History and geography have combined to make Ulster almost as much a Scottish as an Irish province; the Scots have played an important role in shaping the life of the province, but they have, like other peoples, contributed their share of disharmony and conflict in Ireland.
Geography and history have combined to link the peoples of what we now call Scotland and Ireland closely together. The Mull of Kintyre, which can be seen from Ireland on a clear day, is only twelve miles from the coast of Co. Antrim. Over the centuries, the narrow channel between the two countries has been a bridge for people and ideas moving in both directions.
Ireland's first inhabitants may have used that route to enter the island and, later, Scotland took its name from the Scotti - Latin for Irish - who, in the sixth century AD, extended their north-eastern kingdom of Dal Riata eastwards into what is now Argyll. The great monastery of Candida Casa - the 'White House' - in Galloway influenced the development of Irish monasticism, which, in turn, contributed to the evangelisation of Scotland through the community founded on Iona by Columba. The Irish, it has been said, gave the Scots their name, their language (Gaelic) and their Christianity. Thus, long before the seventeenth century and the Plantation of Ulster, Scotland and the north of Ireland were closely linked.
Viking invasions and settlements in the ninth and tenth centuries interrupted relations between the Scots and Irish, but, in the middle ages, Scottish mercenary soldiers, the formidable gallowglass, found a market for their martial skills in Ulster and settled easily among a kindred people. In the wake of Bannockburn in 1314, Edward Bruce, brother of Scotland's national hero, Robert, was crowned High King of Ireland, but his challenge to English rule in Ireland was short-lived. Another significant link between Scotland and Ulster was the arrival in 1399 of John Mor MacDonnell, Lord of Isla. He extended his Scottish patrimony into north Antrim through his marriage to Margery Bisset, heiress to the estates carved out by her Norman ancestors in the twelfth century. The MacDonnells proved to be stubborn survivors. In the sixteenth century, coming under increasing pressure from central government in Scotland, they began to expand their Irish interests, bringing in Scots tenants who found themselves very much at home among Ulster folk who spoke a variant of their own Gaelic language.
The English in Ireland viewed these developments with suspicion, however. In Mary Tudor's reign, when the strategy of colonisation by plantation was introduced in Ireland, there were plans to drive out these Scots and replace them with Welsh and northern English settlers. But the Scots were still there when Elizabeth I succeeded Mary. The Protestant archbishop of Armagh, Hugh Dowdell, advocated their expulsion as urgent government policy, 'so that they might never be able to continue or dwell therein'. This had still not been achieved when the accession of James VI of Scotland to the English throne in 1603 changed their prospects dramatically.
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