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The Lordship of the Isles – Part 1
The Western Isles have always been a distinct part of Scotland. Where the sea dominates communications, the culture will almost automatically diverge from those locked on the land. Modern north/south maps mislead us in seeing the Isles as a fringe, but if we turn the map on its side we can start to see a different world.
From the sixth century onwards the area from the Inner Hebridies through to the north of Ulster was part of the Gaelic-speaking kingdom of Dál Riata, whose kings would eventually create the kingdom of Scotland, through the merger of the Gaels of the west and the Picts of the east, then the conquest of the Britons of the south west and the Anglo-Saxons of the south east.
Its worth dwelling on this as by sea the centre of this world suddenly becomes Iona, and it’s unsurprising that this became the religious centre under Saint Columba. It also becomes unsurprising that Columba was able to convert the Isles to Christianity, and all the way to the kings at Inverness, simply as he could travel comparatively easily up the Great Glen.
In the middle of the ninth century Dál Riata was utterly overwhelmed by the arrival of the Vikings. These masters of the sea made short work of the old kingdom and the Western Isles would forever be transformed. The Vikings came to control the Northern Isles and most of the western seaboard down to the Isle of Man. This became the Kingdom of the Isles and lasted to the thirteenth century.