Modern Celts

Modern Celts

Modern Celts are those peoples who are speakers of Celtic languages, or who consider themselves, or have been considered by others, to participate in a Celtic culture deriving from communities that have formerly been Celtic-speaking.

The term is generally used for a number of peoples in Western Europe sharing various cultural traits, including those speaking languages with a common Insular Celtic origin, ultimately descending from the Celts of antiquity.

Since the Enlightenment, the term "Celtic" has been applied to a wide variety of peoples and cultural traits present and past. Today, Celtic 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". Except for the Bretons, all groups mentioned have been subject to strong Anglicization 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 Frenchification since the Early Modern period, and can similarly be described as participating in an Franco-Celtic macro-culture.

Less common is the assumption of "Celticity" for European cultures deriving from Continental Celtic roots (Gauls and Celtiberians), since these have been either Romanized or Germanized much earlier, before the Early Middle Ages. Nevertheless, "Celtic" origins are sometimes implied for continental groups such as the Asturians, Galicians, French, Swiss 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. The name "Britain" itself derives from that of the Priteni.

History of 'Celticity'

'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 could begin with the famous words "Nos ancêtres les Gaulois..." ("Our ancestors the Gauls..."). 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.

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 term "Celtic" therefore came to be widely applied in the 18th century (for the first time) to the Goidelic and Brythonic languages, and by extension to the peoples that spoke them.

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 played up.

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.

Modern 'Celticity'

After World War II, "race" went out of fashion and "culture" took its place. Many of the same stereotypes and caricatures of Celticity once attributed to the Celtic or Alpine race, were thus recycled under the label of culture. But since the 1960s, Celticity has been put to a somewhat different use. The peoples of the "Celtic fringe" found in Celticity an explanation for their peripheral "otherness", as well as a source of pride which could galvanize them into demands for development and regeneration. Nationalists in Northern Ireland sought an end to endemic discrimination with the Civil Rights Movement. Breton regionalists participated in the May 1968 revolt under Breton flags and with the slogan "Bretagne=Colonie".

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." ["The Guardian", editorial, 8 May 1990]

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 organizations 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 Celtic link is also claimed to come mainly from:
* language
* music
* art
* sport

The roots revival, applied to Celtic music, has brought much inter-Celtic cross-fertilization, 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 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

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

:* flag|Brittany:* flag|Ireland|4prov :* flag|Scotland:* flag|Wales:* flag|Cornwall:* flag|Isle of Man

It is these 'Six Nations' that (alone) are considered Celtic by the Celtic League and the Celtic Congress amongst others. These organizations 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, and Brittany. [ [ Visio-Map of Europe Celtic Europe.vsd ] ]

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 prominent:

:*flag|Galicia:*flag|Asturias:*flag|EnglandFact|date=August 2008

In neither Galicia 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 organizations organized around Celticity consider that both Galicia and Asturias "can claim a Celtic cultural or historic heritage". [ [ Celtic League American Branch - Celtic Nations ] ] These claims to Celticity are rooted in the historical existence of Celts in these regions. [] [ [ PaleoHispania ] ] (see Celtiberians and Castro culture).

Elements of Celtic music, dance, and folklore can be found within England (eg. Yan Tan Tethera), and the Cumbric language survived until the collapse of the Kingdom of Strathclyde in about 1018. [Fischer, S. R., "History of Language", Reaktion Books, 2004, p. 118] England as a whole comprises many distinct regions, and some of these regions, such as Cumbria, [ [ Page Title ] ] Lancashire, and Devon Fact|date=August 2007, 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 countiesFact|date=August 2008. []

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 from Ireland, Britain, Brittany and the Isle of Man; and Jamaica, Barbados, Montserrat, Saint-Barthélemy, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Chile have also experienced large-scale migration 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. [ [ Ministry of Canadian Heritage] . Gaelic most common mother-tongue among Fathers of Confederation. URL accessed 26/04/2006.] 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. [ [!OpenDocument Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2003, "Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia's population"] (from Australian Social Trends, 2003). Retrieved 1 September 2006.] "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

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. In Ireland, it has been shown that only around a quarter of the island contains significant archaeological evidence of the Iron Age culture typically identified as 'Celtic'. [ [ CELTIC IRELAND AND OTHER FABLES: POLITICS AND PREHISTORY] ]

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 Wagner of the Irish Institute, to assert that the Atlantic Celts are "not Celts at all". [ [ The Irish Association - Richard Warner ] ] Wagner 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".


Modern Celts are divided fairly evenly between Protestants and Roman Catholics. About 75% of the population of the island of Ireland is Roman Catholic, as are nearly all Bretons, but the majority of the Scots, Welsh, Cornish and Manx are Protestant. In Scotland, there is a substantial Roman Catholic minority, estimated as 16% in the 2001 Census, mainly in areas with recent Irish immigration, but also in some Gaelic speaking areas such as South Uist and Barra. The Archbishop of Canterbury (and Primate of All England), Dr Rowan Williams, is a Welsh speaking Welshman, whilst the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Murphy O'Connor, is of Irish parentage.



* Peter Berresford Ellis. 1992. "Introduction". "Dictionary of Celtic Mythology". Oxford University Press.
* Norman Davies. 1999. "The Isles: A History". Oxford University Press.
* Robert O'Driscoll (ed). 1981. "The Celtic Consciousness". George Braziller, Inc, New York City.
* Euan Hague, Benito Giordano and Edward Sebesta 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
* John Collis 2003. "Celts: Origins, Myths and Interventions". Tempus

ee also

*Celtic Congress
*Celtic League
*Celtic Revival
*Celtic Neopaganism

External links

* [ Celtic League]
* [ Celtic League - American Branch]
* [ The Celtic Realm]
* [ - Monthly magazine on current affairs in the Celtic nations]
* [ Celtic-World.Net, - Various information on Celtic culture and music]
*PDFlink| [ National Geographic
] |306 KiB

* [ The Celtic Nations]
* [ soc.culture.celtic newsgroup FAQ]

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