"We have the opportunity to make sure that, in the future, relations between Scotland and Ireland are remembered as something which helped us create a new trade in ideas and expertise among our people."
Jim Wallace, Former Deputy First Minister, Scottish Executive
In a broad perspective, it is clear that Ireland and Scotland share much history in common. From earliest times the two countries, united by the sea, formed a single cultural, religious, linguistic and economic zone. Indeed so well-developed and enduring was the Irish-Scottish political and religious connection that Scotland's hero-king, Robert the Bruce, could regard himself as belonging to the same nation as the Irish, and both nations had to contend with the encroaching power of English monarchs.
Their cultural paths diverged significantly with the success of Knox’s Presbyterian Reformation in Scotland in the sixteenth century, and with the imposition of English authority on a defiantly Catholic Irish population. Nevertheless, each country continued to have profound impact on the other. In the seventeenth century as many as 100,000 Protestant Scots settled in Ulster . The political and religious effects of that remarkable migration have left a deep mark on Irish history to the present day. Then in the nineteenth century, as part of the enormous global diaspora of the Irish, many thousands moved to Scotland in the search for employment. Their labour helped Scottish industrialisation to take root rapidly. They also became Scotland's single largest group of immigrants in the modern period with marked effects on the social, religious and cultural life of many areas, especially in the Western Lowlands .
In major cultural achievements, too, each country affected the other profoundly. The Scottish Enlightenment, which laid the foundations of so many modern disciplines, began in Ireland in the work of the philosopher Francis Hutcheson, who later moved to Glasgow and profoundly influenced the work of David Hume and Adam Smith. Equally, the development of the Irish Revival in the late nineteenth-century was inspired by the recuperation of ancient Irish legend and myth, a process that had started in Scotland in the eighteenth century with the publication of James Macpherson’s Poems of Ossian.
The two countries may have had an intimate and enduring set of relationships over two millennia and more but the impact of these relationships has been virtually ignored by academic researchers in the nineteenth and for much of the twentieth centuries. Each has generally been examined through its relationship with England, and it is only in the last twenty years or so that researchers have realised a better understanding of both Ireland and Scotland could be achieved by exploring their relationship with each other.
Part of the driving force of this development has been the changed political dynamic brought about by devolution in Scotland , where a new parliament was established in 1999, and by the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, which has required a re-envisaging of the history and cultures of Ireland. The pressures of devolution within the United Kingdom and the pressure in the opposite direction of deeper integration into the European Union, have also uncovered profound similarities between the possible futures of the two nations. A better understanding of their shared past will help shape those futures.