Thursday, July 7, 2011

Picts, Celts, Scots, Highlands, Lowlands, Clans

Often, when I try to learn of Scotland from books, I end up being less than totally educated because the authors often use certain words and terms in the assumption their readers know what such simple words mean.

In the movie "As Good as it Gets," Jack Nicolson's character is told that one of his greatest assets is his willingness to be humiliated. In that same spirit, I will tell you that I don't mind if my questions seem stupid to you, as long as I get the answers.

I will start with words I hear and read a lot but never feel I QUITE understand:

Scots (language)
Ulster Scots
Ulster Plantation

I'll start by telling you what I THINK I know about the words, and maybe then you can correct me and make my understanding a bit more complete.

1. Pict, Celt, Scot. I think these are people. I think "Scot" now means "someone (native) who lives in Scotland." But I think Scot was just one of several peoples earlier on. I think "Pict" is a very early group of people who lived in what is now Scotland, or part of it, and some Scots may have descended from them. Maybe a LOT of Scots descended from them. I'm not sure about that. I think the Picts came from (northern?) Europe, probably across an ancient land bridge. I don't really know what happened to them. When I form a mental picture of Picts in my mind, I see an early primitive culture. Maybe more advanced than "cavemen" but pretty primitive. If they were really advanced, then please tell me. Celt: I think the Celts were a larger group of people who lived not only in Scotland, but throughout their "empire" or "Lands of the Celts" such as Cornwall and Ireland. Tell me where else. I know of a Celtic Cross. Not sure if there was a Celtic Doublecross or not. I don't know if they were a conquering "tribe" of people or what. Were they powerful? Did they take what they wanted in their segment of history? They left a lot behind them, from what I read of them. Scot: once and for all I want to know what the Scots were early on and what that term means today. I think they were one of the early kingdoms. Are they the only ones that live in Scotland today? The others died out or absorbed? What?

2. Gaelic, Celtic, Scots. These are languages. Or they may be ONE language, I don't know. I think I know that Gaelic and Celtic are the same thing, or, at least, the language the Celts spoke became known as Gaelic. And I think Gaelic is also another word for "Irish" - the "native language" of the Irish. But I have heard the name "Scots" used as a separate language, and I have heard of "Scots-Gaelic" which starts to confuse me. What languages, once and for all, are spoken in Scotland?

3. Caledonia. I think this is just what the Romans called what is now Scotland, but I have never been absolutely sure. Maybe a smaller or larger area. Maybe just the highlands. Maybe the word is really "Caladonian" as in adjective; maybe no such thing as "Caledonia." Help.

4. Highlands and Lowlands. This is not as straightforward as you think, at least not to an American. At first, I thought of those areas as mountainous or flatlands. Don't laugh. One book I read defines Highlands as "That land not included in the Lowlands." Well, Jesus H. Christ. Really? So you see what I am up against, Jacobite-wise and Clans-wise and other-wise. Then, I began to think of them as simply upper and lower geographical areas: the lowlands to the south, closest to England, and the highlands farther north. Get it? - high and low on the map. I suppose this is still my present mental image. No one seems to want to define the terms for Americans. It seems to be inside knowledge that only the British are allowed to understand. Well, by God, I know it must have something to do with Clans, and I know it must have something to do with culture and way of life, and I know it must have something to do with ancestry, and I know it must have something to do with loyalties - at least loyalty to Stuarts or not.

5. Clans. I think of these as sort of "tribes" or extended families. They might squabble amongst other family memebers, but they would be united against outsiders. I don't know if there were Clans only in the Highlands, or if in the Lowlands as well. I don't even know if you are supposed to capitalize the word. I think I know they can be determined partly by the traditional clothes they wear. Like, if they wear Armani-designed clothes, they are Lowlanders. Kidding. I mean the different clans' (not capitalized looks ok) "tartans." While they might look the same to an American eye, I have read that the patterns are different (and maybe colors) enough where knowledgeable people can tell what clan they are from just by looking at the pattern of the tartan. Well, that is FAR beyond the scope of what I need to learn, but I would at least want to know if it is true that different clans wear different patterns of fabric.

6. Ulster Scots. I only think of the word "Ulster" when I think of Ireland, not Scotland. So maybe this is a group of people who live in Scotland who came from Ireland? A part of Ireland? Actually I am not 100% sure what Ulster in Ireland means, either. Northern Ireland? Something to do with religion, right? Are those the descendants of William of Orange followers I read about earlier? No? Ok.

7. Ulster Plantation. Vaguely, I think this is a place in America where a lot of Slave-Scots emigrated. Then they went West. I don't know. Just talking. Maybe Ulster Plantation is code for Boston. Probably not.

That's enough for now. Even I have my limits on asking stupid questions.

Update: Ok, Wikipedia says Ulster Plantation was a plantation in Ulster. Grrrr.

But that sounds reasonable. And it says Ulster is an Irish province. I thought they called them counties. So I am going in circles. I still think Ulster is all of Northern Ireland. It was once a big plantation?

Well, it turns out that PICT is a type of early Macintosh picture file format. So I was wrong about that too.


  1. I am almost certain I explained the difference between Ulster and Northern Ireland, provinces and counties, some long time ago. I started to look for the post but now I'm worn out. You've written a lot, young Max!

  2. I'm sure you did tell me. And I'm equally sure you will search the comments of a thousand posts rather than take eleven seconds to just tell me again. It's the Irish way, and I don't fault you for it, lass. :)

  3. A. - The following is what you said a few years ago, but I'll not spoil your fun and tell you exactly when or where. Why in the world don't I remember after such a fine explanation? You made it so clear. :)

    "I can be of very little help here. My mother-in-law was from the north as we called it in the south :) When our children were small, at the height of the troubles, they weren't taken to see their great grandfather because of the risks. I know of quite a few families who left Ireland at that time. I remember one woman I met whose husband worked in Belfast. She described very eloquently how her husband would be driving home from work, there would be a report of a bomb blast on the radio, her husband would be late, she was in agonies until he arrived home. This was in the days before mobile phones. They left because she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She left behind her father who, when things were flaring up, would go up and down the Shankhill Road trying to calm people down.

    There is a difference between Ulster and Northern Ireland, even though the terms are often used interchangeably. Ireland is divided into Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connaught. Northern Ireland was, but presumably still is, known as the six counties, whereas Ulster has nine. Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry, Tyrone are the six. Cavan, Donegal and Monaghan are the three in the Republic of Ireland.

    See Miss Cook, that year you spent drilling those county names into my head were not wasted! No matter what I thought at the time. If you think I'm sullen now Max, you should have seen me then!"

  4. I remember the fairy Connaught guy. Does that count?

  5. Celtic is a linguistic term (like nearly all cultural identifiers). The Celts are a people who share a common (or common-ish) language. Currently there are six (?) Celtic nations/people--Scottish, Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Breton (from Brittany, a section of northwestern France) and Manx (from Man, an island off the coast of Ireland). The Celts are descended from the original classical-era Celtcs, the Gauls (hence "Gaelic,") who were essentially wiped out/disbanded by Julius Caesar. Had JC not been so successful, it is possible most of Europe would be speaking Celtic languages instead of Romance languages.

    Scottish Gaelic is a subset of Gaelic, the language family to which all the Celtic peoples belong. However, "Scots" is a variation of English--it is *not* Gaelic, it is the dialect of English spoken by the Scottish (Robert Burns is the most obvious example). It's confusing because "Irish" is what the Irish call *their* version of Gaelic--i.e., "Irish" is *not* Irish English or any variation of English, it is an actual Gaelic language.

    I believe Celtic is the ethnic identity (as in "We're Celts" or the 6 Celtic nations) and Gaelic is the actual language (family). Again, confusing, because the identity is derived from the linguistic identity (as most are).

    Scotland is divided into two main geographic divisions, the Highlands (further North, colder, more mountainous, more "obviously" Scottish) and the Lowlands (further South, warmer, easier hills, different (more accommodating) relationship with the English).

  6. Hello Clara. Thank you for taking the time to visit and provide this information. Mostly I think I understand now. I hope you will come back and visit. :)

  7. "(more accommodating) relationship with the English)"


  8. You are the only Scot who isn't accommodating. The English have been good to you. You are a LowLowLowlander now, so best hold your peace. :)



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