(3/6/01 8:53:32 am)
|"celtic" Irish folklore?|
This is possibly a little off
topic, so I apologise and hope it will be quick.
Whgile slogging away at my Celtic Studies degree at the university of toronto, I took a course in Irish Archeology. The professors were straight-out-of-Ireland field archeologists brought in as a treat for us, which we greatly appreciated. It was a fantastic class, but one thing was reiterated week after week by both professors (one a professor at an Irish university which escapes me right now, and the other an archelogist with the Discovery Program [www.discoveryprogramme.ie , if you've an interest in ancient Irish monuments!]):
Ireland is not a celtic country. The celts never lived there, never invaded, and never made much of a mark on the local population. This is the greatest misconception in irish history, they said.
This was fair enough. My Irish language prof had already taught us that Irish is also not much of a gaelic language. A misconception, she said, based mostly in the similarities. But Ireland had been so isolated for so many years that their language is not really considered by linguists to be in the same branch as scottish, welsh or cornish.
Regardless. Ireland already had thousands of years of history and culture before they began trading with the celtic nations, sometime in the bronze age.
I have in my collection more than a few compilations of "celtic" folklore, stories and tales, all containing stories from Ireland. For years I assumed this was basically because the authors were misinformed and used the wrong word, or because of the Irish "celtic twilight" revival of the turn of the century. But it happens *invariably*. I have never come accross a collection of Irish stories that didn't clump them together with those of the nations where the celts *actually* settled: Wales, Bretton, Scotland and England.
I don't suppose anyone has any thoughts or opinions? Is there a marked cultural difference bewteen the stories of Ireland and those of the other celtic nations, or is there enough similarity that the archeologists and linguists are possibly wrong?
Attempting not to abuse the colloquial usage of "celtic",
(3/7/01 11:46:37 am)
I wrote two fantasy novels based on the Tain Bo Cuialnge, and spent years researching them, both the tales and the bronze age history of Ireland. I can't say I ever in that time encountered books on "the Celts" that didn't fold the Irish into the Celtic cauldron. In fact if memory serves, one of the ways the movement of "Celtic" peoples was tracked across the face of Europe all the way to Ireland (there's a strong case made that the stories comprising The Tain originated in/around India, although if there wasn't any cultural exchange going on, then I don't see how this could be valid) was through the evolution of jewelry and metalworking, as well as via the similarities in stories, and deities such as Cernunos, whose image turns up all over Europe and in Ireland as well.
Certainly Ireland was isolated from the intrusion of the Romans and other invaders, and the inhabitants were said to be trading as far away as Spain (the stories indicate that they traded for Spanish wine). I just don't recall any books on Bronze Age forward that didn't include Ireland as an aspect of that which is considered Celtic. I'm not saying that's wrong, just that I didn't read anything to that effect.
So, were your professors saying that pre-Bronze Age, the Irish were separate stock? And that, as such, they didn't mix with the other definably Celtic people from Europe? But that by the Bronze Age, they were trading with the Europeans?
(3/7/01 12:49:42 pm)
We were taught that the cultural exchange was certainly there- the Irish traded with the rest of the isles and the mainland as much as it was possible, at the time. I think they meant to segregate the Celts as a particular "people" who, though they did quite well at spreading their cultural influences, didn't actually inhabit Ireland. And, I think, that the people inhabiting ireland at the time were more culturally "irish" the way they had been for ten thousand years before, than "celtic".
I suppose that's a pretty sketchy difference. I expected it would
be more obvious in irish vs celtic lore. The Irish as a people were
quite insulated. Of seperate stock is fair. For example, in the
late bronze and early iron ages, the predominant cultural evidence
we have of the Irish is in a particular sort of pottery that evidentally
originated on the mainland - but while the form of the pieces were
similar, the art adorning them drew far more heavily from earlier
Irish art than from the art of the celts.
The thesis of my (rather adimant) pre-historic archeology prof was that though the Irish felt the influence of the rest of the world, they, more than any of the nations where the celts did make their homes, retained a much more segregated cultural identity. They were "Irish", not "celtic".
Of course, I imagine the whole history got reduced to hooey when the normans and norse swept in and sort of overran everything. The irish didn't have a written language, and their earliest written texts were approximately 1100AD. I suppose by then, anything could have been said about what went on a thousand years before...
In any case, my mind is just sort of meandering at this point. I regret not asking my profs at the time, why is celtic culture so thoroughly predominant in later period ireland if the celts never lived there?
Thanks, Greg, though.
(3/10/01 9:18:32 pm)
Very interesting topic.... I haven't done exhaustive research, but have read a number of books on "Celtic history" and "Celtic folklore" which make no distinction between Scotland, Wales, Ireland, etc... Ireland always cheerfully puts in a presence.
I would be interested in any sources you have that support this viewpoint - especially where it applies to the artwork and folklore.
(3/17/01 7:03:28 pm)
I think that some of the confusion may lie in the fact that there were different invasions of peoples now labelled 'Celts', seperated by hundreds of years. The Irish celts (if you can truely call them that) arrived in the middle Bronze age. Later the people that eventually became known as the Picts arrived, but were 'persuaded' to move on into northern England and Scotland. Later still came the Brythonic Celts, that formed the tribes occupying Wales, Cornwall and Brittany (I think). In this respect, it could be said that, yes the Irish are 'Irish, not Celtic'. It rather depends on the identity of the bronze age invaders (who did come, and presumably found indigenous people already in place).