Saturday, 12 November 2011

Celts in Ireland Facts - Celtic Ireland

The Celts in Ireland

Welcome to this article on the Celts in Ireland. There is a style of art called La Tene, that was practised in Europe and evidence of this has been found in the northern part of Ireland. This La Tene culture centred in Switzerland around 1500-1000 BC and then expanded and was practised widely across Europe around 400 BC.  This of course was the Iron Age in Ireland.

The culture was all but removed by the Romans and existed only in places which had not been influenced by the Romans, and Ireland was one of those.  The La Tene culture is associated with advanced forms of metalwork, decorative ornamentation, jewelry and gold smithery and these were the strengths of the Celts.

The Celts who had a reputation for being fierce some warriors were defeated due to the political nature of their culture which consisted of a loose network of tribal societies rather than a centralised authority which the Romans clearly possessed.

The earlier Hallstatt civilisation was based in Austria and then shifted to the Rhine and the Alps with trade missions to Spain, Britain and Ireland.  They settled all of Gaul but their culture impact did vary from region to region, and was based on trade rather than by violence.

So, in Ireland this La Tene culture existed with no influence from the Romans.  There are some stones in Ireland that show the wonderful inscriptions of the La Tene culture such as the Castlestrange Stone in County Roscommon and the Turoe Stone in County Galway.

The weapons of this period clearly do point to one thing, the importance of close quarter fighting. Typical weapons used are swords, spears; bronze trumpets and these were found along with gold jewellry and ornaments.
Another interesting find has been various horse trappings, including bridle bits and we do know that some type of horse and carts were being used. We also know that a form of wooden tracking has been uncovered in County Longford.

Evidence of similar type structures have been found in the Black Pig's Dyke and near Dorsey in County Armagh. Near this is Navan Fort which again has intrigued archaeologists for some time as it is a most unusual structure. It is thought now to be a pagan summit, some 240 metres in diameter, and consists of ever decreasing circles of timber posts, leading to a huge central mast.

These circles are split by three parallel aisles and also leading to the centre mast. The fort sits on the summit of a drumlin, and is often referred to as Emain Macha, a sacred place of a military dynasty. This dynasty according to mythology was the Red Branch Knights, ruled by Conchobar mac Nessa, advised by a druid called Cathbad and championed by the great CuChulainn, the Hound of Ulster.  According to the earliest Christian scribes, Irish history began with the founding of Emain Macha.

The most significant that we can ascertain from this period is that Ireland did indeed possess a spoken language. That language was a Celtic one and coming with that is an all embracing culture that did indeed come to Ireland, and as the population settled and began to grow, it became the language of that day.

Archaeological evidence does teach us that the Celts came to Ireland between 500 BC and 500 AD. As explained, these Celts would have come from the La Tene, Switzerland and the Hallstadt, Austria civillisations. Quite often Gaul is directly associated with the Celts and it is best explained like this.

The area known as Gaul included all of France, Belgium and most of Switzerland. The word Gaul does get equated with the word Keltoi or Celt, but not all of Gaul was actually Celtic. There were areas of Gaul that had associations with other races, Iberian, Ligurian, Greeks at Marseilles and Germans from along the Rhine. There is therefore quite often a blurred distinction between Celts and Gaul.

Despite this, we know for absolute certainty that the legacy of the Celts lives on and we know that because of the language. Celts spoke what is known as an Indo-European language which gradually developed into “P-Celtic,” and this was known as the speech of Britain and Gaul, ancestor of Welsh and Breton, and also into Q-Celtic, the language of the people of Ireland, ancestor of the Gaelic and now the Irish language.

The Celts did have a primitive alphabet known as the Ogam or Ogham which used a series of notches, cut into the edge of a stone. The Q Celts could not pronounce the letter “p” so they either didn't use it or changed it to a “q” type sound. Speakers of Irish can understand Scots Gaelic but will not be able to understand Welsh or Breton at all, as for the last 2,000 years these languages have grown and developed.

What is strange about the Celts is that where other peoples left their various marks on the Irish landscape, that is not the same for the Celts, yet they developed a language that is still surviving and spoken today.

To summarise in P-Celtic the word for son is “Mab” which is linked with Gaul or Brythonic (British), whereas in Q-Celtic the word for son is “Mac” in Goidelic and can be seen on primitive Irish Ogham inscriptions.

Remember that the Celts were a loose amalgam of tribes and as such they left little behind except the form of writing known as either Ogam or Ogham.  This script was used in Ireland from around the 4th to the 8th Century.  This script consisted of strokes and notches that were either carved into wood or stone and in truth was a rather clumsy method.

There is not much written evidence in existence to clearly generate a picture of what Ireland must have looked like in these times.  There are some small pieces of information available from writers like, Gaius Julius Solinus, a Latin grammarian, Tactitus a Roman historian, and Strabo the Greek.



The common theme from all these early writers is that they viewed Ireland as being situated on the edge of the known world at that time, that its inhabitants were classed as barbaric and that Ireland, simply because of its location would be rich in crops and free of any pestilence.

A quite unknown fact and sometimes I think intentionally forgotten was that Solinus actually recorded that there were no snakes in Ireland a good two hundred years before the arrival of Saint Patrick.

Hopefully that answers a question I am often asked about Saint Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland.  Snakes did not exist in Ireland since the Ice Age, so he could not have banished what did not exist!

Ireland never was part of the Roman Empire but was no doubt influenced by it as it lay close to its neighbour Britain. Roman power there declined in the fifth century AD and the Irish started to plunder there. The most successful of these was the Dal Riata of the Glens of Antrim who plundered the districts of Argyll and the Hebrides.

Again quite an unknown fact was that the Romans called Ireland Scotia, but such was the impact of the Dal Riata community at that time on their successful plundering, the name Scotia was transferred to that area, and as such Scotland was born. This also happened in parts of Wales.

Like many phases of Irish History the Iron Age in Ireland was a time of change. I would now recommend that you read about Early Christianity in Ireland