The Culture of Ireland

The culture of the people living on the island of Ireland is far from monolithic. Many notable cultural divides exist between the rural people and city dwellers, between the Catholic and Protestant people of Northern Ireland, between the Irish-speaking people within and without the Gaeltacht regions and the English-speaking majority population, between the settled people and the Travellers, and, increasingly, between new immigrants and the native population.

Land use and settlement patterns

Agriculture and rural life

As archaeological evidence from sites such as the Céide Fields in County Mayo and Lough Gur in County Limerick demonstrates, farming in Ireland is an activity that goes back to the very beginnings of human settlement. In historic times, texts such as the Táin Bó Cúailinge show a society in which cattle represented a primary source of wealth and status. Little of this had changed by the time of the Norman conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. Giraldus Cambrensis portrays a Gaelic society in which cattle farming and transhumance is the norm. Three hundred years later, the society depicted in Edmund Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland had changed remarkably little. Even today, when a quarter of the population of the Republic lives in Dublin, the cattle population is of the order of 6.7 million. The total population of humans on the island, north and south, only just approaches this figure.

Townlands, villages, parishes and counties

The Normans also introduced the manorial system of land tenure and social organisation. This led to the imposition of the village and parish over the native system of townlands. In general, a parish was a civil and religious unit with a manor, a village and a church at its centre. Each parish incorporated one or more existing townlands into its boundaries. With the full extension of English feudalism over the island, the Irish county structure came into existence. These structures are still of vital importance in the daily life of Irish communities. Apart from the religious significance of the parish, most rural postal addresses consist of house and townsland names. The village and parish are key focal points around which sporting rivalries and other forms of local identity are built and most people feel a strong sense of loyalty to their native county, a loyalty which also often has its clearest expression on the sports field.

Land ownership and land hunger

With the Elizabethan English conquest, the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland and the organised plantations of English and Scottish settlers, the patterns of land ownership in Ireland were altered greatly. The old order of transhumance and open range cattle breeding died out to be replaced by a structure of great landed estates, small tenant farmers with more or less precarious hold on their leases, and a mass of landless labourers.

This situation continued up to the end of the 19th century, when the agitation of the Land League began to bring about land reform. In this process of reform, the former tenants and labourers became land owners, with the great estates being broken up into small and medium sized farms and smallholdings. The process continued well into the 20th century with the work of the Irish Land Commission.

This contrasted with Britain, where many of the big estates were left intact. One consequence of this is the widely recognised cultural phenomenon of "land hunger" amongst the new class of farmer. In general, this means that farming families will do almost anything to retain land ownership within the family unit, with the greatest ambition possible being the acquisition of additional land.

Another is that hillwalkers in Ireland today are more constrained than their counterparts in Britain, as it is more difficult to agree rights of way with so many small farmers involved on a given route, rather than with just one landowner.

Towns and cities

Early Irish social organisation was essentially rural. Towns were more or less unknown, and monasteries and market sites fulfilled many urban functions. In the 9th century, Viking activity in Ireland shifted from raiding to permanent settlement and the first true towns on the island emerged. These towns were taken over and expanded by the Normans. As the Celtic Church was organised along monastic rather than diocesan lines, cathedrals were also more or less unknown before the 11th century. With the shift to Roman diocesan church structures, the first cathedrals, such as the Viking-founded and Norman-rebuilt Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, contributed to the expansion of the Viking/Norman towns into cities.

Many Irish urban centres developed as garrison towns during the years of British rule and this fact contributed towards their particular character. Another significant factor was the fact that the Industrial Revolution had a limited impact in Ireland. Belfast had its shipbuilding and a number of towns in Ulster had mechanised linen industries, but the majority of towns developed primarily as commercial and administrative centres. By the end of the 20th century, over 50% of the population lived in these urban areas.

Family life

The Constitution of Ireland guarantees the rights of the family and the institution of marriage. However, the reality is that social and economic change in recent years has brought about significant changes in family life in the Republic. According to figures published in September, 2004, 31% of all births in the Republic of Ireland occur outside marriage. This compares with 5% in 1980. The average age of mothers having their first child was 30 and the fertility rate is an average of 1.98 children.

In the Republic, divorce became legal on 27 February 1997. The 2002 Census of Population showed that the number of divorced persons in the state stood at 35,100, compared with 9,800 in 1996. The number of separated people, including divorces, increased from 87,800 in 1996 to 133,800 in 2002. Cohabiting couples made up 8.4% of all family units in 2002 compared with 3.9% in 1996.

Holidays and festivals

Irish calendar

Much of the Irish calendar still today reflects the old pagan customs, with later Christian traditions also having significant influence. As in other countries, the date for observing Christmas was deliberately chosen to coincide with the winter solstice. Christmas in Ireland has several local traditions, some in no way connected with Christianity. On 26 December (St. Stephen's Day), there is a custom of "Wren boys"[1] who call door to door with an arrangement of assorted material (which changes in different localities) to represent a dead wren "caught in the furze", as their rhyme goes.

Brigid's Day (1 February, known as Imbolc or Candlemas) also does not have its origins in Christianity, being instead another religious observance superimposed at the beginning of spring. The Brigid's cross made from rushes on this day represents a pre-Christian solar wheel.

Other pre-Christian festivals, whose names survive as Irish month names, are Bealtaine (May), Lúnasa (August) and Samhain (November). The last is still widely observed as Halloween, followed by All Saints' Day, another Christian holiday associated with a traditional one.

Important church holidays include Easter, and various Marian observances. The national holiday in the Republic is Saint Patrick's Day, 17 March and is marked by parades and festivals in cities and towns.

The Twelfth of July, which commemorates William III's victory at the Battle of the Boyne and the beginning of the Protestant Ascendancy, is celebrated by many Protestants throughout Northern Ireland.

Cultural institutions, organizations and events

Ireland is well supplied with museums and art galleries and offers, especially during the summer months, a wide range of cultural events. These range from arts festivals to farming events. The most popular of these are the annual Dublin Saint Patrick's Day Festival which attracts on average 500,000 people and the National Ploughing Championships with an attendance in the region of 400,000. There are also a number of Summer Schools on topics from traditional music to literature and the arts.


In the Republic, the last time a census asked people to specify their religion was 2002. The result was 88.4% Roman Catholic, 2.95% Church of Ireland (Anglican), 0.53% Presbyterian, 0.26% Methodist, less than 0.05% Jewish, approximately 2.3% other religious groupings (mainly Islam) and 3.53% no specific religious beliefs. About 2% failed to answer. In Northern Ireland in 2001, the population was 40.3% Roman Catholic, 20.7% Presbyterian, 15.3% Church of Ireland (Anglican), 3.5% Methodist, 6.1% other Christian, 0.3% other religion and philosophy, and 13.9% religion not stated. Amongst the Republic's Roman Catholics, weekly church attendance dropped from 87 % in 1981 to 60 % in 1998, though this remained one of the highest attendance rates in Europe.

Literature and the arts:

For a comparatively small country, Ireland has made a disproportionate contribution to world literature in all its branches. The works that are best known outside the country are in English, but Irish Gaelic also has the most significant body of written literature, both ancient and recent, of any Celtic language, in addition to a strong oral tradition of legends and poetry. Poetry in Irish represents the oldest vernacular poetry in Europe, with the earliest examples dating from the 6th century. In more recent times, Ireland has produced four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature; George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney.

The early history of Irish visual art is generally considered to begin with early carvings found at sites such as Newgrange and is traced through Bronze age artefacts, particularly ornamental gold objects, and the religious carvings and illuminated manuscripts of the medieval period. During the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, a strong indigenous tradition of painting emerged, including such figures as John Butler Yeats, William Orpen, Jack Yeats and Louis le Brocquy.

The Irish tradition of folk music and dance is also widely known. In the middle years of the 20th century, as Irish society was attempting to modernise, traditional music fell out of favour to some extent, especially in urban areas. Young people at this time tended to look to Britain and, particularly, the United States as models of progress and jazz and rock and roll became extremely popular. During the 1960s, and inspired by the American folk music movement, there was a revival of interest in the Irish tradition. This revival was inspired by groups like The Dubliners, the Clancy Brothers and Sweeney's Men and individuals like Seán Ó Riada.

The Uilleann pipes, a form of bagpipes unique to Ireland.Before long, groups and musicians like Horslips, Van Morrison and even Thin Lizzy were incorporating elements of traditional music into a rock idiom to form a unique new sound. During the 1970s and 1980s, the distinction between traditional and rock musicians became blurred, with many individuals regularly crossing over between these styles of playing as a matter of course. This trend can be seen more recently in the work of bands like U2, The Cranberries and The Corrs.

Food and Drink

Irish cuisine

Food in early Ireland

The worldwide famous pint of Guinness along with a slice of wheaten breadThere are many references to food and drink in early Irish literature. Honey seems to have been widely eaten and used in the making of mead. The old stories also contain many references to banquets, although these may well be greatly exaggerated and provide little insight into everyday diet. There are also many references to fulachtaí fia, which are archaeological sites commonly believed to have once been used for cooking venison. The fulachtaí fia have holes or troughs in the ground which can be filled with water. Meat can then be cooked by placing hot stones in the trough until the water boils. Many fulachtaí fia sites have been identified across the island of Ireland, and some of them appear to have been in use up to the 17th century.

Excavations at the Viking settlement in the Wood Quay area of Dublin have produced a significant amount of information on the diet of the inhabitants of the town. The main animals eaten were cattle, sheep and pigs, with pigs being the most common. This popularity extended down to modern times in Ireland. Poultry and wild geese as well as fish and shellfish were also common, as were a wide range of native berries and nuts, especially hazel. The seeds of knotgrass and goosefoot were widely present and may have been used to make a porridge.

The potato in Ireland

The potato would appear to have been introduced into Ireland in the second half of the 17th century, initially as a garden crop. It eventually came to be the main food field crop of the tenant and labouring classes. As a food source, the potato is extremely efficient in terms of energy yielded per unit area of land. The potato is also a good source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin C (especially when fresh).

Potatoes form the basis for many traditional Irish dishesAs a result, the typical 18th and 19th century Irish diet of potatoes and buttermilk was a contributing factor in the population explosion that occurred in Ireland at that time. However, the damp Irish climate favours the spread of potato blight and this frequently led to shortages and famine. The most notable instance being the Irish potato famine of 1846 to 1849 which more or less undid all the growth in population of the previous century by a combination of starvation, disease and emigration.

Food in Ireland today

In the 20th century the usual modern selection of foods common to Western culture has been adopted in Ireland. Both US fast-food culture and continental European dishes have influenced the country, along with other world dishes introduced in a similar fashion to the rest of the western world. Common meals include pizza, curry, Chinese food, and lately, some west African dishes have been making an appearance. Supermarket shelves now contain ingredients for, among others, traditional, European, American (Mexican/Tex-Mex), Indian, Polish and Chinese dishes.

The proliferation of fast food has led to increasing public health problems including obesity, and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world. Traditional Irish food and diet is also somewhat to blame, with a large emphasis on meat. Government efforts to combat this had included television advertisements.

In tandem with these developments, the last quarter of the century saw the emergence of a new Irish cuisine based on traditional ingredients handled in new ways. This cuisine is based on fresh vegetables, fish, especially salmon and trout, oysters and other shellfish, traditional soda bread, the wide range of hand-made cheeses that are now being made across the country, and, of course, the potato. Traditional dishes, such as the Irish stew, Dublin coddle, the Irish breakfast and potato bread, have enjoyed a resurgence. Schools like the Ballymaloe Cookery School have emerged to cater for the associated increased interest in cooking with traditional ingredients.

Pub culture

Pub culture, as it is termed, pervades Irish society, across all cultural divides. The term refers to the Irish habit of frequenting public houses (pubs) or bars. Traditional pub culture is concerned with more than just drinking, even though Ireland has a recognized problem with over-consumption of alcohol, with the third-highest alcohol consumption in the world according to the OECD Health Data 2005 survey. Per capita alcohol consumption increased by 41% in the period 1989 to 1999. Typically pubs are important meeting places, where people can gather and meet their neighbours and friends in a relaxed atmosphere. Pubs vary widely according to the clientele they serve, and the area they are in. Best known, and loved amongst tourists is the traditional pub, with its traditional Irish music (or "trad music"), tavern-like warmness, and memorabilia filling it. Often such pubs will also serve food, particularly during the day. Many more modern pubs, not necessarily traditional, still emulate these pubs, only perhaps substituting traditional music for a DJ or non-traditional live music.

Some larger pubs in cities eschew such trappings entirely, opting for loud music, and focusing more on the consumption of drinks. Such venues are popular "pre-clubbing" locations. "Clubbing" has become a popular phenomenon amongst young people in Ireland. Clubs usually vary in terms of the type of music played, and the target audience.

The immigrant population in many cases, has not adapted to the Irish pub & club culture, particularly in city areas, where drinking to excess is often the focus of pub and club-goers.

A significant recent change to pub culture in Ireland has been the introduction of a smoking ban, in all workplaces, which includes pubs and restaurants. The ban was introduced on March 29, 2004. A majority of the population support the ban, including a significant percentage of smokers. Nevertheless, the atmosphere in pubs has changed greatly as a result, and debate continues on whether it has boosted or lowered sales, although this is often blamed on the ever-increasing prices, or whether it is a "good thing" or a "bad thing".

The Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell intends to relax legislation governing the availability of alcohol in restaurants, to bring Ireland more in line with continental Europe.

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The two dominant languages in Ireland have long influenced each other, with the local English dialect adopting aspects of the Irish grammatical structure, and in turn, Irish drawing much vocabulary from the foreign tongue. Several other languages are spoken on the island, including Ulster Scots, a variety of Scots spoken in Ulster, and Shelta, a mixture of Irish, Romany and English, spoken widely by the Travellers. Some other languages have entered Ireland with immigrants – for example, Chinese is now the second most widely spoken language in Ireland, with Urdu also a significant minority language in Ulster. In Limerick City about one in twenty people is Russian-speaking.



There are several daily newspapers in Ireland, including the Irish Independent, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Times, The Star, The Evening Herald, Daily Ireland, The Irish Sun, and the Irish language Lá. The best selling of these is the Irish Independent, which is published in both tabloid and broadsheet form. The Irish Times is Ireland's newspaper of record.

The Sunday market is quite saturated with many British publications. The leading Sunday newspaper in terms of circulation is The Sunday Independent. Other popular papers include The Sunday Times, The Sunday Tribune, The Sunday Business Post, Ireland on Sunday and The Sunday World.

There is a very large range of international magazines available in IrelandThere are quite a large number of local weekly newspapers, with most counties and large towns having two or more newspapers. Curiously Dublin remains one of the few places in Ireland without a major local paper since The Dublin Evening Mail closed down in the 1960s. In 2004 The Dublin Daily was launched, but failed to attract enough readers to make it viable.

One major criticism of the Irish newspaper market is the large grip Independent News & Media has on the market. It controls the Evening Herald, Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Sunday World and The Star as well as holding a large stake in the cable company Chorus. The Independent titles are perceived by many Irish republicans as having a pro-British stance.

The Irish magazine market is one of the worlds most competitive with hundreds of international magazines available in Ireland ranging from Time and The Economist to Hello and Reader's Digest. This means that domestic titles find it very hard to retain readership. Among the best selling Irish magazines are the RTE Guide, Ireland's Eye, and In Dublin.


The first known radio transmission in Ireland was a call to arms made from the General Post Office in O'Connell Street during the Easter Rising. The first official radio station on the island was 2BE Belfast, which began broadcasting in 1924. This was followed in 1926 by 2RN Dublin and 6CK Cork in 1927. 2BE Belfast later became BBC Radio Ulster and 2RN Dublin became RTÉ. The first commercial radio station in the Republic, Century Radio, came on air in 1989.

During the 1990s and particularly the early 2000s, dozens of local radio stations have gained licences. This has resulted in a fragmentation of the radio broadcast market. This trend is most noticeable in Dublin where there are now 6 private stations in operation.


Father Ted - one of Ireland's most popular TV shows, produced by a British company unworried about criticism from the Irish hierarchyBBC Northern Ireland began broadcasting television programs in 1959 and RTE Television opened in 1961. Teilifís na Gaeilge (TnaG), now called TG4, started its Irish language service in 1996 and commercial television arrived when TV3 began broadcasting in 1998.

Despite there being four free terrestrial channels available in Ireland, foreign TV channels have captured a large portion of audiences. ITV 1, Sky One, and several hundred satellite channels are widely available.


The Irish Film industry has grown rapidly in recent years thanks largely to the promotion of the sector by Bord Scannán na hÉireann (The Irish Film Bord)[2] and the introduction of heavy tax breaks. Some of the most successful Irish films included Intermission (2001), Man About Dog (2004), Michael Collins (1996), Angela's Ashes (1999) and The Commitments (1991).

Ireland has also proved a popular location for shooting films with The Quiet Man (1952), Braveheart (1995), and King Arthur (2004) all being shot in Ireland.


Sport in Ireland

The Gaelic Athletic Association disciplines dominate the national sporting scene. Sport in Ireland is popular and widespread. Levels of participation and spectating are high, but as in the rest of the western world participation has been dropping due to the increasing popularity of other activities such as watching television and playing computer games. Throughout the country a wide variety of sports are played, the most popular being Gaelic football, hurling, rugby union, soccer and hockey. By attendance figures Gaelic football is by far the most popular sport in Ireland.

In Ireland many sports, such as rugby union, Gaelic football and hurling, are organised in an all-island basis, with a single team representing Ireland in international competitions. Other sports, such as soccer, have separate organising bodies in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. At the Olympics, a person from Northern Ireland can choose to represent either the Ireland or Great Britain team.

The Celts

The term Celt, normally pronounced /kɛlt/ (see article on pronunciation), refers to a member of any of a number of peoples in Europe using the Celtic languages, which form a branch of Indo-European languages, as well as others whose language is unknown but where associated cultural traits such as Celtic art are found.

Archaeological evidence

Historical theories were developed that these factors were indicative of a common origin, but later theories of culture spreading to differing indigenous peoples have recently been supported by some genetic studies.

The Celts themselves had an intricate, indigenous polytheistic religion and distinctive culture, though the spread of the Roman Empire led to continental Celts adopting Roman culture. The eventual development of Celtic Christianity in Ireland and Britain brought an early medieval renaissance of Celtic art between 400 and 1200, only ended by the Norman Conquest of Ireland in the late 12th century. Antiquarian interest from the 17th century led to the term Celt being extended, and rising nationalism brought Celtic revivals from the 19th century in areas where the use of Celtic languages had continued.

Today, "Celtic" is often used to describe the languages and respective cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany (see the Modern Celts article) but, in some opinions, corresponds more accurately to the Celtic language family - of which four are spoken today as mother tongues: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, and Breton plus two recent revivals, Cornish (Brythonic languages) and Manx (Goidelic languages).

In the last two decades of the twentieth century multidisciplinary studies were brought to bear on the history of the Celts. Disciplines such as ancient history, palaeolinguistics, archaeology, history of art, anthropology, population genetics, history of religion, ethnology, mythology and folklore studies all had an influence on celtic studies.

Development of the term "Celt"

The first literary reference to the Celtic people, as keltoi is by the Greek historian Hecataeus in 517 BC; he locates the Keltoi tribe in Rhenania (West/Southwest Germany). According to Greek mythology, Celtus was the son of Heracles and Keltine, the daughter of Bretannus. Celtus became the primogenitor of Celts.[1] In Latin Celta came in turn from Herodotus' word for the Gauls, Keltoi. The Romans used Celtae to refer to continental Gauls, but apparently not to Insular Celts. The latter were long divided linguistically into Goidhels and Brythons (see Insular Celtic languages), although other research provides a more complex picture.

The English word is modern, attested from 1707 in the writings of Edward Lhuyd whose work, along with that of other late 17th century scholars, brought academic attention to the languages and history of these early inhabitants of Great Britain.[2] In the 18th century the interest in "primitivism" which led to the idea of the "noble savage" brought a wave of enthusiasm for all things "Celtic". The antiquarian William Stukeley pictured a race of "Ancient Britons" putting up the "Temples of the Ancient Celts" such as Stonehenge before he decided in 1733 to recast the Celts in his book as Druids. The Ossian fables written by James Macpherson and portrayed as ancient Scottish Gaelic language poems added to this romantic enthusiasm. The "Irish revival" came after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 as a conscious attempt to demonstrate an Irish national identity, and with its counterpart in other countries subsequently became the "Celtic revival".[3]

Nowadays "Celt" and "Celtic" are usually pronounced /kɛlt/ and /kɛltɪk/, derived from a Greek root keltoi, when referring to the ethnic group and its languages. The pronunciation /'sɛltɪk/, derived from the French celtique, is mainly used for the names of sports teams (for example the NBA team, Boston Celtics and the SPL side, Celtic F.C. in Glasgow.

Modern uses

In a historical context, the terms "Celt" and "Celtic" can be used in several senses: they can denote peoples speaking Celtic languages; the peoples of prehistoric and early historic Europe who shared common cultural traits which are thought to have originated in the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures; or the peoples known to the Greeks as Keltoi, to the Romans as Celtae and to either by cognate terms such as Gallae or Galatae. The extent to which each of these meanings refers to the same group of people is a matter of debate.

In a modern context, the term "Celt" or "Celtic" can be used to denote areas where Celtic languages are spoken — this is the criterion employed by the Celtic League and the Celtic Congress. In this sense, there are six modern nations that can be defined as Celtic: Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales. Only four, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and Brittany have 'mother-tongue' speakers of Celtic languages and in none of them is it the language of the majority. However, all six have significant traces of a Celtic language in personal and place names, and in culture and traditions.

Galicia and Asturias in north-western Spain can also be considered Celtic because of the strong Celtic cultural identity and acknowledgement of their Celtic past, although no Celtic language has survived in either. Regions of England such as Cumbria and Devon likewise retain some Celtic influences, yet haven't retained a Celtic language (even Cornwall became fully English-speaking during the 18th century) and are therefore not categorised as Celtic regions or nations. Northumbria, or North East England, isn't considered a Celtic nation but possesses the oldest worn tartan in Britain and has its own bagpipes. Cornish aside, the last attested Celtic language native to England was Cumbric, spoken in Cumbria and southern Scotland and which may have survived until the 13th century, but was most likely dead by the eleventh. As in the case of Cornish, there have been recent attempts to revive it, although the evidence upon which this is based is slight in the extreme. Another area of Europe associated with the Celts is France, which traces its roots to the Gauls. In Scotland, the Gaelic language traces at least some of its roots to migration and settlement by the Irish Dál Riata/Scotti. The settlement of Germanic immigrants in the lowlands — among other things — reduced the spread of the Gaelic language which was supplanting Brythonic in Scotland; this has meant that Scots-Gaelic-speaking communities survive chiefly in the country's northern and western fringes.

Use of the term for pre-Roman peoples of Britain and Ireland The use of the word "Celtic" as an umbrella term for the pre-Roman peoples of Britain gained considerable popularity in the nineteenth century, and remains in common usage. However its historical basis is now seen as dubious by many historians and archaeologists, and the utility of this usage has been questioned.

Simon James, formerly of the British Museum. His book The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention? makes the point that the Romans never used the term "Celtic" (or, rather, a cognate in Latin) in reference to the peoples of Britain and Ireland, and points out that the modern term "Celt" was coined as a useful umbrella term in the early 18th century to distinguish the non-English inhabitants of the archipelago when England united with Scotland in 1707 to create the Kingdom of Great Britain and the later union of Great Britain and Ireland as the United Kingdom in 1800. Nationalists in Scotland, Ireland and Wales looked for a way to differentiate themselves from England and assert their right to independence. James then argues that, despite the obvious linguistic connections, archaeology does not suggest a united Celtic culture and that the term is misleading, no more (or less) meaningful than "Western".

Miranda Green, author of Celtic Goddesses, describes archaeologists as finding "a certain homogeneity" in the traditions in the area of Celtic habitation including Britain and Ireland — she sees the inhabitants of Britain and Ireland as having become thoroughly Celticized by the time of the Roman arrival, mainly through spread of culture rather than a movement of people.

In his book Iron Age Britain, Barry Cunliffe concludes that "...there is no evidence in the British Isles to suggest that a population group of any size migrated from the continent in the first millennium BC...". Modern archaeological thought tends to disparage the idea of large population movements without facts to back them up, a caution which appears to be vindicated by some genetic studies. In other words, Celtic culture in the Atlantic Archipelago and continental Europe could have emerged through the peaceful convergence of local tribal cultures bound together by networks of trade and kinship — not by war and conquest. This type of peaceful convergence and cooperation is actually relatively common among tribal peoples; other well known examples of the phenomenon include the Six Nations of the Iroquois League and the Nuer of East Africa. He argues that the ancient Celts are thus best depicted as a loose and highly diverse collection of indigenous tribal societies bound together by trade, a common druidic religion, related languages, and similar political institutions — but each having its own local traditions.

Michael Morse in the conclusion of his book How the Celts came to Britain concedes that the concepts of a broad Celtic linguistic area and recognizably Celtic art have their uses, but argues that the term implies a greater unity than existed. Despite such problems he suggests that the term Celt is probably too deep-rooted to be replaced and — what is more important — it has the definition that we choose to give it. The problem is that the wider public reads into the term quite anachronistic concepts of ethnic unity that no one on either side in the academic debate holds.

Population genetics

With the information gathered recently by population geneticists, it is becoming increasingly clear that the old idea of large-scale replacement by newer invaders is sometimes a misleading concept. The Celtic ethnicity debate took off at a particularly early stage in population genetic studies, a science still in its very early stages of development. Taking this into account along with the fact that these limited studies are dealing only with particular sections of DNA (eg. MtDNA, Y chromosome; no studies can currently be carried out regarding X chromosome inheritance), the results cannot be considered conclusive in any way.

In his book Neanderthal, archaeologist Douglas Palmer refers to genetic research conducted across Europe, then states the original modern genetic group in Europe arrived between 9,000 and 5,000 years ago with the spread of farming, displacing the earlier hunter gatherer populations. Such displacement coincided with a population explosion, since farming is capable of supporting up to 60 times greater population than the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the same area:

"None of Europe's subsequent historic upheavals - even catastrophic wars and famines - has seriously dented the old pattern set by the influx of farmers. The Goths, Huns and Romans have come and gone without any significant impact on the ancient gene map of Europe". The Y-chromosomes of populations of the so called Celtic countries have been found in several studies to primarily belong to haplogroup R1b, which makes them descendants partially of the first people to migrate into north-western Europe after the last major ice age. According to the most recently published studies of European haplogroups, around half of the current male population of that portion of Eurasia is a descendant of the R1b haplogroup. Haplotype R1b exceeds 90% of Y-chromosomes in parts of Wales, Ireland and Spain.

In two recently published books - The Blood of the Isles by Brian Sykes and The Origins of the British: a Genetic Detective Story by Stephen Oppenheimer - it is claimed, based upon recent genetic studies, that the majority of Britons have ancestors from the Iberian Peninsula, as a result of a series of migrations that took place during the Mesolithic and, to a lesser extent, the Neolithic eras. Oppenheimer's theory is that the modern day people of Wales, Ireland and Cornwall are mainly descended from Iberians who did not speak a Celtic language.

In Origins of the British (2006), Stephen Oppenheimer states (pages 375 and 378):

By far the majority of male gene types in Britain and Ireland derive from Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average only 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory... ...75-95% of Britain and Ireland (genetic) matches derive from Iberia...Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of Britain and Ireland have similarly high rates. England has rather lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples...

Origins and geographical distribution

The Celtic language family is a branch of the larger Indo-European family, which leads some scholars to a hypothesis that the original speakers of the Celtic proto-language may have arisen in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (see Kurgan). However, speakers of Celtic languages enter history from around 600 BC, when they were already split into several language groups, and spread over much of Central Europe, the Iberian peninsula, Ireland and Britain. Some studies now suggest (see above) that certain Celtic peoples shared genetic ancestry with the Basque people.[5] J. F. del Giorgio in The Oldest Europeans mentions that mythologists like Robert Graves reached a similar conclusion through comparative mythology and the study of Celtic customs.

Some scholars think that the Urnfield culture represents an origin for the Celts as a distinct cultural branch of the Indo-European family. This culture was preeminent in central Europe during the late Bronze Age, from ca. 1200 BC until 700 BC, itself following the Unetice and Tumulus cultures. The Urnfield period saw a dramatic increase in population in the region, probably due to innovations in technology and agricultural practices. The spread of iron-working led to the development of the Hallstatt culture directly from the Urnfield (c. 700 to 500 BC). Proto-Celtic, the latest common ancestor of all known Celtic languages, is considered by this school of thought to have been spoken at the time of the late Urnfield or early Hallstatt cultures, in the early first millennium BC.

The spread of the Celtic languages to Ireland, Britain and Iberia would have occurred during the first half of the 1st millennium, the earliest chariot burials in Britain dating to ca. 500 BC. Over the centuries they developed into the separate Celtiberian, Goidelic and Brythonic languages. Whether Goidelic and Brythonic are descended from a common Insular-Celtic language, or reflect two separate waves of migration, is disputed. Either way, the La Tène culture can be associated with the Gauls, but its dates are entirely too late for it to be a candidate for the Proto-Celtic culture.

The Hallstatt culture was succeeded by the La Tène culture, and during the final stages of the Iron Age gradually transformed into the explicitly Celtic culture of early historical times. The La Tène culture was distributed around the upper reaches of the Danube, Switzerland, Austria, southern and central Germany, northern regions of Italy, eastern France, Bohemia, Moravia, Spain,Slovakia and parts of Hungary and Ukraine. The technologies, decorative practices and metal-working styles of the La Tène were to be very influential on the continental Celts. The La Tène style was highly derivative from the Greek, Etruscan and Scythian decorative styles with whom the La Tène settlers frequently traded.

Additional forays into Greece and central Italy during the historical period did not result in settlement, though the same movement that brought Celtic invaders to Greece pushed on through to Anatolia, where they settled as the Galatians.

As there is no archaeological evidence for large scale invasions in some of the other areas, one current school of thought holds that Celtic language and culture spread to those areas by contact rather than invasion. However, the Celtic invasions of Italy, Greece, and western Anatolia are well documented in Greek and Latin history. Examine the Map of Celtic Lands for more information.[6]

Pliny the Elder affirms that Celtica (the country of origin of the Celts) was in the delta of the river Guadalquivir in the south of Spain "praeter haec in Celtica Acinippo, Arunda, Arunci, Turobriga, Lastigi, Salpesa, Saepone, Serippo. altera Baeturia, quam diximus Turdulorum et conventus Cordubensis, habet oppida non ignobilia Arsam, Mellariam, Mirobrigam Reginam, Sosintigi, Sisaponem".

Celts in Britain and Ireland

The indigenous populations of Britain and Ireland today may be primarily descended from the ancient peoples that have long inhabited these lands, before the coming of Celtic and later Germanic peoples, language and culture. As to the original culture and language, little is known but remnants may remain in the naming of some geographical features, such as the rivers Clyde, Tamar and Thames whose etymology is unclear but may certainly derive from a pre-Celtic substrate. By the Roman period, however, most of the inhabitants of the isles of Ireland and Britain (the ancient Britons) were speaking Goidelic or Brythonic languages, close counterparts to Gallic languages spoken on the European mainland. Historians explained this as the result of successive invasions from the European continent by diverse Celtic-speaking peoples over the course of several centuries. In 1946 the Celtic scholar T. F. O'Rahilly published his extremely influential model of the early history of Ireland which postulated four separate waves of Celtic invaders. It is still not known what languages were spoken by the peoples of Ireland and Britain before the arrival of the Celts.

Celtic dagger found in Britain.Later research indicated that the culture had developed gradually and continuously. In Ireland little archaeological evidence was found for large intrusive groups of Celtic immigrants, suggesting to historians such as Colin Renfrew that the native late Bronze Age inhabitants gradually absorbed European Celtic influences and language. The very few continental La Tène culture style objects which had been found in Ireland could have been imports, the possessions of a few rich immigrants, or the result of selectively absorbing cultural influences from outside elites, further supporting this theory of cultural exchange rather than migration.

Julius Caesar wrote of people in Britain who came from Belgium (the Belgae), but archaeological evidence which was interpreted in the 1930s as confirming this was contradicted by later interpretations. The archaeological evidence is of substantial cultural continuity through the first millennium BCE, although with a significant overlay of selectively-adopted elements of La Tène culture. There is numismatic and other evidence of continental-style states appearing in southern England close to the end of the period possibly reflecting in part immigration by élites from various Gallic states such as those of the Belgae. However, this immigration would be far too late to account for the origins of Insular Celtic languages. In the 1970s the continuity model was taken to an extreme, popularised by Colin Burgess in his book The Age of Stonehenge which theorised that Celtic culture in Great Britain "emerged" rather than resulted from invasion and that the Celts were not invading aliens, but the descendants of the people of Stonehenge. The existence of Celtic language elsewhere in Europe, however, and the dating of the Proto-Celtic culture and language to the Bronze Age, makes the most extreme claims of continuity impossible.

More recently a number of genetic studies have also supported this model of culture and language being absorbed by native populations. The study by Cristian Capelli, David Goldstein and others at University College, London showed that genes associated with Gaelic names in Ireland and Scotland are also common in certain parts of Wales and are similar to the genes of the Basque people, who speak a non-Indo-European language. This similarity supported earlier findings in suggesting a largely pre-Celtic genetic ancestry, possibly going back to the Paleolithic. They suggest that 'Celtic' culture and the Celtic language may have been imported to Britain by cultural contact, not mass invasions around 600 BC.

Some recent studies have suggested that, contrary to long-standing beliefs, the Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons) did not wipe out the Romano-British of England but rather, over the course of six centuries, conquered the native Brythonic people of what is now England and south east Scotland and imposed their culture and language upon them, in a manner similar to how Irish possibly spread over the west of Scotland. Still others maintain that the picture is mixed and that in some places the indigenous population was indeed wiped out while in others it was assimilated. According to this school of thought the populations of Yorkshire, East Anglia, Northumberland and the Orkney and Shetland Islands are those populations with the fewest traces of ancient (Celtic) British continuation.

For obvious reasons the question of whether or not England originated with a Genocide against the indigenous, culturally Celtic, population is highly controversial and has clear political overtones - particularly with the contemporary emergence of strong Nationalist movements in Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall and the ongoing conflict in Northern Ireland.

Celts in Iberia


Traditional scholarship surrounding the Celts virtually ignored the Iberian Peninsula, since material culture relatable to the Hallstatt and La Tène cultures that have defined Iron Age Celts was rare in Iberia, and did not provide a cultural scenario that could easily be linked to that of Central Europe. The Celts in Iberia, however, were divided in two main archaeological and cultural groups. On the one hand were the Hispano-Celtic or Iberian-Proto-Celtic group along the Iberian Atlantic shores, made up of the Lusitanian tribes (in Portugal and the Celtic region that Strabo called Celtica in the southwest including the Algarve, inhabited by the Celtici), the Vettones, Vacceani and Germani tribes (of central west Spain), and the Gallaecian, Artabric, Astures and Cantabrian tribes of the Castro culture of north and northwest Spain); On the other hand was the Celtiberian group of central Spain and the upper Ebro valley, which both present special, local features. The group originated when Celts migrated from what is now France and integrated with the local Iberian people. The origins of the Celtiberians might provide a key to unlocking the Celticization process in the rest of the Peninsula.

Roman influence

At the dawn of history in Europe, the Celts in present-day France were known as Gauls. Their descendants were described by Julius Caesar in his Gallic Wars. There was also an early Celtic presence in northern Italy. Other Celtic tribes invaded Italy, establishing there a city they called Mediolanum (modern Milan) and sacking Rome itself in 390 BC following the Battle of the Allia.

The Celts settled much further south of the Po River than many maps show. Remnants in the town of Doccia, in the province of Emilia-Romagna, showcase Celtic houses in very good condition dating from about the 4th century BC.

A century later the defeat of the combined Samnite, Celtic and Etruscan alliance by the Romans in the Third Samnite War sounded the end of the Celtic domination in Europe, but it was not until 192 BC that the Roman armies conquered the last remaining independent Celtic kingdoms in Italy.

Under Caesar the Romans conquered Celtic Gaul, and from Claudius onward the Roman empire absorbed parts of Britain. Roman local government of these regions closely mirrored pre-Roman 'tribal' boundaries, and archaeological finds suggest native involvement in local government. Latin was the official language of these regions after the conquests.

The native peoples under Roman rule became Romanized and keen to adopt Roman ways. Celtic art had already incorporated classical influences, and surviving Gallo-Roman pieces interpret classical subjects or keep faith with old traditions despite a Roman overlay.


The Roman occupation of Gaul, and to a lesser extent of Britain, led to Roman-Celtic syncretism, see Roman Gaul, Roman Britain. In the case of Gaul, this eventually resulted in the dilution of Gaulish language, and the creation of a "Vulgar Latin," see Gallo-Roman culture. However, the Celts were master horsemen, and they so impressed the Romans that it led the Romans to adopt worship of Epona, the Celtic horse goddess. During and after the fall of the Roman Empire many parts of France threw out their Roman administrators and reverted to a Celtic sense of self.

It could be argued that Rome went through a “Gaulisation” as their soldiers acquired many traits from the Celts, especially in the fields of war, swords, armor design and the habit of carrying two pillum into battle, all distinctly Celtic (and Celtiberian) traits.

Celtic Christianity

While the regions under Roman rule adopted Christianity along with the rest of the Roman empire, unconquered areas of Scotland and Ireland moved from Celtic polytheism to Celtic Christianity which was a major source of missionary work in other parts of Britain and central Europe, see Hiberno-Scottish mission. This brought the early medieval renaissance of Celtic art between 390 and 1200 A.D., developing many of the styles now thought of as typically Celtic, and found through much of Ireland and Britain, including the north-east and far north of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland. This was brought to an end by Roman Catholic and Norman influence, though the Celtic languages and some influences of the art continued.

Germanic migration

Successive waves of Germanic speaking invaders settled in and were absorbed by western Celtic countries, themselves having been forced by Huns and Scythians or simply population pressures out of their homelands. With the fall of the Roman Empire the Celts of Gaul, Iberia, Britannia and Belgium were all affected (linguistically more than genetically)[citation needed] by Germanic languages, the resulting languages of such countries combine various elements of Latin Celtic and Germanic languages. The ease and quickness with which several identified “German” tribes assimilated into Celtic cultures would seem to imply that they were simply compatible with Celtic countries or more decisively Celtic themselves. The Franks established peace with the rebellious Bretons by stating “we are all Celts” in the 7th Century.[citation needed]

Only on a few occasions were Celtic populations fully assimilated by invaders and in such countries their marks still remain in cultural legends and a number of place names such as Bohemia, after the Boii tribe which once lived there. The mythology of Celtic countries has been absorbed into the folklore of half a dozen other countries. For instance, the famous Medieval English Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is almost certainly partially derived from the medieval Irish text Fled Bricrend (The Feast of Bricriu).

Argument rages in the academic world as to whether the population of Brythonic Celts in much of England and Southern Scotland was largely displaced or merely absorbed by invading Germanic tribes (Anglo-Saxons) in the 4th - 6th centuries. Many historians now argue that the Germanic migration was smaller than previously believed or may have consisted merely of a social elite, with the genocide more cultural rather than physical due to such relatively few numbers of Anglo-Saxons mixing with the larger native population. A recent DNA study on Y-chromosome inheritance has suggested that the population of England maintains a predominantly Brythonic (ancient British) element. The general indigenous population of Yorkshire, East Anglia and the Orkney and Shetland Islands are those populations with the very least traces of ancient British paternal continuation.[9] Ironically, it may be Viking genetic influence and not Anglo-Saxon which has had a more profound impact on paternal British bloodlines, or it could very well have been a combination of both groups.

On the other hand, linguistic elements suggest that the Anglo-Saxons wiped out the Celts in England. Outside of place names, not much more than a dozen Celtic loan words survive in English. In contrast, when the English were themselves conquered by a social elite in a scenario similar to above, English survived as a language, albeit with heavy influence from French. The dearth of Celtic loanwords in English tends to argue for a displacement scenario.

Celtic social system and arts

To the extent that sources are available, they depict a pre-Christian Celtic social structure based formally on class and kinship. Patron-client relationships similar to those of Roman society are also described by Caesar and others in the Gaul of the first century BC.

In the main, the evidence is of tribes being led by kings, although some argue that there is evidence of oligarchical republican forms of government eventually emerging in areas in close contact with Rome. Most descriptions of Celtic societies describe them as being divided into three groups: a warrior aristocracy; an intellectual class including professions such as druid, poet, and jurist; and everyone else. There are instances recorded where women participated both in warfare and in kingship, although they were in the minority in these areas. In historical times, the offices of high and low kings in Ireland and Scotland were filled by election under the system of tanistry, which eventually came into conflict with the feudal principle of primogeniture where the succession goes to the first born son.

Archaeological discoveries at the Vix Burial indicate that women could achieve high status and power within at least one Celtic society. As Celtic history was only carried forward by oral tradition, it has been advanced that the traditions finally recorded in the seventh century can be projected back through Celtic history.[10] If this is so then, according to the Cáin Lánamna, a woman had the right to demand divorce, take back whatever property she brought into the marriage and be free to remarry. If later Celtic tradition can be projected back, and from Ireland to Britain and the continent, then Celtic law demanded that children, the elderly, and the mentally handicapped be looked after.

Little is known of family structure among the Celts. Athenaeus in his Deipnosophists, 13.603, claims that "the Celts, in spite of the fact that their women are very beautiful, prefer boys as sexual partners. There are some of them who will regularly go to bed – on those animal skins of theirs – with a pair of lovers", implying a woman and a boy. Such reports reflect outsiders' interpretations of Celtic culture; however, it should be noted that Age-structured homosexuality was common, and often accepted as normal, in many pre-Christian European cultures.

Warfare appears to have been a regular feature of Celtic societies. While epic literature depicts this as more of a sport focused on raids and hunting rather than organised territorial conquest, the historical record is more of tribes using warfare to exert political control and harass rivals, for economic advantage, and in some instances to conquer territory. Dionysius said that their "manner of fighting, being in large measure that of wild beasts and frenzied, was an erratic procedure, quite lacking in military science. Thus, at one moment they would raise their swords aloft and smite after the manner of wild boars, throwing the whole weight of their bodies into the blow like hewers of wood or men digging with mattocks, and again they would deliver crosswise blows aimed at no target, as if they intended to cut to pieces the entire bodies of their adversaries, protective armour and all"[5]. The Irish also liked to play games such as fidchell and hurling.

Patterns of settlement varied from decentralised to the urban. The popular stereotype of non-urbanised societies settled in hillforts and duns, drawn from Britain and Ireland contrasts with the urban settlements present in the core Hallstatt and La Tene areas, with the many significant oppida of Gaul late in the first millennium BC, and with the towns of Gallia Cisalpina.

There is archaeological evidence to suggest that the pre-Roman Celtic societies were linked to the network of overland trade routes that spanned Eurasia. Large prehistoric trackways crossing bogs in Ireland and Germany have been found by archaeologists. They are believed to have been created for wheeled transport as part of an extensive roadway system that facilitated trade.[11] The territory held by the Celts contained tin, lead, iron, silver and gold.[12] Celtic smiths and metalworkers created weapons and jewelry for international trade, particularly with the Romans. Celtic traders were also in contact with the Phoenicians: gold works made in pre-Roman Ireland have been unearthed in archaeological digs in Palestine and trade routes between Atlantic societies and Palestine dating back to at least 1600 BC.

Local trade was largely in the form of barter, but as with most tribal societies they probably had a reciprocal economy in which goods and other services are not exchanged, but are given on the basis of mutual relationships and the obligations of kinship. Low value coinages of potin, silver and bronze, suitable for use in trade, were minted in most Celtic areas of the continent, and in South-East Britain prior to the Roman conquest of these areas. The Coligny calendar, which was more accurate than the Roman calendar, shows that the Celts in Gaul had some understanding of mathematics and astronomy.

There are only very limited records from pre-Christian times written in Celtic languages. These are mostly inscriptions in the Roman, and sometimes Greek, alphabets. The Ogham script was mostly used in early Christian times in Ireland and Scotland, and was only used for ceremonial purposes such as inscriptions on gravestones. The available evidence is of a strong oral tradition, such as that preserved by bards in Ireland, and eventually recorded by monasteries. The oldest recorded rhyming poetry in the world is of Irish origin and is a transcription of a much older epic poem, leading some scholars to claim that the Celts invented Rhyme. They were highly skilled in visual arts and Celtic art produced a great deal of intricate and beautiful metalwork, examples of which have been preserved by their distinctive burial rites.

In some regards the Atlantic Celts were conservative, for example they still used chariots in combat long after they had been reduced to ceremonial roles by the Greeks and Romans, though when faced with the Romans in Britain, their chariot tactics defeated the invasion attempted by Julius Caesar.

Celtic polytheism

Celtic religious patterns were regionally variable, however some patterns of deity forms, and ways of worshiping these deities, appear over a wide geographical and temporal range. The Celts worshipped both gods and goddesses. In general, the gods were deities of particular skills, such as the many-skilled Lugh and Dagda, and the goddesses associated with natural features, most particularly rivers, such as Boann, goddess of the River Boyne. This was not universal, however, as Goddesses such as Brighid and The Morrígan were associated with both natural features (holy wells and the River Unius) and skills such as blacksmithing, healing and warfare.

The Celts had literally hundreds of deities, some unknown outside of a single family or tribe, while others were popular enough to have a following that crossed boundaries of language and culture. For instance, the Irish god Lugh, associated with storms, lightning, and culture, is seen in a similar form as Lugos in Gaul and Lleu in Wales. Similar patterns are also seen with the Continental Celtic horse goddess Epona, and what may well be her Irish and Welsh counterparts, Macha and Rhiannon, respectively.

Roman reports of the druids mention ceremonies being held in sacred groves. La Tène Celts built temples of varying size and shape, though they also maintained shrines at sacred trees, and votive pools.

Druids fulfilled a variety of roles in Celtic religion, as priests and religious officiants, but also as judges, sacrificers, teachers and lore-keepers. In general, they were the "college professors" of their time. Druids organized and ran the religious ceremonies, as well as memorizing and teaching the calendar. Though generally quite accurate, the Celtic calendar required manual correction about every 40 years, therefore knowledge of mathematics was required. Other classes of druids performed ceremonial sacrifices of crops and animals for the perceived benefit of the community.

The Celts as head-hunters

"Amongst the Celts the human head was venerated above all else, since the head was to the Celt the soul, centre of the emotions as well as of life itself, a symbol of divinity and of the powers of the other-world." - Paul Jacobsthal, Early Celtic Art.

The Celtic cult of the severed head is documented not only in the many sculptured representations of severed heads in La Tène carvings, but in the surviving Celtic mythology, which is full of stories of the severed heads of heroes and the saints who carry their decapitated heads, right down to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the Green Knight picks up his own severed head after Gawain has struck it off, just as St. Denis carried his head to the top of Montmartre. Separated from the mundane body, although still alive, the animated head acquires the ability to see into the mythic realm.

A further example of this regeneration after beheading lies in the tales of Connemara's St Feichin, who after being beheaded by Viking pirates carried his head to the Holy Well on Omey Island and on dipping the head into the well placed it back upon his neck and was restored to full health.

Diodorus Siculus, in his 1st century History had this to say about Celtic head-hunting: "They cut off the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and carry off as booty, while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory; and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses, just as do those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies, and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that for this head one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold.

The Celts also believed that if they attached the head of their enemy to a pole or a fence near their house, the head would start crying when the enemy was near. Also if the head was taken from an enemy who was important enough they would put it in a church and pray to it believing it had magic powers.

The Celtic headhunters venerated the image of the severed head as a continuing source of spiritual power. If the head is the seat of the soul, possessing the severed head of an enemy, honorably reaped in battle, added prestige to any warrior's reputation. According to tradition the buried head of a god or hero named Bran the Blessed protected Britain from invasion across the English Channel.

Names for the Celts

The origin of the various names used since classical times for the people known today as the Celts is obscure and has been controversial. It appears that none of the terms recorded were ever used by Celtic speakers of themselves. In particular, there is no record of the term "Celt" being used in connection with the inhabitants of Ireland and Britain prior to the 19th century.

The name "Gauls"

English "Gaul(s)" and Latin Gallus or Galli might be from an originally Celtic ethnic or tribal name (perhaps borrowed into Latin during the early 400s BC Celtic expansions into Italy). Its root may be the Common Celtic *galno, meaning "power" or "strength". Greek Galatai (see Galatia in Anatolia) seems to be based on the same root, borrowed directly from the same hypothetical Celtic source which gave us Galli (the suffix -atai is simply an ethnic name indicator).

The English form Gaul comes from the French Gaule and Gaulois, which is the traditional rendering of Latin Gallia and Gallus, -icus respectively. However, the diphthong au points to a different origin, namely a Romance adaptation of the Germanic *Walha-.

The word "Welsh"

The word "Welsh" is Germanic, yet it may ultimately have a Celtic source. It may be the result of an early borrowing (in the 4th century BC) of the Celtic tribal name Volcae into early Germanic (becoming the Proto-Germanic *Walh-, "foreigner of the Roman lands" and the suffixed form *-walhisk). The Volcae were one of the Celtic peoples that for two centuries barred the southward expansion of the Germanic tribes in what is now central Germany on the line of the Hartz mountains and into Saxony and Silesia.

In the Middle Ages certain districts of what is now Germany were known as Welschland as opposed to Deutschland, and the word is cognate with Vlach (see: Etymology of Vlach) and Walloon as well as with the "-wall" in "Cornwall". Other examples are the surnames Wallace and Walsh. During the early Germanic period, the term seems to have been applied to the peasant population of the Roman Empire, most of whom were, in the areas immediately settled by the Germanic people, of ultimately Celtic origin.

Celtic law

A number of law codes have in the past been in use in Celtic countries. While these vary considerably in details, there are certain points of similarity.

The Brehon Laws governed everyday life and politics in Ireland until the Norman invasion of 1171 (the word "Brehon" is an Anglicisation of breitheamh (earlier brithem), the Irish word for a judge). The laws were written in the Old Irish period (ca. 600–900 AD) and probably reflect the traditional laws of pre-Christian Ireland.

Welsh law was traditionally codified by Hywel Dda during the period when he was king of most of Wales between 942 and his death in 950. This was partly an adaptation of previously existing laws however. Welsh law remained in force in Wales until the death of Llywelyn the Last in 1282 for criminal cases, and until the Acts of Union in the mid-sixteenth century for civil cases.

Common features of these codes include an emphasis on the payment of compensation for a crime to the victim or the victim's kin rather than on punishment by the ruler.

Celtic music

Celtic music is a term utilized by record companies, music stores and music magazines to describe a broad grouping of musical genres that evolved out of the folk musical traditions of the Celtic peoples of Western Europe, though there are considerable doubts whether any of said peoples actually shared a genetic or cultural origin. As such there is no real body of music which can be accurately be described as Celtic, but the term has stuck and may refer to both orally-transmitted traditional music and recorded popular music. The latter sometimes has barely even a superficial resemblance to folk music of any of the Celtic cultures, but on the other hand it sometimes represents sincere work towards adapting Celtic traditions for modern, global culture.

Celtic music means two things mainly. The first: the music of the peoples calling themselves Celts (a non-musical, more political definition), as opposed to, say "French folk music" or "English folk music." The second: whatever qualities may be unique to the musics of the Celtic Nations (a musical definition). Some insist there is actually nothing in common, such as Geoff Wallis and Sue Wilson in their book 'The Rough Guide to Irish Music', whereas others (such as Alan Stivell ), say there is.

Often, the term Celtic music is applied to the music of Ireland and Scotland, because both places have produced well-known distinctive styles which actually have genuine commonality and clear mutual influences; however, it is notable that Irish and Scottish traditional musicians themselves avoid the term "Celtic music," except when forced by the necessities of the market. They are famous too because of the importance of Irish and Scottish people in the English speaking world. The music of Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Brittany, Northumbria, Galicia, Cantabria and Asturias and Northeastern Portugal are also frequently considered a part of Celtic music, the Celtic tradition being particularly strong in Brittany, where Celtic festivals large and small take place throughout the year and because of Alan Stivell's recordings and tours. Finally, the music of ethnically Celtic peoples abroad are also considered, especially in Canada and the United States.

In Celtic Music: A Complete Guide, June Skinner Sawyers acknowledges six Celtic nationalities divided into two groups according to their linguistic heritage. The Q-Celtic nationalities are the Irish, Scottish and Manx peoples, while the P-Celtic groups are the Cornish, Bretons and Welsh peoples. Sawyer also mentions the Celtiberian languages as part of P-Celtic. The Breton musician Alan Stivell uses a similar dichotomy, between the Gaelic (Irish and Scottish) branch and the Brythonic (Breton and Welsh) group, which differentiate "mostly by the extended range (sometimes more than two octaves) of Irish and Scottish melodies and the closed range of Breton and Welsh melodies (often reduced to a half-octave), and by the frequent use of the pure pentatonic scale in Gaelic music."

Modern adaptations

The first modern adaptations in the 60s were those of artists such as the English Jethro Tull, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, Clannad, Moya Brennan, and Horslips in Ireland, and Alan Stivell in Brittany, who made some of the first attempts at creating pan-celtic modern popular music and some of whom are still now exploring new kinds of Celtic fusion. In 1982 with The Pogues invention of Celtic folk-punk, there has been a movement to incorporate Celtic influences into other genres of music. Bands such as Seven Nations and Needfire do American adaptions in the form of Celtic Rock.

Ciarán Farrell.Composer Ciarán Farrell blends classical influences with rock, jazz, folk and traditional Irish styles, using different combinations of instruments and orchestras to play his music. Marxman, an Irish-Jamaican hip hop group that gained notoriety in Britain in the late 1980s and was banned from the BBC for including I.R.A. slogans in their music, sampled traditional Celtic instruments in several of their songs. Sinéad O'Connor has also been active in the fusion movement and incorporated a wide range of modern and traditional influences into her music.

In Scotland Gaelic punk bands such as Oi Polloi and Mill a h-Uile Rud that write and perform in Scots Gaelic have recently gained popularity as well.

The Welsh language is less well represented[citation needed], though the lyrics of such bands as Ceredwen, which fuses traditional instruments with trip-hop beats, are sung entirely in Welsh.

Today there are Celtic-influenced sub genres of virtually every type of popular music, from House to Trance, hip hop to Punk Rock, New Age to Pop. Collectively these modern interpretations of Celtic music are sometimes referred to as Celtic Fusion.

Celtic mythology

Celtic mythology is the mythology of Celtic polytheism, apparently the religion of the Iron Age Celts. Like other Iron Age Europeans, the early Celts maintained a polytheistic mythology and religious structure. Among Celtic peoples in close contact with Rome, such as the Gauls and Celtiberians, their mythology did not survive the Roman empire, their subsequent conversion to Christianity, and the loss of their Celtic languages. Ironically it is through contemporary Roman and Christian sources that what we do know of their beliefs has come down to us. However, those Celtic peoples who maintained either their political or linguistic identities (such as the Gaels and Brythonic tribes of the British Isles) did transmit at least vestigial remnants of the mythologies of their Iron Age forebears, which were often recorded in written form during the Middle Ages.

The mythology of Ireland

The oldest body of myths is found in early medieval manuscripts from Ireland. These were written by Christians, so the formerly divine nature of the characters is obscured. The basic myth appears to be a war between two apparently divine races, the Tuatha Dé Danann and the Fomorians, which forms the basis for the text Cath Maige Tuireadh (the Battle of Mag Tuireadh), as well as portions of the history-focused Lebor Gabála Érenn (the Book of Invasions). The Tuatha Dé represent the functions of human society such as kingship, crafts and war, while the Fomorians represent chaos and wild nature.

Celtic nations

The Six Nations considered the heartland of the modern CeltsCeltic nations are areas of Europe inhabited by members of Celtic cultures, specifically speakers of Celtic languages. Since the mid-20th century, people of many nations and regions have used modern 'Celticity' to express their identity. Over time, these nations have come to be more or less widely labeled as Celtic. These Celtic places in Europe are sometimes also referred to as the "Celt belt" or "Celtic Fringe" owing to their location in the generally north-western part of the regions that they inhabit (e.g. Brittany is in the northwest of France, the Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland and Ireland are in the northwest and west, respectively). However, these terms are sometimes interpreted as derogatory, so residents of these lands tend to prefer the term "Celtic nations".

At one time the whole British Isles was predominantly Cruthin/Celtic. The Romans called Britain Britannias and Britanniae after Britto meaning Cruithne, resulting in the word British, which in Old English implied an association with the whole British Isles[1]. Successive invasions supplanted the Brythonic language from most of Great Britain, but surprisingly the prefix Brit- is now more closely associated with Great Britain than with its Celtic roots.

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