Racial Discrimination in Later Medieval Ireland

Racial Discrimination in Later Medieval Ireland 

By Steven G. Ellis

Racial Discrimination and Ethnicity in European History, edited by Guðmundur Hálfdanarson (University of Pisa, 2003)

Introduction: Racial discrimination was endemic in later medieval Europe, and Ireland proved no exception. Ireland was essentially a frontier region in the later middle ages between two very different peoples and polities, English and Gaelic. The English of Ireland were subjects of the English king, as of his lordship of Ireland. They shared with Englishmen elsewhere, those of England and Wales, such national characteristics as language and culture, law and government, which set the English apart from other nations 1. The Gaedhil, or Irish, were also readily distinguished by language, law and culture. Politically, however, late medieval Gaeldom, the Gaedhealtacht, was divided into dozens of more or less independent lordships stretching over large parts of Ireland and Scotland. Cross-border interaction was of course the essence of a medieval frontier. The boundary between English and Gaelic was not the neat line we usually see plotted on maps of medieval Ireland, like the Berlin Wall: rather, it was a zone of interaction between peoples and cultures, a ‘march’ in short, with business transacted across the frontier by such hybrid forms as march law. Within the marches, differences between peoples and cultures shrank virtually to nothing.

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