By Kenneth Gibson, MSP
With the UK on the brink of leaving the EU, Scotland’s role as a welcoming and open country is more vital than ever. While Brexit threatens our ability to connect and prosper, the SNP Government has taken ever increasing action to build and strengthen links with our European neighbours.
In May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP visited Dublin and met Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to discuss the future of Scottish-Irish relations in the wake of continuing uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
Scotland and Ireland share a deep and long-standing history and it is vital that these existing bonds are built upon and consolidated.
Ireland is Scotland’s closest international trading partner and our fifth largest export market. It is in both nations’ interest to ensure we continue working together, not just on an economic level but also in dealing with similar challenges around political engagement.
There is considerable common ground and much for Scotland to learn from Ireland’s experiences and there are many similarities between the countries in population, land area, geographical location and cultural affinity.
Many Irish people came to Scotland over millennia, particularly in the decades after the 1845-49 famine. Our increasingly integrated Irish community is very much part of the fabric of modern Scotland, creating a special connection between the countries.
Arran has its own close links to Ireland and there are even the three Aran Islands located in Galway Bay, on the west coast, famous for their woolen jumpers.
Long ago, an important connection was between the Irish Gaeltacht and Scottish Gàidhealtachd. From the 6th century, people from Ireland settled in Arran, including St Brendan and St Molaise. Gaelic was Arran’s indigenous language for centuries and even after depopulation caused by the clearances, it was still spoken widely on the island at the beginning of the 20th century. The 1901 Census reported 25 to 49% Gaelic speakers on the east of the island and 50 to 74% on the west. By 1921, the proportion across the whole island had dropped to less than 25% and the language continued its precipitous decline until the last native Arran Gaelic speaker sadly died in the 1990s.
However, Arran’s Gaelic roots can still be seen today with its poetic byname, Arainn nan Aighean Iomadh, meaning “Arran of the many stags.” Researcher and historian Iain Mac an Tàilleir says an Arran native is an Arannach or Arainneach, also nicknamed coinean mór, meaning “big rabbit.”
Our deep historic and cultural links with Ireland must be strengthened at this challenging time.