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Gaels
Total population
approx. 500,000
Regions with significant populations
Republic of Ireland:[1]
260,000
Northern Ireland:[1]
95,000
Scotland:[2]
58,652
United States:[3][4]
26,475
Canada:[5][6][7]
6,470
Isle of Man:[8]
200-300
Languages

Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Manx

The Gaels are an ethno-linguistic group which originated in Ireland and subsequently spread to Scotland and the Isle of Man. The term in its broadest sense is used to refer to the Irish, Highland Scots (or Scots of Gaelic or mixed Gaelic descent) and Manx. In the strictist sense of the word Gaels are speakers of the Goidelic (or Gaelic) languages – Irish, Scottish Gaelic and Manx.[9] The Gaelic languages are a branch of the Insular Celtic languages, the other branch of Insular Celtic is Brythonic.

There are many people with Gaelic ancestry amongst the populations of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Many US, Canadian, Australian, and British leaders have been from families of Gaelic origin, as are many members of the parliaments of those respective countries today.

Contents

Terminology

Gael derives from the modern Irish Gaedheal which in turn derives from the Old Irish Goídel.

Scoti/Scotus or Scotti/Scottus was the generic Latin name used by the Romans to describe the Gaels.[10] It is not believed that any Gaelic groups called themselves Scoti in ancient times, except when referring to themselves in Latin.[10] It is also believed that the Latin term may mean "raider/pirate" as it is widely accepted that raiders from Ireland were attacking Britain's west coast during and following the Roman occupation.

The term may relate to the Old Welsh Guoidel (a personal name found in the Llyfr Llandaff, and believed to derive from the Brythonic *Ue-del meaning "woods/wilderness/wild person"). Therefore, a Brythonic term such as Guoidel may (like the Latin word Scottus) have referred solely to the Gael.

History of use

Since the disappearance of Gaelic as a community language in the south and east of Scotland in the late medieval period, and the popularity of the terms 'highland Scot' and 'lowland Scot', the term Gàidheal has been used in Gaelic language conversation not merely to denote Gaelic identity but also as an equivalent for the single Anglo-Saxon word 'highlander'.

Up until the late 15th century, the Gaelic language in Scotland was generally named Scottish, both in Latin and in the descendant of Anglo-Saxon spoken in the Lowlands of Scotland, which was then generally named English. The usage in the Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie at the start of the 16th century is Irish and English. After this time, the Gaelic language was generally called Irish and the Lowland tongue was generally called Scottish.

Documentary evidence shows other subsequent alterations in general terminology, such as the appearance of the Latin term "Scotos Hibernicos" in 1521 and its English equivalent, "Scottish-Irish", by the English diplomat Ralph Sadler in 1558 to refer to Scottish Gaels. [11]

In earliest surviving writings in the Lowland Scots tongue (which had hitherto been called English), a form of the term Gaidheal appears to discriminate between Gaels from the Scottish Highlands and Gaels from Ireland. In 1596, it appears in James Dalrymple's translation from Latin into Lowland Scots of the Historie and Chronicles of Scotland, 1436–1565 as the main element within the word Gaelic, referring to the language in Scotland, rather than in Ireland.

Main modern definitions in English

  • Gaels – the ethno-linguistic group.
  • Gaelic – of or relating to the Gaels.
  • Goidels – an alternative term sometimes used to describe the Gaels in antiquarian contexts
  • Goidelic – of or relating to the Gaels, particularly their language, in antiquarian contexts

Mythological origins

The Gaels, during the beginning of the Christian era, believed themselves to be descendants of the Milesians - the sons of Míl Espáine. Much of this is covered in the Lebor Gabála Érenn, which catalogues the Milesian invasion of Ireland from the Iberian peninsula. While this account is mostly mythic, it may be an embellished version of actual historical events. Recent genetic studies by Brian Sykes, Oxford University, suggest that these myths are based on historical facts since the people of northwestern Spain, especially those from Galicia and Asturias are genetically closely related to the Gaels.

Early development

The vowels of the Ogham alphabet.

It is not known with any certainty when the Goidelic (or Q-Celtic) language developed in prehistoric Ireland, or how the Gaels came to be the dominant culture. Some believe Goidelic replaced some pre-existing Brythonic (or P-Celtic) language(s), but, if this is so, it is not known whether this represents one population displacing others, an invader becoming a new ruling caste, or simply the spread of a new lingua franca. Before and during the age of the Roman Empire there was a great deal of movement, interaction and competition among the peoples who, though of neither ethnicity, fell within the Celtic and Germanic cultural ferment.

Estimates of the arrival of proto-Gaelic in Ireland vary widely from the introduction of agriculture circa 7000-6000 BC to around the first few centuries BC. Little can be said with certainty, as the language now known as Old Irish, ancestral to modern Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx, first began to be properly recorded with the Christianisation of Ireland in the 4th Century AD, with the introduction of the Roman script. Old Irish does appear in a specialized written form, using a unique script known as Ogham. The oldest examples of Ogham have survived in the form of memorial inscriptions or short epitaphs on pillar-like stone monuments (see Mac Cairthinn mac Coelboth.) Ogham stones are found throughout Ireland as well as in other areas where Gaelic invaders settled across post-Roman Britain. This form of written Old Irish is thought to have been in use as early as 1000 BC. The script frequently encodes a name or description of the owner and surrounding region, and it is possible that the inscribed stones may have represented territorial claims.

Gaelic culture

Mythology and religion

The triple spiral symbol is commonly associated with Gaelic pagan holy sites.

Before Christianisation, the religion of the Gaels, as with other Celts, can be described as polytheistic or pagan. They worshipped a variety of gods and goddesses, which generally have parallels in the pantheons of other Celts. The Gaels were also animists, believing that all aspects of the natural world contained spirits, and that these spirits could be communicated with.[12] Gaelic burial practices –which included burying food, weapons, and ornaments with the dead– suggest a belief in life after death.[13] Some have equated this afterlife with the realms known as Mag Mell and Tír na nÓg in Irish mythology.[14] The Gaels practised four religious festivals a year – Imbolc, Beltaine, Lughnasadh and Samhain. These festivals were equidistant from each other, and divided the year into four quarters. Rather than building temples, the Gaels often performed rituals in sacred groves known as nemetons.

The mythology of Ireland did not entirely survive the conversion to Christianity, but much of it was preserved, shorn of its religious meanings, in medieval Irish literature. This large body of work is typically divided into three overlapping cycles: the Mythological Cycle, the Ulster Cycle, and the Fenian Cycle. The first cycle is a pseudo-history of Ireland that describes four invasions (or migrations) by semi-divine peoples. Two of these groups, the Fomorians and Tuatha Dé Danann, are believed to represent the pre-Gaelic and Gaelic pantheons. The second cycle recounts the lives and deaths of Ulaid heroes such as Cúchulainn. The third cycle recounts the exploits of Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warriors the Fianna. There are also a number of stories that do not fit into these cycles – this includes the immrama and echtrai, which are tales of the 'otherworld' and the voyages to get there.

Society

See also: Society of Scotland in the High Middle Ages

Law

Gaelic law (collectively known as Fénechas)[15] was originally passed down orally, but was written down in Old Irish during the period 600–900 AD. Most of the laws were developed before Christianisation and are largely secular, but there is some Christian influence. These secular laws existed in parallel, and occasionally in conflict, with Canon law.

Gaelic law was a civil rather than a criminal code, concerned with the payment of fines for harm done (éraic). State-administered punishment for crime was a foreign concept. Although Gaelic law recognized a distinction between intentional and unintentional injury, any type of injury required compensation. The legal text Bretha Déin Chécht goes into great detail in describing compensation based on the location of the wound, the severity, and in some cases the type.[16] The higher one's rank, the higher the compensation they could receive for any harm done. Should the offender be unable to pay, his family would be responsible for doing so.[17] It was rare, but not unheard of, to seek the execution of a criminal rather than compensation.[17]

The law texts show Gaelic society to have been hierarchical. The texts take great care to define social status, the rights and duties that went with that status, and the relationships between each "layer" of society. For example, chieftains had to take responsibility for members of their clann, acting as a surety for some of the actions of members and making sure debts are paid. He would also be responsible for unmarried women after the death of their fathers.[18]

Judges (brithem) in Gaelic society were expected to interpret the written laws and give advice or pass judgement accordingly. Kings would have been able to pass judgement also, but it is unclear how much they would have been able to make their own judgments, and how much they would have had to rely on professionals.[19] However, unlike other kingdoms in Europe, Gaelic kings—by their own authority—could not enact new laws as they wished.[20] Thus they could not be "above the law".

Structure

Gaelic Ireland and Scotland were tribal societies, and each person belonged to a kin-group known as a clann (plural: clanna) or fine (plural: finte). Each clann was a large group of related people—theoretically an extended family—supposedly descended from one progenitor and all owing allegiance to its chieftain, known as a cennfine or toísech (plural: toísigh). Often, clanna are thought of as based on blood kinship alone; however, clanna also included those who were adopted or fostered into the clann, and those who joined the clann for strategic reasons (such as safety or combining of resources). As Nicholls describes, they would be better thought of as akin to the modern-day corporation. The power of clanna fluctuated, and endemic warfare between clanna was a constant affair. Once-powerful clanna could in time decline in stature and be amalgamated into once-smaller ones. How this "merger" would be dealt with would be a matter of negotiation. Many clanna were also divided into a number of sub-groups known as septs, often when that group took up residence outside the original clann territory.

Lineage was based on the practice of tanistry (rather than primogeniture). At an assembly called a tocomra a relative was elected—prior to the death of a leader—to act as his deputy and then his successor.[21] To be eligible for election, one had to share the same great-grandfather as the toísech. This group of electable cousins was called the derbfine, and the elected person was called a tanaiste (plural: tanaistí). The clann system formed the basis of society.

Gaelic society was structured heirarchically.

  • The top social layer was the nobility (nemed), which included kings (), lords (flaith) and chieftains (toísigh).
  • Below that were the professionals (dóernemed), which included skilled poets (filid), judges (brithem), craftsmen, physicians, and so on. Masters in a particular profession were known as ollamh. The various professions—including law, poetry, medicine, history and genealogy—were associated with particular hereditary families.[22] Although most practised only one profession, some exercised more than one. Prior to the Christianisation of Ireland, this group also included the druídecht and fáithe. The druídecht or druids could combine the duties of priest, judge, scholar, poet, physician, and religious teacher,[23][24] while the fáithe acted as soothsayers and clairvoyants.
  • Below that were those who owned land and cattle (bóaire).
  • Below that were serfs (bothach) and slaves (mug). Slaves were typically criminals or prisoners of war.
  • The warrior bands (fianna) generally lived apart from society. A fian was typically comprised of young men who had not yet come into their inheritance of land.[25] A member of a fian was called a fénnid and the leader of a fian was a rígfénnid.[26] Geoffrey Keating, in his 17th century History of Ireland, says that during the winter the fianna were quartered and fed by the nobility, during which time they would keep order on their behalf. But during the summer, from Beltaine to Samhain, they were obliged to live by hunting for food and for pelts to sell.[27]

Although quite distinct, these ranks were not utterly exclusive castes like those of India.[23] It was possible for persons to rise or sink from one rank to another. Progressing upward could be achieved a number of ways, such as by gaining wealth, by gaining skill in some department, by qualifying for a learned profession, by displaying conspicuous valour, or by performing some signal service to the community.[23] An example is a person choosing to become a briugu (hospitaller). A briugu had to have his house open to any guests, which included feeding no matter how large the group. To enable the biugu to fulfill these duties, he was allowed more land and privileges,[21] but if he ever refused guests he could lose this status.[28]

Assemblies

The summit of the Hill of Tara.

As mentioned previously, Gaelic Ireland and Scotland were divided into a large number of clann territories and kingdoms which were called túath (plural: túatha).[21] Although there was no central 'government' or 'parliament', a number of local, regional and national assemblies were held. These combined features of assemblies and fairs.[21]

In Ireland the highest of these was the feis at Tara, which occurred every third Samhain.[21] This was an assembly of the leading men of the whole island — kings, lords, chieftains, druids, judges etc.[21] Below this was the óenach or aenach. These were regional or provincial assemblies open to everyone.[21] Examples include that held at Taillten each Lughnasadh, and that held at Uisnech each Beltaine. The main purpose of these assemblies was to promulgate and reaffirm the laws — they were read aloud in public that they might not be forgotten, and any changes in them carefully explained to those present.[21]

Each túath or clann had two assemblies of its own. These were the cuirmtig, which was open to all clann members, and the dal, which was open only to clann chiefs.[21] Each clann had an additional assembly called a tocomra, in which the clann chief (toísech) and his deputy/successor (tánaiste) were elected.

Women and children

In Gaelic society, women had greater freedom, independence and rights to property than in other European societies of the time.[note 1] Some women even attained the status of queen. However, laws influenced by the church would later disadvantage women.

Apparently the law on marriage and divorce was wholly pagan in origin, and never underwent any modification in Christian times.[29] Divorce or separation appears to have been obtained more easily by the wife than by the husband.[29] When obtained on her petition, she took away with her all the property she had brought her husband. The legal age of marriage was fifteen for girls and eighteen for boys.[29] Gaelic women, like their cousins in other Celtic societies, are thought to have enjoyed a great deal of sexual freedom at least until the Christian period. Allusions in Irish literature and Roman comments on marital customs among the Britons (described in Julius Caesar's De Bello Gallico) and Celtiberians (described in Strabo's Geographica) mention Celtic polyandry (women having marital relationships simultaneously with several men). It is probable that such practices also held true in Ireland at this time.

A type of fosterage was commonplace, whereby (for certain periods of time) children would be placed in the care of other fine members.[29] This may have been used to strengthen familial ties.

Settlements

Gaels typically lived in small villages, hamlets and ringforts which rarely contained more than 10 to 12 dwellings. These settlements were built close to water supplies and on easily defendable sites such as hills. They tended to be defended by ditches, moats, stone fortification walls and/or earthen ramparts with timber palisades. Some also lived in fortified lake-dwellings known as crannógs. Houses were typically circular with conical thatched roofs and wattle and daub walls.

A 'sanctuary' called a maighin digona surrounded each person's dwelling.[17] Within this the owner and his family and property were protected by law.[17] The maighin digona's size varied according to the owner's rank. In the case of a bóaire it extended as far as he, while sitting at his house, could cast a cnairsech (variously described as a spear or sledgehammer).[17] The owner of a maighin digona could extend its protection to someone fleeing from pursuers, who would then have to resort to legal methods of bringing that person to justice.[17]

Sustenance

Money was non-existent in Gaelic society at this time; instead, livestock and fishing was the main currency and the main source of sustenance. Horticulture was practiced, and crops such as wheat, barley and oats were the most common.

Dress

Irish Gaels depicted in a painting from the 1500s.

The common clothing of Gaels consisted of a léine (a knee-length shirt, sometimes dyed with saffron), a brat (a woolen cloak/mantle that may be decorated with tartan or other designs), a belt or brooch, and sometimes trews (a type of tight trousers). Additionally, various types of coats (such as the padded ionar), robes, boots and shoes were worn. There is also evidence of the belted plaid (the precursor to the modern kilt) being worn by the 1500s. Jewelry was uncommon as many had no means of obtaining them or reason for using them.

Both men and women grew their hair long and very often braided it. Other hairstyles that may have been popular include the mohawk (as worn by the Irish bog body known as Clonycavan man) and the glib (short all over except for a thick lock of hair towards the front of the head). Gaelic males above a certain age were expected to let their facial hair grow into a beard. It was often seen as dishonourable for a Gaelic man to have no facial hair.

Music and dance

Gaelic music and dance can be divided into three main groups.

Warfare

Legendary hero Cúchulainn depicted in battle.

As shown by contemporary sources and Irish literature, clan warfare was commonplace in Gaelic lands. Young Gaelic males organised themselves into small, semi-independent warrior bands called Fianna, which engaged in constant training, hunting and raiding during the warmer months. Stories of the Fianna can be found in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology.

Warriors were sometimes rallied into battle accompanied by blowing horns and warpipes. The objective in clan wars was often the theft of enemy cattle (commonly referred to as a Táin Bó in Gaelic literature) rather than the destruction of a particular clan or its settlements. Guerrilla warfare was the norm, as the geography of Ireland and Scotland at this time consisted mostly of forests, swamps, glens, bogland and river-crossings. Gaelic warfare was centered around the horse and chariot, with cavalry and kern later being introduced. Weapons used were slings, javelins, spears, bows, darts, short swords and axes. Armour was rare as Gaelic warriors considered it cumbersome; instead, most fought semi-naked and carried only a scabbard and a round or oval shield. However, by the 400s, hard leather and even chainmail was worn. It also became common for warriors to wear tight trews, which may have been decorated with the colours or tartan of their home district.

Gaelic warriors (and Celtic warriors in general) had a reputation as head hunters. Ancient Romans and Greeks recorded the Celtic custom of decapitating their enemies and publicly displaying the severed heads (for example by hanging them from the necks of horses).[30] According to Paul Jacobsthal, "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".[31]

Historical expansion

Red: the historical maximum expansion of Gaelic-speaking areas in the British Isles.
Britain & Ireland in the mid-late 400s CE showing the approximate territorial extent of Gaels (green), Britons (red) and Picts (blue).

Starting sometime around the 5th century Gaelic language and culture spread from Ireland to the southwest coast of modern Scotland, where it may have already existed since Roman times. Uncertainty over this comes as a result of the fact that there is disputed archaeological evidence to support the generally accepted tale of migration while there is some to suggest that there was none — the evidence also points to the population of the area (modern day Argyll) being constant during the time of the alleged invasion of Scotland. This area was known as Dál Riata. The Gaels soon spread out to most of the rest of the country. Culturo-linguistic dominance in the area eventually led to the Latin name for Gaelic speaking peoples, "Scoti", being applied to the state founded by the Gaels: "Scotland". Since that time Gaelic language rose and, in the past three centuries, greatly diminished, in most of Ireland and Scotland. The most culturally and linguistically Gaelic regions are in the north west of Scotland, the west of Ireland and Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia where the descendants of the Highland Clearances were transplanted.

The Isle of Man (Manx: Ellan Vannin, 'Mannin's Isle', from the pre-Christian deity known as Manannán mac Lír) also came under massive Gaelic influence in its history. The last native speaker of Manx died in the 1970s, though use of the Manx language never fully ceased. There is now a resurgent language movement and Manx is once again taught in all schools as a second language and in some as a first language. A large part of the island's cultural heritage is Gaelic.

Current distribution

Gaeltacht areas in Ireland.
Distrubition of Gaelic speakers in Scotland.

The two comparatively 'major' Gaelic nations in the modern era are Ireland (which in the 2002 census had 185,838 people who spoke Irish "daily" and 1,570,894 who were "able" to speak it).[32] and Scotland (58,552 "Gaelic speakers" and 92,400 with "some Gaelic language ability"[33] in the 2001 census) Communities where the language is still spoken natively are restricted largely to the west coast of each country and especially the Hebrides in Scotland. However, large proportions of Gaelic speakers also live in the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, as well as Donegal, Galway, Cork and Dublin in Ireland. There are somewhere around 2,000 Canadian Gaelic speakers although they are generally of a very advanced age and concentrated in Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.[34] According to the 2000 US CensusPDF (123 KiB), there are over 25,000 Irish-speakers in the United States with the majority found in urban areas with large Irish-American communities such as Boston, New York City and Chicago.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Women are specifically mentioned in Celtic law, for example in the Irish Brehon laws, Welsh law, and the Scottish Laws of the Bretts and Scotts. These laws cover topics such as the penalties for death and injury, property, and inheritance. In addition, women retained standing within their own kinship groups after marriage.

References

  1. ^ a b Ethnologue report for language code:gle
  2. ^ The Gaelic Language Bill Consultation Paper: page 3
  3. ^ http://www.usenglish.org/foundation/research/lia/languages/irish_gaelic.pdfPDF (123 KiB)
  4. ^ http://www.usenglish.org/foundation/research/lia/languages_of_the_usa.pdfPDF (89.8 KiB)
  5. ^ http://www.gov.ns.ca/dtc/pubs/GaelicStrategy-English.pdfPDF (196 KiB)
  6. ^ Statistics Canada 2006 Census: Mother Tongue
  7. ^ Statistics Canada 2006 Census: Languages Spoken
  8. ^ Ethnologue 14 report for language code:MJD
  9. ^ http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Gael
  10. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary: "Scot"
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Miranda Green. (1992:196) Animals in Celtic life and myth. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415050308
  13. ^ Barry Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp.208-210. ISBN 0-19-815010-5.
  14. ^ The Celts in The Encyclopedia of World Mythology, Dr Ray Dunning, page 91
  15. ^ The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter I, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
  16. ^ Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law pp. 131 ff
  17. ^ a b c d e f The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter VII, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
  18. ^ Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, 13-14
  19. ^ Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 23-5, 52
  20. ^ Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, p. 21-22
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter IV, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
  22. ^ Jefferies, Dr. Henry A. "Culture and Religion in Tudor Ireland, 1494-1558". University College Cork. http://multitext.ucc.ie/d/Culture__Religion_in_Tudor_Ireland_1494-1558. Retrieved 2008-06-23.  
  23. ^ a b c The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter V, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
  24. ^ Hutton, Ronald, The Druids (London: HambledonContinuum, 2007) p2
  25. ^ Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, Early Medieval Ireland, Longman, 1995, p. 88
  26. ^ Dictionary of the Irish Language, Compact Edition, Royal Irish Academy, 1990, pp. 299, 507
  27. ^ Geoffrey Keating, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn 2.45
  28. ^ Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law, pp. 36-7
  29. ^ a b c d The Brehon Laws: A Legal Handbook: Chapter VIII, Laurence Ginnell (1894)
  30. ^ Diodorus Siculus, 5.2
  31. ^ Jacobsthal, Paul. Early Celtic Art.
  32. ^ Central Statistics Office Ireland - Irish ability, persons aged 3 years and over.
  33. ^ General Register Office, Scotland's Census 2001, Gaelic Report
  34. ^ Oifis Iomairtean na Gaidhlig/Office of Gaelic Affairs

External links


Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

Noun

Gaels

  1. Plural form of Gael.

Anagrams

  • Anagrams of aegls
  • gales







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