Gaelic Education and Monasteries

In the early Middle Ages, Scotland was overwhelmingly an oral society and education was verbal rather than literary. Fuller sources for Ireland of the same period suggest that there were filidh, who acted as poets, musicians and historians, often attached to the court of a lord or king, and who passed on their knowledge in Gaelic to the next generation. After the "de-gallicisation" of the Scottish court from the twelfth century, a less highly regarded order of bards took over these functions and they would continue to act in a similar role in the Highlands and Islands into the eighteenth century. They often trained in bardic schools, of which a few, such as the one run by the MacMhuirich dynasty, who were bards to the Lord of the Isles, existed in Scotland and a larger number in Ireland, until they were suppressed from the seventeenth century. Much of their work was never written down and what survives was only recorded from the sixteenth century. Evidence of formal schooling is largely only preserved in place names.

The establishment of Christianity from the sixth century brought Latin to Scotland as a scholarly and written language. Monasteries served as major repositories of knowledge and education, often running schools and providing a small, educated and overwhelmingly male, elite, who were essential to create and read documents in a largely illiterate society. Literary life revolved around the contemplation of texts and the copying of manuscripts. Libraries were of great importance to monastic communities. The one at Iona may have been exceptional, but it demonstrates that the monks were part of the mainstream of European Christian culture.