"Ireland and the Irish have been great forces affecting Scottish history and attitude, in very different ways."
Donald Dewar, First Minister for Scotland 1999-2000
Ireland and Scotland over the centuries have had a close relationship. Though that relationship has frequently been troubled, it has resulted in shared or parallel experiences which more than ever merit study. At a time when relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom have entered a new phase, when both are being affected by changes in the European Union, and when the connections between the different parts of the United Kingdom are being changed by the process of devolution, it is especially valuable to foster strong academic links between Scotland and Ireland.
History, Language and Literature are at the heart of the two nations' relationship. Research in these disciplines will serve both to highlight common problems - the need to preserve or construct an identity in the shadow of a powerful neighbouring culture for example - and differences between the two countries, whether intrinsic or attributable to uneven development of the economics of land usage, industrialisation, language, literary tradition or national sovereignty. The Initiative, in itself a significant manifestation of goodwill in this vital area of concern to both countries, will develop that potential into an internationally-recognised productive understanding of the past, present and future relations of our two countries, within these islands, Europe, and the world.
Our confidence in the Initiative's future success derives in part from the fact that is being developed from roots laid down in the 1970s when the History departments pioneered joint research projects, teaching and Erasmus undergraduate exchange. We have now initiated the second phase of this development whereby doctoral postgraduates, some under the new Socrates programme, will have the unique advantage of the synergy created by the integration of the archival resources and staff expertise of the five universities. In practical terms this means, for example, that a doctoral candidate working on an Irish/Scottish topic will have the exceptional academic and cultural stimulation of spending one of his/her three research years in another university.
We anticipate that research students of the highest calibre from Britain, Ireland, Europe and North America will be attracted to this initiative and look to the emergence of the critical mass of key researchers (postgraduate, postdoctoral and current staff). Indeed, each discipline has already outlined joint research projects intended to develop (partly through staff exchange) innovative and important publication. We also intend by means of public lectures, seminars, symposia and cultural events to disseminate this research to the widest possible public.
In 1997 the Initiative organised a major international conference in the University of Strathclyde, Celebrating Columba: Irish Scottish Connections, 597-1997, the proceedings of which were published and edited by T.M. Devine & J.F. McMillan (John Donald Publishers, 1999). A second event, entitled Ireland and Scotland: Nation, Region, Identity took place in Trinity College , Dublin in 2000. It was addressed by the late Donald Dewar, first holder of the post of First Minister of Scotland’s devolved parliament. The third biannual conference was held in Queen’s, Belfast in 2002, and the proceedings, edited by Edna Longley, Eamonn Hughes and Des O’Rawe, were published as Ireland (Ulster) Scotland: Concepts, Contexts, Comparisons. The 2004 conference was held in Edinburgh in 2004, under the title of National Identity and Cultural Exchange, and its proceedings will be published in 2006.