Scottish royal power retreat in their respective spheres of interest: the Lordship of Ireland and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. This vacuum was soon filled by resurgent Gaelic-speaking families in both Ireland and Scotland including the O’Donnells of Tyrconnell, O’Neills of Tyrone, and the MacDonalds of the Hebrides. Between them, these dynasties controlled nearly half the landmass of the Atlantic archipelago. Capable of raising considerable military resources, families such as the O’Briens of Thomond and Campbells of Argyll could exert a considerable degree of influence upon the course of ‘British’ politics and were courted as valued allies of the competing English and Scottish monarchies c.1300-c.1550. For instance, many Irish lords viewed the Stewart court as a source of legitimacy alternative to England. The advent of the Reformation however, placed great strain upon pre-existing Hiberno-Scottish connections. The Gaelic world’s capacity to negotiate with European Counter-Reformation rulers meant that much of Ireland and the Hebrides now posed a serious security threat to the integrity of the increasingly Protestant English and Scottish states. This paper therefore, explores the relationship between the autonomous Gaelic-speaking world and the emergence of the Early Modern ‘British’ State. Central to this is (i) an examination of how a desire to secure the Reformation within the archipelago forged closer ties between England and Scotland and (ii) a consideration of how the Gaelic nobility reacted to these drastically changed circumstances.
A seventeenth-century Gaelic song, revived and popularised in recent years, recalls Dòmhnall mac Iain ’ic Sheumais, a Macdonald warrior and his role in Battle of Càirinis, 1601, while tradition remembers his later years as a grey haired cattle farmer. Yet the best known work on the Highland cattle trade (Haldane’s, Drove Roads of Scotland, 1952) asserts that there was little by way of cattle movement within and outwith the Highlands prior to the Union of Scotland and England 1707 beyond theft and brigandage. Cattle lifting was certainly prevalent, even celebrated in Gaelic culture but what of trade? More recent scholarly work on stocking and sheiling and practices together with work on public records, hints at more intensive cattle rearing than Haldane allowed but there is little specific detail on the nature or extent of this work in the Highlands. To whom did Highlanders sell cattle prior to 1707? What were the effects of this trade on the Highlands but also on the Lowlands. What part did Highland cattle play in the Lowland economy? Were there identifiable networks of buyers, drover, traders and fleshers? This paper will use 'new' manuscript sources and argue that there was more intensive cattle production and trade in the Highlands than has hitherto been realised and consider the effects that this growing contact and commercial interaction had on Gaelic society during the seventeenth century.