Celtic History

LugobrujahouseI have just returned from a three week tour of what could be called the last outposts of Celtic settlement. (The term “Celt” comes from the Greek Keltoi—meaning barbarian. Since there is no soft “c” in Greek, the word should be pronounced with the hard “k” sound–unless you're a basketball team!)  I understand many archeologists disagree that these coastal communities descend from the same unique tribe, but I don’t draw dividing lines through the centuries. There are strong cultural, artistic, and linguistic links between the coasts of Portugal, Spain, France, Wales, and Ireland. (We didn’t go as far as Scotland, but those links to Ireland are well known) Standing stones abound in all these areas to mark ancient history, and the haunting music of the pipes and rhythmic foot dance might vary but have more similarities than disparities. (photo is a store that sells "brujas" –witches–in Lugo, Spain)

 

The first Celtic tribes emerged from 8th century BCE Austria to spread throughout Europe. They reached Ireland some two hundred years later, where they settled into isolated communities. Given the distance, differences in culture are bound to appear. The Romans stomping through and driving them out in the 5th-8th centuries AD Romanmilemarkerportugalwould have cemented the huge cultural diversification that separates the original Celts from later generations. That doesn’t mean those lingering hints of the original warrior race with the immense wisdom and strength to invade Rome didn’t remain in the tribes that were left behind.

Romans called them Gauls when they first entered Italy—it’s in chasing the Gauls that Caesar spread his troops across Europe. The Celts were fierce warriors who once brought Rome to its knees (much to the Romans’ surprise) and fought in Cleopatra’s armies as mercenaries, but they were also multi-talented artists. They were said to fight naked in battle, adorned only with their beautifully beaten gold torques and armlets. (photo: Roman mile marker in Portugal)

What fascinates me most is how the Celts carried their centuries of knowledge through their wise men, the Druids. Since the Druids were often more powerful than the kings they served, I’m betting King Arthur’s Merlin is a representation of these early wizards.

Lugo3rdcenturywall“And yet, they have both their own eloquence and their own teachers of wisdom, the Druids. These men claim to know the size and shape of the earth and of the universe, the movements of the sky and of the stars, and what the gods intend…”  Pomponius Mela wrote in A.D. 43. “One of the precepts they teach — obviously to make them better for war — has [become] common knowledge, namely that their souls are eternal and there is a second life for the dead.” (Translation by E.F Romer) 

(3rd century Roman wall, Lugo, Spain in photo above)

I attempted to draw on this wisdom passed through the ages concept when I created the Magic series, but it’s difficult to take an ancient barbaric tradition and convert it to civilized Georgian England! Celtic catholic shrine

Even though the Celts were pagans and worshipped sun and other natural gods, you can see why it would have been easy to convert them to Christianity. Here’s a spring in Ireland that has been a site of worship since the days of the Druids. Can you tell my head is now full of more tales of old?

In following this rich history, we sailed from Lisbon, up the Portuguese and Spanish coasts to Brest, France, hearing the guides in all three countries claim their heritage is Celtic. The bagpipes in Spain and Portugal were certainly more melodic than the war cries of the Scots pipes, but listen to the music (if the video works, it's a fabulous group at the port of El Ferrol, Spain, there to give the  ship a sailing ship a proper send off) and see if you can’t envision an ancient warrior race making their homes in the green fields of all these coasts.

CelticbeehiveAnd of course, in Ireland, we have the tales of the ancient settlers who built the round circles the fairies dwell in. Warriors, wizards, and beautiful iron work, plus the wonderful gift of gab and tall tale telling—this is the stuff writers are made from! (photo of ancient stone beehive house in Ireland)

I really need to spend more time in all these places, have more time to hear the folk tales and songs. Have you ever been to the lands the Celts roamed? What do you think? Are the Irish, Portuguese, Galicians, and Bretons different races or the descendants of one?

(I apologize in advance if any of the links don't work. Typepad seems to object to including both links and video.)

100 thoughts on “Celtic History”

  1. My understanding is that Celt is a very broad term (like Slav), and there were multiple language groups and tribes under that umbrella. Of course, all of these groups intermarried with other ethnic groups in the areas they settled, so the Galicians are very distinct from the Bretons, even if they have some common cultural heritage. One of the highlights of my visit to Santiago de Compostela was seeing a busker in a medieval alley near the Cathedral playing a traditional Galician bagpipe.

    Reply
  2. My understanding is that Celt is a very broad term (like Slav), and there were multiple language groups and tribes under that umbrella. Of course, all of these groups intermarried with other ethnic groups in the areas they settled, so the Galicians are very distinct from the Bretons, even if they have some common cultural heritage. One of the highlights of my visit to Santiago de Compostela was seeing a busker in a medieval alley near the Cathedral playing a traditional Galician bagpipe.

    Reply
  3. My understanding is that Celt is a very broad term (like Slav), and there were multiple language groups and tribes under that umbrella. Of course, all of these groups intermarried with other ethnic groups in the areas they settled, so the Galicians are very distinct from the Bretons, even if they have some common cultural heritage. One of the highlights of my visit to Santiago de Compostela was seeing a busker in a medieval alley near the Cathedral playing a traditional Galician bagpipe.

    Reply
  4. My understanding is that Celt is a very broad term (like Slav), and there were multiple language groups and tribes under that umbrella. Of course, all of these groups intermarried with other ethnic groups in the areas they settled, so the Galicians are very distinct from the Bretons, even if they have some common cultural heritage. One of the highlights of my visit to Santiago de Compostela was seeing a busker in a medieval alley near the Cathedral playing a traditional Galician bagpipe.

    Reply
  5. My understanding is that Celt is a very broad term (like Slav), and there were multiple language groups and tribes under that umbrella. Of course, all of these groups intermarried with other ethnic groups in the areas they settled, so the Galicians are very distinct from the Bretons, even if they have some common cultural heritage. One of the highlights of my visit to Santiago de Compostela was seeing a busker in a medieval alley near the Cathedral playing a traditional Galician bagpipe.

    Reply
  6. Thanks for a lovely blog piece, Pat! I believe Cornwall also counts itself as a “Celtic nation” and part of that culture, which of course links back to Arthur -and Merlin. I had a thoroughly wonderful trip to Ireland a few years back and also love visiting Wales. I need to spend more time finding out about the Celtic influence in Spain and Portugal.

    Reply
  7. Thanks for a lovely blog piece, Pat! I believe Cornwall also counts itself as a “Celtic nation” and part of that culture, which of course links back to Arthur -and Merlin. I had a thoroughly wonderful trip to Ireland a few years back and also love visiting Wales. I need to spend more time finding out about the Celtic influence in Spain and Portugal.

    Reply
  8. Thanks for a lovely blog piece, Pat! I believe Cornwall also counts itself as a “Celtic nation” and part of that culture, which of course links back to Arthur -and Merlin. I had a thoroughly wonderful trip to Ireland a few years back and also love visiting Wales. I need to spend more time finding out about the Celtic influence in Spain and Portugal.

    Reply
  9. Thanks for a lovely blog piece, Pat! I believe Cornwall also counts itself as a “Celtic nation” and part of that culture, which of course links back to Arthur -and Merlin. I had a thoroughly wonderful trip to Ireland a few years back and also love visiting Wales. I need to spend more time finding out about the Celtic influence in Spain and Portugal.

    Reply
  10. Thanks for a lovely blog piece, Pat! I believe Cornwall also counts itself as a “Celtic nation” and part of that culture, which of course links back to Arthur -and Merlin. I had a thoroughly wonderful trip to Ireland a few years back and also love visiting Wales. I need to spend more time finding out about the Celtic influence in Spain and Portugal.

    Reply
  11. Wonderful post, Pat! I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE CABIN NEXT TO YOURS SO WE COULD HAVE SEEN ALL THESE GREAT THINGS TOGETHER!!!! I’ve been to Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall and seen Celtic things, and Portugal, Spain and France, where I didn’t study the Celtic areas.
    The sailaway pipers were great. Was that “Scotland the Brave: they were piping? *G*

    Reply
  12. Wonderful post, Pat! I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE CABIN NEXT TO YOURS SO WE COULD HAVE SEEN ALL THESE GREAT THINGS TOGETHER!!!! I’ve been to Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall and seen Celtic things, and Portugal, Spain and France, where I didn’t study the Celtic areas.
    The sailaway pipers were great. Was that “Scotland the Brave: they were piping? *G*

    Reply
  13. Wonderful post, Pat! I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE CABIN NEXT TO YOURS SO WE COULD HAVE SEEN ALL THESE GREAT THINGS TOGETHER!!!! I’ve been to Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall and seen Celtic things, and Portugal, Spain and France, where I didn’t study the Celtic areas.
    The sailaway pipers were great. Was that “Scotland the Brave: they were piping? *G*

    Reply
  14. Wonderful post, Pat! I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE CABIN NEXT TO YOURS SO WE COULD HAVE SEEN ALL THESE GREAT THINGS TOGETHER!!!! I’ve been to Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall and seen Celtic things, and Portugal, Spain and France, where I didn’t study the Celtic areas.
    The sailaway pipers were great. Was that “Scotland the Brave: they were piping? *G*

    Reply
  15. Wonderful post, Pat! I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE CABIN NEXT TO YOURS SO WE COULD HAVE SEEN ALL THESE GREAT THINGS TOGETHER!!!! I’ve been to Ireland, Scotland and Cornwall and seen Celtic things, and Portugal, Spain and France, where I didn’t study the Celtic areas.
    The sailaway pipers were great. Was that “Scotland the Brave: they were piping? *G*

    Reply
  16. Isn’t it wonderful to see how cultures blend? I’m not certain how we got into the habit of dividing ourselves by countries or religions when probably half of us can be traced back to Genghis Khan!

    Reply
  17. Isn’t it wonderful to see how cultures blend? I’m not certain how we got into the habit of dividing ourselves by countries or religions when probably half of us can be traced back to Genghis Khan!

    Reply
  18. Isn’t it wonderful to see how cultures blend? I’m not certain how we got into the habit of dividing ourselves by countries or religions when probably half of us can be traced back to Genghis Khan!

    Reply
  19. Isn’t it wonderful to see how cultures blend? I’m not certain how we got into the habit of dividing ourselves by countries or religions when probably half of us can be traced back to Genghis Khan!

    Reply
  20. Isn’t it wonderful to see how cultures blend? I’m not certain how we got into the habit of dividing ourselves by countries or religions when probably half of us can be traced back to Genghis Khan!

    Reply
  21. We didn’t have time For Cornwall–unless the Scilly Isles count– but yes, they consider themselves Celts. But I really am fascinated to learn the Celts weren’t just the islands–although that’s where they were isolated longest.

    Reply
  22. We didn’t have time For Cornwall–unless the Scilly Isles count– but yes, they consider themselves Celts. But I really am fascinated to learn the Celts weren’t just the islands–although that’s where they were isolated longest.

    Reply
  23. We didn’t have time For Cornwall–unless the Scilly Isles count– but yes, they consider themselves Celts. But I really am fascinated to learn the Celts weren’t just the islands–although that’s where they were isolated longest.

    Reply
  24. We didn’t have time For Cornwall–unless the Scilly Isles count– but yes, they consider themselves Celts. But I really am fascinated to learn the Celts weren’t just the islands–although that’s where they were isolated longest.

    Reply
  25. We didn’t have time For Cornwall–unless the Scilly Isles count– but yes, they consider themselves Celts. But I really am fascinated to learn the Celts weren’t just the islands–although that’s where they were isolated longest.

    Reply
  26. You have made me a wiser and more confident human being now that I’m quite sure how to pronounce the ‘C’ in Celt. No more shuffling and hemming and hawing and avoiding the word …!

    Reply
  27. You have made me a wiser and more confident human being now that I’m quite sure how to pronounce the ‘C’ in Celt. No more shuffling and hemming and hawing and avoiding the word …!

    Reply
  28. You have made me a wiser and more confident human being now that I’m quite sure how to pronounce the ‘C’ in Celt. No more shuffling and hemming and hawing and avoiding the word …!

    Reply
  29. You have made me a wiser and more confident human being now that I’m quite sure how to pronounce the ‘C’ in Celt. No more shuffling and hemming and hawing and avoiding the word …!

    Reply
  30. You have made me a wiser and more confident human being now that I’m quite sure how to pronounce the ‘C’ in Celt. No more shuffling and hemming and hawing and avoiding the word …!

    Reply
  31. I haven’t been to any Celtic areas EXCEPT Scotland as part of a 12-day tour of Great Britain back in 1997. The tour didn’t mention the Celts in particular, but our tour guide was Welsh, so on the bus, while going from place to place, Wally did mention various Celtic traditions, including those of Wales and Cornwall (where the tour did not go!).
    According to my dna, I probably have some Celts in my background, but genealogy hasn’t particularly found them (one Irish great grandmother — but only family legend and a single census entry to support this).
    And the McCormick name is probably Scots (despite the “i” which is considered to be an Irish spelling). But that is my married name. My husband’s family had no stories about their Celtic roots.

    Reply
  32. I haven’t been to any Celtic areas EXCEPT Scotland as part of a 12-day tour of Great Britain back in 1997. The tour didn’t mention the Celts in particular, but our tour guide was Welsh, so on the bus, while going from place to place, Wally did mention various Celtic traditions, including those of Wales and Cornwall (where the tour did not go!).
    According to my dna, I probably have some Celts in my background, but genealogy hasn’t particularly found them (one Irish great grandmother — but only family legend and a single census entry to support this).
    And the McCormick name is probably Scots (despite the “i” which is considered to be an Irish spelling). But that is my married name. My husband’s family had no stories about their Celtic roots.

    Reply
  33. I haven’t been to any Celtic areas EXCEPT Scotland as part of a 12-day tour of Great Britain back in 1997. The tour didn’t mention the Celts in particular, but our tour guide was Welsh, so on the bus, while going from place to place, Wally did mention various Celtic traditions, including those of Wales and Cornwall (where the tour did not go!).
    According to my dna, I probably have some Celts in my background, but genealogy hasn’t particularly found them (one Irish great grandmother — but only family legend and a single census entry to support this).
    And the McCormick name is probably Scots (despite the “i” which is considered to be an Irish spelling). But that is my married name. My husband’s family had no stories about their Celtic roots.

    Reply
  34. I haven’t been to any Celtic areas EXCEPT Scotland as part of a 12-day tour of Great Britain back in 1997. The tour didn’t mention the Celts in particular, but our tour guide was Welsh, so on the bus, while going from place to place, Wally did mention various Celtic traditions, including those of Wales and Cornwall (where the tour did not go!).
    According to my dna, I probably have some Celts in my background, but genealogy hasn’t particularly found them (one Irish great grandmother — but only family legend and a single census entry to support this).
    And the McCormick name is probably Scots (despite the “i” which is considered to be an Irish spelling). But that is my married name. My husband’s family had no stories about their Celtic roots.

    Reply
  35. I haven’t been to any Celtic areas EXCEPT Scotland as part of a 12-day tour of Great Britain back in 1997. The tour didn’t mention the Celts in particular, but our tour guide was Welsh, so on the bus, while going from place to place, Wally did mention various Celtic traditions, including those of Wales and Cornwall (where the tour did not go!).
    According to my dna, I probably have some Celts in my background, but genealogy hasn’t particularly found them (one Irish great grandmother — but only family legend and a single census entry to support this).
    And the McCormick name is probably Scots (despite the “i” which is considered to be an Irish spelling). But that is my married name. My husband’s family had no stories about their Celtic roots.

    Reply
  36. I enjoy Celtic music very much. My mother’s side of the family are Scotch-Irish and my Dad’s side Irish, so maybe that’s why. I have never been to the Celtic lands due to the lack of time and funds insisting I get to work. But one day when I retire I plan to do a lot of traveling.

    Reply
  37. I enjoy Celtic music very much. My mother’s side of the family are Scotch-Irish and my Dad’s side Irish, so maybe that’s why. I have never been to the Celtic lands due to the lack of time and funds insisting I get to work. But one day when I retire I plan to do a lot of traveling.

    Reply
  38. I enjoy Celtic music very much. My mother’s side of the family are Scotch-Irish and my Dad’s side Irish, so maybe that’s why. I have never been to the Celtic lands due to the lack of time and funds insisting I get to work. But one day when I retire I plan to do a lot of traveling.

    Reply
  39. I enjoy Celtic music very much. My mother’s side of the family are Scotch-Irish and my Dad’s side Irish, so maybe that’s why. I have never been to the Celtic lands due to the lack of time and funds insisting I get to work. But one day when I retire I plan to do a lot of traveling.

    Reply
  40. I enjoy Celtic music very much. My mother’s side of the family are Scotch-Irish and my Dad’s side Irish, so maybe that’s why. I have never been to the Celtic lands due to the lack of time and funds insisting I get to work. But one day when I retire I plan to do a lot of traveling.

    Reply
  41. Loved seeing the lady bagpipers, and especially the lady with the base drum! Wonder if that’s traditional or a recent “upgrade”?
    I recently encountered an Irish bagpiper, whose instrument is distinguished by being played while seated. It seems at some point an Irishman holding a weapon while standing would be arrested, and the bagpipe was considered a weapon (by the British, I presume). Why? Maybe because the pipes were traditionally played to encourage the warriors and terrify the enemy, a la the Scots. When I first saw this in concert, it looked like the player was not doing anything at all. Turns out he was squeezing the bag with his arm (at waist level) and there’s no mouthpiece. Only his fingers were busy. No fancy regalia, no pomp, but yes, it sounds the same.

    Reply
  42. Loved seeing the lady bagpipers, and especially the lady with the base drum! Wonder if that’s traditional or a recent “upgrade”?
    I recently encountered an Irish bagpiper, whose instrument is distinguished by being played while seated. It seems at some point an Irishman holding a weapon while standing would be arrested, and the bagpipe was considered a weapon (by the British, I presume). Why? Maybe because the pipes were traditionally played to encourage the warriors and terrify the enemy, a la the Scots. When I first saw this in concert, it looked like the player was not doing anything at all. Turns out he was squeezing the bag with his arm (at waist level) and there’s no mouthpiece. Only his fingers were busy. No fancy regalia, no pomp, but yes, it sounds the same.

    Reply
  43. Loved seeing the lady bagpipers, and especially the lady with the base drum! Wonder if that’s traditional or a recent “upgrade”?
    I recently encountered an Irish bagpiper, whose instrument is distinguished by being played while seated. It seems at some point an Irishman holding a weapon while standing would be arrested, and the bagpipe was considered a weapon (by the British, I presume). Why? Maybe because the pipes were traditionally played to encourage the warriors and terrify the enemy, a la the Scots. When I first saw this in concert, it looked like the player was not doing anything at all. Turns out he was squeezing the bag with his arm (at waist level) and there’s no mouthpiece. Only his fingers were busy. No fancy regalia, no pomp, but yes, it sounds the same.

    Reply
  44. Loved seeing the lady bagpipers, and especially the lady with the base drum! Wonder if that’s traditional or a recent “upgrade”?
    I recently encountered an Irish bagpiper, whose instrument is distinguished by being played while seated. It seems at some point an Irishman holding a weapon while standing would be arrested, and the bagpipe was considered a weapon (by the British, I presume). Why? Maybe because the pipes were traditionally played to encourage the warriors and terrify the enemy, a la the Scots. When I first saw this in concert, it looked like the player was not doing anything at all. Turns out he was squeezing the bag with his arm (at waist level) and there’s no mouthpiece. Only his fingers were busy. No fancy regalia, no pomp, but yes, it sounds the same.

    Reply
  45. Loved seeing the lady bagpipers, and especially the lady with the base drum! Wonder if that’s traditional or a recent “upgrade”?
    I recently encountered an Irish bagpiper, whose instrument is distinguished by being played while seated. It seems at some point an Irishman holding a weapon while standing would be arrested, and the bagpipe was considered a weapon (by the British, I presume). Why? Maybe because the pipes were traditionally played to encourage the warriors and terrify the enemy, a la the Scots. When I first saw this in concert, it looked like the player was not doing anything at all. Turns out he was squeezing the bag with his arm (at waist level) and there’s no mouthpiece. Only his fingers were busy. No fancy regalia, no pomp, but yes, it sounds the same.

    Reply
  46. Yes, I’m pretty certain the British considered the Scots bagpipe an instrument of war after the ’45, and I’m not surprised they treated the Irish pipes the same.
    Looks like some more fun research in the future, though! I have no idea if female pipers are a new addition, but we had others on board and they were really good.

    Reply
  47. Yes, I’m pretty certain the British considered the Scots bagpipe an instrument of war after the ’45, and I’m not surprised they treated the Irish pipes the same.
    Looks like some more fun research in the future, though! I have no idea if female pipers are a new addition, but we had others on board and they were really good.

    Reply
  48. Yes, I’m pretty certain the British considered the Scots bagpipe an instrument of war after the ’45, and I’m not surprised they treated the Irish pipes the same.
    Looks like some more fun research in the future, though! I have no idea if female pipers are a new addition, but we had others on board and they were really good.

    Reply
  49. Yes, I’m pretty certain the British considered the Scots bagpipe an instrument of war after the ’45, and I’m not surprised they treated the Irish pipes the same.
    Looks like some more fun research in the future, though! I have no idea if female pipers are a new addition, but we had others on board and they were really good.

    Reply
  50. Yes, I’m pretty certain the British considered the Scots bagpipe an instrument of war after the ’45, and I’m not surprised they treated the Irish pipes the same.
    Looks like some more fun research in the future, though! I have no idea if female pipers are a new addition, but we had others on board and they were really good.

    Reply
  51. Mary jo — and Pat — yes, it is Scotland the Brave.
    I have my fair share of Scots Celtic blood and was raised on Scots tunes, the pipes and drums and the Selkirk Grace (Rabbie Burns)

    Reply
  52. Mary jo — and Pat — yes, it is Scotland the Brave.
    I have my fair share of Scots Celtic blood and was raised on Scots tunes, the pipes and drums and the Selkirk Grace (Rabbie Burns)

    Reply
  53. Mary jo — and Pat — yes, it is Scotland the Brave.
    I have my fair share of Scots Celtic blood and was raised on Scots tunes, the pipes and drums and the Selkirk Grace (Rabbie Burns)

    Reply
  54. Mary jo — and Pat — yes, it is Scotland the Brave.
    I have my fair share of Scots Celtic blood and was raised on Scots tunes, the pipes and drums and the Selkirk Grace (Rabbie Burns)

    Reply
  55. Mary jo — and Pat — yes, it is Scotland the Brave.
    I have my fair share of Scots Celtic blood and was raised on Scots tunes, the pipes and drums and the Selkirk Grace (Rabbie Burns)

    Reply

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