Thursday, September 25, 2014


I don't know a lot about Scotland. I like the accent and the music and Robin Hall and Jimmy McGregor, Kenneth McKeller and an occasional wee dram. I was only there twice. The first time I had to be escorted to the plane by a Police unit after the Orange Order laid siege to a  public meeting I attended in Glasgow.

The other time was in Saint Andrews where we succeeded in getting the DUP  to cross the line and where the two Governments made promises they have yet to keep. The scenery is stupendous. Not unlike our own place. I know lots of people who have big Scottish connections. Pat Doherty, the West Tyrone MP, originated in the Gorbals of Glascow, though he is Irish through and through.  Pearse Doherty TD,  no relation of Pats, has a similar family history. They are not on their own.

Donegal,  their county, is like that. Especially the west of the county. Families have deep roots in both places. In times gone by young Donegal folk, and also many from the West of Ireland, some little more than boys or girls left their poor small holdings to hoke potatoes in Scotland. Tatie hoking was seasonal work. The tatie hokers lived in terrible conditions. Many of them in rough huts or Bothies.  The Donegal writer and poet Patrick McGill has written very memorable novels about the plight of these fine people. Their  conditions became a matter of public scandal in 1937 when  a fire in their accommodation killed 10 young men and boys between the ages of 13 and 23 from Achill Island. This happened in the town of Kirkintilloch just outside of Glasgow. Peadar O Donnell wrote a riveting pamphlet which helped rouse public consciousness about this injustice.

Like lots of exiles some of the Donegal exiles never returned to Ireland. Many of them stayed or moved on to England or North America. Those who stayed drifted into the cities. Here they suffered discrimination on account of their Catholicism. Glasgow Celtic was famously founded  by a Catholic priest to cater for the Donegal Irish who lived in great poverty in the slums of Glasgow. James Connolly one of our foremost political thinkers and activists was born into similar conditions in Edinburgh.

Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian's stories of growing up in Glasgow are hilarious. They will also find an echo of life on the Falls Road or the Shankill, for that matter, for people of my generation or older. Billy's family hail from Galway.

 The west coast, especially the fishing communities in the North West have historic connections into the coastal regions of the north of Scotland. The island communities in particular.  Our Rathlin Island, a magical place in its own right, has dreamlike views of its neighbours in Islay. It was to here that Robert the Bruce fled from Scotland and where famously his sojourn with a spider who never gave up spinning his web, motivated Robert  to keep going.

The native song tradition in North Antrim is heavily influenced by Scots Gallic. So too is our folk tradition.  Ewen McColl in particular, was a huge influence on Luke Kelly, Christy Moore, the Fureys. The Black Family.

The plantation of Ulster had a much less positive effect on our own history. Dispossessed native people naturally resisted and resented those, many from Scotland, who were settled by force of arms on their land. But over the centuries they too were absorbed and are now part of the sum total of who and what we are as an island people. Unfortunately partition locked many of them and some of us into a sectarian and mean little sectarian statelet. The out workings of this  reality effect in a malign way our politics and our social divisions to this day. Some remain willing or compliant prisoners of these  old divisive ways. They hold themselves apart from the rest of us. Our challenge is not only to liberate ourselves. Our liberation will be found only when they too are free.

All of these disjointed thoughts and other musings of Dalriada (and even the banishment of Gráinne and Diarmuid) nipped at the outer  reaches of my mind and its thought processes as the Scottish Referandum campaign reached its conclusion.  Pat Doherty told me weeks ago that it would be lost because the older Scots Irish would  vote No.

'They remember the discrimination. They don't trust the future. They are afraid of being locked into an Orange state.'

I haven't studied the figures or the demographic of the vote beyond the assertion that the majority of young people voted Yes. The older folks voted No. Or so I understand. So I cannot say if Pat was right or not. But when I woke last Friday morning to listen to the early news I must confess to a feeling of disappointment even though I was anticipating a No vote.

Maybe it was Brave Heart!

Maybe my own political faith, rewarded by the positivity of the million and a half Scots who voted for citizenship over subjection. For their own system over an archaic, elite and monarchy centred London based power structure.

There are lots of lessons for us to learn from the Scottish Referendum campaign. Like our work here in Ireland it has  changed the nature of the Union. But the Union remains. And the elites in London want it to.  Including, most famously Gordon Brown.

So do the majority of Scots. For the time being. 

Maybe the disappointment of many Irish people at this is bedded  in the knowledge that Ireland would have voted Yes if we had been give such a choice before partition. But maybe before we get too comfortable on that particular moral high ground maybe we should consider Pat Doc's suggestion about how the Scots Irish voted.

Our challenge is to get a Yes vote when we have our own Referendum. The Scottish campaign will help us to learn how we can do that. Including the necessary work of understanding and assuaging  fears of the future. If Scots Irish Catholics feared the future and voted accordingly why should Ulster Protestants be any different?

The answer to that question is one only we can answer. 

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