Two peoples divided by a common culture

"... so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 15.6


No, I'm not referring to the aphorism attributed to Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw in regard to Britaon and America. I have in mind Alex O"Henley's intriguing documentary on the impact of the Reformation on the Gàidhealtachd, re-broadcast last night on BBC Alba. Criss-crossing the Irish Sea and the continent of Europe, O-Henley tells the story of how the Reformation was welcomed in Scottish Gaeldom, through the support of influential leaders such as John Carswell, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, and Archibald Campbell, 5th Earl of Argyll and clan chief. It was a different story in Ireland, where the heavy-handed behaviour of the Henry VIII and then Elizabeth I incurred the resistance of prominent families, such as the O'Neills of Ulster, to the extent that the Reformation has ever since been viewed as a foreign imposition and the Protestant faith only practiced by the English and Scottish families, who were settled in Ireland as an extension of Britain's attempts to dominate Ireland in the years following.


The consequence is that what was the closest of relationships throughout the Middle Ages, during which Scottish Gaeldom looked to Ireland for cultural influence and the compliment was returned for military support, became estranged on account of the contrasting experiences of the Reformation across the Irish Sea. Protestantism did eventually secure a foothold on the Emerald Isle and the southern Outer Hebrides and parts of the western highlands remained loyal to Rome, but these are the exceptions to what was essentially a divorce.


But what of today and tomorrow? Irish reunification appears to be increasingly likely. And, though Scottish Gaeldom is not what it was, initiatives designed to rediscover shared linguistic and cultural heritage are gathering pace. Might this be the time to lay our religious differences to rest? More positively, can we transfigure bitter experience into a richer future, as we learn from each other and appreciate our shared inheritance?

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