Modern Celts: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Celtic identity emerges in the Celtic nations of Western Europe in the course of the 19th-century Celtic Revival, taking the form of ethnic nationalism particularly within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, where the Irish Home Rule Movement results in the secession of an Irish Free State in 1922. After World War II, the focus of the "Celticity" movement shifted to linguistic revival and protectionism, e.g. with the foundation of the Celtic League in 1961, dedicated to preserving the surviving Celtic languages.

Since the Enlightenment, the term "Celtic" has been applied to a wide variety of peoples and cultural traits present and past. Today, "Celtic" (sometimes "modern Celts") is often used in order to describe the people, and their respective cultures and languages: i.e. the Bretons, the Cornish, the Irish (especially the Gaeltacht), the Manx people, the Scots (Gàidhealtachd) and the Welsh (Cymry), i.e. the members of the modern "Celtic nations".[1] Except for the Bretons (if discounting Norman & Channel Islander connections), all groups mentioned have been subject to strong Anglicisation since the Early Modern period, and are hence are also described as participating in an Anglo-Celtic macro-culture. By the same token, the Bretons have been subject to strong Francification since the Early Modern period, and can similarly be described as participating in a Franco-Celtic macro-culture.

Less common is the assumption of "Celticity" for European cultures deriving from Continental Celtic roots (Gauls and Celtiberians). These were either Romanised or Germanised much earlier, before the Early Middle Ages. Nevertheless, "Celtic" origins are sometimes implied for continental groups such as the Asturians, Galicians, Portuguese, French, Swiss, Alpine Italians, Germans, or Austrians. The names of Belgium and the Aquitaine hark back to Gallia Belgica and Gallia Aquitania, respectively, in turn named for the Belgae and the Aquitani. The Latin name of the Swiss Confederacy, Confoederatio Helvetica, harks back to the Helvetii, the name of Galicia to the Gallaeci.


Celtic revival and Romanticism

'Celt' has been adopted as a label of self-identification by a variety of peoples at different times. 'Celticity' can refer to the inferred links between them.

During the 19th century, French nationalists gave a privileged significance to their descent from the Gauls. The struggles of Vercingetorix were portrayed as a forerunner of the 19th-century struggles in defence of French nationalism, including the wars of both Napoleons (Napoleon I of France and Napoleon III of France). Basic French history textbooks emphasised the ways in which Gauls could be seen as an example of cultural assimilation; however, the notion that French history textbooks commonly began with the famous words "Nos ancêtres les Gaulois..." ("Our ancestors the Gauls...") is not supported in fact.[2] A similar use of "celticity" for 19th century nationalism was made in Switzerland, when the Swiss were seen to originate in the Celtic tribe of the Helvetii, a link still found in the official Latin name of Switzerland, Confœderatio Helvetica, the source of the nation code CH and the name used on postage stamps (Helvetia).

Delegates at the Pan-Celtic Congress, Caernarfon, 1904. Back row: Maggie Jones (harpist of Arfon); Mrs Gruffydd Richards (chief harpist of Gwent), David Roberts (blind harpist of Mawddwy), Gwyneth Vaughan. Front row: Pedwr James, Emile Hamonic, Léna Botrel, Théodore Botrel, Professor Paul Barbier

Before the advance of Indo-European studies, philologists established that there was a relationship between the Goidelic and Brythonic languages, as well as a relationship between these languages and the extinct Celtic languages such as Gaulish, spoken in classical times. The terms Goidelic and Brythonic were first used to describe the two Celtic language families by Edward Lhuyd in his 1707 study and, according to the National Museum Wales, during that century "people who spoke Celtic languages were seen as Celts."[1]

At the same time, there was also a tendency to play up alternative heritages in the British Isles at certain times. For example, in the Isle of Man, in the Victorian era, the "Viking" heritage was emphasised, and in Scotland, both Norse and Anglo-Saxon heritage was emphasised.

A romantic image of the Celt as noble savage was cultivated by the early William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, Lady Charlotte Guest, Lady Llanover, James Macpherson, Chateaubriand, Théodore Hersart de la Villemarqué and the many others influenced by them. This image coloured not only the English perception of their neighbours on the so-called "Celtic fringe" (compare the stage Irishman), but also Irish nationalism and its analogues in the other Celtic-speaking countries. Among the enduring products of this resurgence of interest in a romantic, pre-industrial, brooding, mystical Celticity are Gorseddau, the revival of the Cornish language, and the revival of the Gaelic games.

During the Second World War many Breton nationalists collaborated with the Nazis, not least against the French resistance.[citation needed] After the War some of these collaborators settled in Ireland.[3]

Cold War period (1945-1989)

Nationalists in Northern Ireland sought an end to endemic discrimination with the Civil Rights Movement. Ulster Scots (Scots Irish) have constantly sought to maintain their independence, identity and culture, and the Ulster workers' strike bought down the British-imposed power sharing arrangements in 1974 [4]. Breton regionalists participated in the May 1968 revolt under Breton flags and with the slogan Bretagne=Colonie.

Contemporary Celtic identity (1989 to present)

The six "Celtic nations" within their modern borders are shown in yellow

The "modern Celtic" groups' distinctiveness as national, as opposed to regional, minorities has been periodically recognised by major British papers. For example, a Guardian editorial in 1990 pointed to these differences, and said that they should be constitutionally recognised:

Smaller minorities also have equally proud visions of themselves as irreducibly Welsh, Irish, Manx or Cornish. These identities are distinctly national in ways which proud people from Yorkshire, much less proud people from Berkshire will never know. Any new constitutional settlement which ignores these factors will be built on uneven ground.[5]

The Republic of Ireland, on surpassing Britain's GDP per capita in the 1990s for the first time in centuries, was given the moniker "Celtic tiger". Thanks in part to agitation on the part of Cornish regionalists, Cornwall was able to obtain Objective One funding from the European Union. Scotland and Wales obtained agencies like the Welsh Development Agency, and Scottish and Welsh Nationalists have recently supported the institution of the Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. More broadly, a distinct identity in opposition to that of the metropolitan capitals has been forged and taken strong root.

These latter evolutions have proceeded hand in hand with the growth of a pan-Celtic or inter-Celtic dimension, seen in many organisations and festivals operating across various Celtic countries. Celtic studies departments at many universities in Europe and beyond, have studied the various ancient and modern Celtic languages and associated history and folklore under one roof.

The roots revival, applied to Celtic music, has brought much inter-Celtic cross-fertilisation, as, for instance, Welsh musicians have revived the use of the mediaeval Welsh bagpipe under the influence of the Breton binioù, Irish uillean pipes and famous Scottish pipes, or the Scots have revived the bodhran from Irish influence. Sports such as Hurling, Gaelic Football and Shinty are seen as being 'Celtic', whilst the Scottish mod and Irish fleadh are seen as an equivalent to the Breton fest noz.

The USA has also taken part in discussions of modern Celticity. For example, recently elected Virginia Senator James H. Webb, in his 2004 book Born Fighting–How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, controversially asserts that the early "pioneering" immigrants to North America were of Scots-Irish origins. He goes on to argue that their distinct "Celtic traits" (loyalty to kin, mistrust of governmental authority, and military readiness), in contrast to the "Anglo-Saxon" settlers, helped construct the modern "American identity". Irish Americans also played an important role in the shaping of 19th-century Irish republicanism through the Fenian movement, the development of a discourse of the Great Hunger as a British atrocity, and so on.

Celtic nations

The Six Nations

Six nations tend to be most associated with a modern Celtic identity, and are considered 'the Celtic nations'. These are:

It is these 'Six Nations' that (alone) are considered Celtic by the Celtic League and the Celtic Congress amongst others.[6][7] These organisations ascribe to a definition of Celticity based mainly upon language. In the aforementioned six regions, Celtic languages have survived and continue to be used to varying degrees in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man, and Brittany.[8]

A number of activists on behalf of other regions/nations have also sought recognition as modern Celts, reflecting the wide diffusion of ancient Celts across Europe. Of these, the following regions are most prominent:

  •  Galicia (including Northern Portugal, once part of ancient Galicia or Gallaecia)
  •  Asturias (in the centre north of Spain)

In neither Galicia / Northern Portugal nor Asturias has a Celtic language survived, and as such both fall outside of the litmus test used by the Celtic League, and the Celtic Congress. Nevertheless, many organisations organised around Celticity consider that Galicia / Northern Portugal (Douro, Minho and Tras-os-Montes) and Asturias "can claim a Celtic cultural or historic heritage".[9] These claims to Celticity are rooted in the long historical existence of Celts in these regions and ethnic connections to other Atlantic Celtic peoples[10][11] (see Celtiberians, Celtici and Castro culture).

Elements of Celtic music, dance, and folklore can be found within England (e.g. Yan Tan Tethera, Well dressing, Halloween), and the Cumbric language survived until the collapse of the Kingdom of Strathclyde in about 1018. [12] England as a whole comprises many distinct regions, and some of these regions, such as Cumbria,[13] Lancashire, Western Yorkshire and Devon[citation needed], can claim more Celtic heritage than others. Notably, although modern Cumbria has similar borders to the older kingdom of Rheged, it is an amalgation of Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire and part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and many Cumbrians still identify first with these older counties.[citation needed][14]

Migration from Celtic countries

No treatment of modern Celticity would be complete without mentioning the migrations of people from Celtic countries. A very large portion of the populations of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is composed of people whose ancestors were from Ireland, Great Britain, Brittany and the Isle of Man; and Jamaica, South Africa, Barbados, Montserrat, Saint-Barthélemy, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile have also experienced large-scale immigration from these lands at various times.

There are three areas outside Europe with communities of traditional Celtic language speakers: the province of Chubut in Patagonia with Welsh-speaking Argentinians (known as Y Wladfa), Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia with Scottish Gaelic-speaking Canadians, and southeast Newfoundland with Irish-speaking Canadians.

While no Celtic-identified immigrant group is currently pursuing independence or other nationalist goals, Celtic-identified people have played critical roles in each societies' movements for independence from the larger empires to which they were formerly attached-–for example, the most common mother-tongue amongst the Fathers of Confederation which saw the formation of Canada was Gaelic.[15] Today, Celticity throughout the world is generally presented as a cultural identity (as opposed to nationalist, but with a racial or ethnic base), and is experiencing a major revival. There is a movement in Cape Breton for a separate province in Canada, as espoused by the Cape Breton Labour Party and others.

Since the 1960s, there has been a very considerable growth of interest and enthusiasm in their Celtic heritage on the part of such people. Certain areas outside of the identified Celtic nations have particularly strong associations with these various identities: the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia, with Cornish Australians; Liverpool and Manchester with the Welsh and Irish people in England; Jesus College, Oxford with Welsh students; South Boston or the South Side of Chicago with Irish Americans; and certain arrondissements of Paris with Breton Parisians.

Simultaneously, in some former British colonies, or particular regions within them, the term Anglo-Celtic has emerged as a descriptor of an ethnic grouping. In particular, Anglo-Celtic Australian is a term commonly used in academic circles in Australia; it refers to at least 80% of the population.[16] "Anglo-Celtic" can be interpreted as either an affirmation of both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon cultures, or a rejection of the notion that they are separate and distinct. It is not necessarily accepted by all of the people to which it is applied.

Criticism of modern Celticism

Many criticisms of modern Celticism tend to centre around the idea that the Modern Celts have little connection with the Ancient Celts and therefore are not entitled to use the name.[citation needed] Furthermore, some historians also dispute the suitability of the term "Celtic" in the historic context.[17]

John Collis of the University of Sheffield has argued that the idea of a 'Celtic' culture in the British Isles was invented entirely by early modern authors, primarily by Edward Lhuyd, and then re-born by modern day nationalists. Simon James of the University of Leicester says that the Iron Age peoples of Britain should be considered not as generic Celts, but as a mosaic of different societies, each with their own traditions and histories.[17] In Ireland, it has been argued that only around a quarter of the island contains significant archaeological evidence of the Iron Age culture typically identified as 'Celtic'.[18] However, this line of reasoning has itself come under criticism, being labelled an intellectual extension of modern British cultural colonialism, as well as for simplifying the anthropological correlation between material culture and ethnicity. Ruth and Vincent Megaw attacked 'Celt-sceptics' for being motivated by English nationalism or anxieties about the decline of British imperial power. Simon James wrote a response arguing that the rejection of a Celtic past was not 'nationalist' but partly due to new archaeological evidence, and partly motivated by a post-colonial and multiculturalist recognition that Britain has always been home to multiple identities.[19]

Among Insular Celtic groups, while there is strong evidence for linkages between Insular and Continental Celts, earlier assumptions that the Atlantic Celts must be the descendants of an "invasion" of Continental Celts have largely been proven false. This finding has led some, including Richard Warner of the Ulster Museum, to assert that the Atlantic Celts are "not Celts at all".[20] Warner associates Celticity with a "gene pool" when he claims that "the Celts" were "warrior-adventurers whose influence and effect far outweighed their numbers, but who are most unlikely to have a significant or measurable effect on the Irish gene pool".

Despite this, many universities still maintain "Departments of Celtic Studies", including the University of Cambridge in England, which has a "Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic".[21] Harvard University uses the title "Department of Celtic languages and literatures", as a slight differentiation.[22] Three Scottish universities (The University of Glasgow[23], The University of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen) have celtic departments through which students can study Scots Gaidhlig.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Who were the Celts? ... Rhagor". Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales website. Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales. 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2009-12-10. 
  2. ^ Weber, Eugen (1991) "Gauls versus Franks: conflict and nationalism", in Nationhood and Nationalism in France, edited by Robert Tombs. London: HarperCollins Academic
  3. ^ Daniel, A. Le Mouvement Breton; pp. 303-06
  4. ^ Tim Pat Coogan, The Troubles, Arrow Books 1996, pps.200-02
  5. ^ The Guardian, editorial, 8 May 1990
  6. ^ "The Celtic League". Celtic League website. The Celtic League. 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  7. ^ "Information on The International Celtic Congress Douglas, Isle of Man hosted by" (in Irish, English). Celtic Congress website. Celtic Congress. 2010. Retrieved 2010-02-20. 
  8. ^ "Visio-Map of Europe Celtic Europe.vsd" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  9. ^ "Celtic League American Branch - Celtic Nations". Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  10. ^ "Microsoft Word - alvarez_sanchis_6_5.doc" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  11. ^ "PaleoHispania" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  12. ^ Fischer, S. R. (2004) History of Language. Reaktion Books, p. 118
  13. ^ Page Title
  14. ^
  15. ^ Ministry of Canadian Heritage. Gaelic most common mother-tongue among Fathers of Confederation. URL accessed 26/04/2006.
  16. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003, "Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia's population" (from Australian Social Trends, 2003). Retrieved 1 September 2006.
  17. ^ a b "Simon James's Ancient Celts Page - An alternative history of 'Celticness'". Retrieved 24 December 2009. 
  19. ^ "Simon James's Ancient Celts Page - Further info". Retrieved 24 December 2009. 
  20. ^ "The Irish Association - Richard Warner". Retrieved 2008-10-31. 
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^


  • Ellis, P. B. (1992) "Introduction". Dictionary of Celtic Mythology. Oxford University Press
  • Davies, Norman (1999) The Isles: a history. Oxford University Press
  • O'Driscoll, Robert (ed.) (1981) The Celtic Consciousness. George Braziller, Inc, New York City.
  • Hague, Euan; Giordano, Benito & Sebesta, Edward (2005) Whiteness, multiculturalism and nationalist appropriation of Celtic culture: the case of the League of the South and the Lega Nord in Cultural Geographies, 12 (2), 151-173
  • Collis, John (2003) Celts: origins, myths and interventions. Tempus Publishing
  • Patrick Ryan, 'Celticity and storyteller identity: the use and misuse of ethnicity to develop a storyteller's sense of self', Folklore 2006.

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address