November 2011

The Battle of Harlaw

Highlanders Vs Lowlanders?

The Battle of Harlaw in 1411 has often been portrayed as an epic struggle between the Scottish Highlanders and the Scottish Lowlanders, with the Lowlanders winning a major victory even more important than their victory over the English at Bannockburn.

 

The trouble with this interpretation is that it's anachronistic, because a distinct Highland/Lowland divide was not yet set in stone by the time of this battle. Many of the warriors on the Lowland side were apparently Gaelic-speaking, making them every bit as “Highland” as their adversaries.

Battle of Culloden

Last Stand of the Jacobites

A somber but historically important place to visit in Scotland is the battlefield of Culloden, where the Jacobite clans fought their final battle against the British Army in 1746. When you see the flat, empty ground of Culloden Moor, it is easy to feel empathy with the Highland warriors who were asked to charge across this bleak and completely exposed patch of land into artillery and musket fire, armed with swords and shields and knives.

Iona

Headquarters of the Columban Church

The island of Iona in the Scottish Hebrides is the burial site of many of the earliest Scottish kings- including MacBeth. It was also the center of what many people now refer to as “Celtic Christianity,” although it would be more accurate to call it the “Columban Church.”

 

The Columban Church was the unique local form taken by the Catholic Church in the Gaelic world of the Irish Sea. Instead of being structured around dioceses headed up by bishops, it was structured around powerful monasteries such as the monastery founded by St Columba at Iona. The powerful figures in the Columban Church were all abbots rather than bishops. The other main difference between the Columban Church and mainstream Christianity was the the Columban version of Christian religion was intensely focused on the beauty and goodness of God's creation.

The Lordship of the Isles

Gaelic Kingdom of the Hebrides

Most people think of the Scottish Highlanders as having been politically disunited, split into feuding clans and constantly at war. Some even believe this to have been the natural state of the Scottish Highlands, or a defining feature of Gaelic culture. The truth, however, is that the era of constant and self-destructive clan feuds only came about after the downfall of the Lordship of the Isles, the Highlanders' own home-grown central authority.