Just Who Were and Are the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish?
The British Isles, back in pre-historic times was actually attached to the European continent, much like Alaska once attached all of North America to Russia. But as the Ice Age melted into the Stone Age and the oceans rose, Alaska became disengaged from Russia and the British Isles became disengaged from the European Continent.
Today, we know the British Isles as the countries of England, Wales, Scotland and all of Ireland. The term UK or United Kingdom refers to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The term Great Britain refers to the countries of England, Wales and Scotland. And Britain usually means England and Scotland.
So where do the ancient Celts come in as peoples of these different countries and islands? Actually different tribes of Celts inhabited the different countries and islands. For purposes of this article the following has been established by historians and archaeologists:
- the Gauls (in France)
- the Britons (in England and Wales)
- the Gaels (in Ireland)
- the Gaels and Picts (in Scotland)
Each of these tribes is considered Celtic, just a different tribe or strain of Celts and they are united by the language that they speak and the culture that they live. They are part of the Insular Celtic languages even though each tribe may have had its own dialect.
The Insular Celtic language is a branch of the Indo-European language family and the same family from which most of the languages here in American and Europe that we speak.
By the first millennium AD, with the expansion of the Roman Empire and the great migration of Germanic peoples to the Britain, the Celtic culture and Insular Celtic had become restricted to Ireland, the western and northern parts of Great Britain (Wales, Scotland and Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and Brittany (in France).
From the fifth to the eighth century AD the Celtic speaking communities in these Atlantic regions emerged as a reasonably cohesive cultural entity. They had a linguistic, religious and artistic heritage that distinguished them from the culture of the surrounding polities.
By the sixth century AD, the Continental (European) Celtic languages were no longer in wide use. Insular Celtic culture and languages split into that of the Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx) and the Brythonic Celts (Welsh, Cornish and Brittany (in France) of the medieval and modern periods.
Today, the Insular Celtic languages are the ancestors of these languages:
- Gaelic (Irish, Manx, and southwestern Scottish variants. Scottish Gaelic is derived from Old Irish)
- Cornish (In England)
- Breton (in France)
But, today, with DNA testing some of the theories and beliefs about the Celts and the mythology that we believed, have been turned upside down by research and DNA testing done in the late 20th century and early 21st century.
Some researchers believe calling the British Iron Age "Celtic" is misleading and that this term should be abandoned and some researchers and historians believe through DNA testing that the term is not misleading and this ancient ancestors of the British Isles should be called Celts.
After doing my own research on the topic, I believe the latter researchers, that the ancient ancestors of the British Isles were Celts and Celtic should extend to describe the insular monuments, art, culture and peoples both ancient and modern of the British Isles.
Stephen Oppenheimer research
Throughout recorded history the British Isles have consisted of multiple cultural groups and identities. As far back as the Bronze Age, Celts were living in the British Isles. It has been said that the English descended from the Anglo-Saxons who migrated to England just as the Roman Empire was collapsing and the Romans were leaving Britain.
During the time of the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings from Scandinavia also migrated to the British Isles. It is also believed that most of the people in the rest of the British Isles derived from indigenous Celtic ancestors with a sprinkling of Viking Blood here and there.
There has been no agreement among historians or archaeologist on the meaning of the worlds "Celtic" or "Anglo-Saxon."
Stephen Oppenheimer, (English) offers his research in his book, The Origins of the British, and says that the theory that the Celts came to the British Isles from Central Europe is false.
Genetic evidence shows that 75% of English ancestors came as hunter-gatherers 15,000 to 7,500 years ago, after melting of the ice caps and before land broke away from the mainland and divided into islands. Furthermore, the English share a gene pool with former ice-age refuge in the northern Basque region in modern day Spain, according to Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer even goes so far as to say that the first settlers in Britain (England) were unlikely to have spoken a Celtic language, but probably a tongue related to the unique Basque language which no one to this day can pinpoint its origin.
Oppenheimer states that Caesar wrote back in BC times the the Gauls living south of the Seine River called themselves "Celts." They were common in the rest of what is today, France, Spain, Portugal and the British Isles.
Oppenheimer's theory is that the Celtic languages were spread by a wave of agriculturalists who dispersed 7,000 years ago from Anatolia (in Turkey) traveling along the north coast of the Mediterranean Sea, to Italy, France, Spain and then up the Atlantic Coast to the British Isles. He has also offered as proof of this an archaeological trail.
He continues, "my genetic analysis shows exact counterparts for this trail both in Y chromosome and maternally transmitted mitochondrial DNA right up to Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and the English south coast."
He believes that Celtic cultural history should start in the British Isles no earlier than 300 BC. He said in his book that for many years historians and researchers believed the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain (England) and conquered or ran off the Celts.
But, his gene analysis shows that only 5% of the modern English males lines are from Anglo-Saxons.
So, who was there (England) when the Romans arrived? Were Britons inhabiting England at the time of the Roman invasion? Yes, Britons inhabited England when the Romans invaded, but Oppenheimer also found pre-Roman coins in south Britain that reveal an influence from Belgic Gaul.
Oppenheimer says in his book that the tribes of England, south of the River Thames and along the south coast during Caesar's time (54 BC) had all Belgic names or affiliations. Caesar says in his writings that these tribes had replaced an earlier British population which had migrated to the hinterland of southeast England. (East Anglia)
Oppenheimer believes the Belgic tribe to be the large Celtic tribe, the Catuvellauni, situated in the home counties north of the River Thames. The Catuvellauni lived in what is today Hertfordshire, England and were neighbors of the Celtic Iceni tribe (Queen Boudicca) and joined in their rebellion against Roman rule.
Tacitus, a Roman noble wrote, that between Britain and Gaul, "the language differs but little." This language referred to by Tacitus, Oppenheimer believes was not Celtic but was similar to that spoken by the Belgae, who may have been a Germanic people. Therefore, according to Oppenheimer, a Germanic-type language could already have been indigenous to England at the time of the Roman invasion and not necessarily brought by the Anglo-Saxons.
Therefore, English may have been a separate fourth branch of the Germanic language family before the Roman invasion. Recent lexical (vocabulary) evidence analyzed by Cambridge geneticist, Peter Forster and his colleagues render this evidence as true and Oppenheimer has included it in his book.
Therefore, there was a definite Belgian connection in south of England. Further genetic evidence and analysis also shows that there were major Scandinavian incursions into north and eastern Britain during the Neolithic period and before the Romans, especially in the Shetland to Anglia region in Britain (England).
Any one who has read the epic poem, Beowulf knows that there are Anglian dialects that owe much of their vocabulary to Scandinavian languages and that the setting of Beowulf is in Denmark and Sweden. Some of the cultural affiliations of the early Anglian kingdoms were derived from Scandinavia.
In conclusion, Oppenheimer wrote, the overall genetic perspective of the British (English) are Celts, Belgians, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Vikings and Normans and are all immigrant minorities compared with the Basque (Spain) pioneers who first ventured into Britain as the great ice sheets melted.
Brian Sykes research
Brian Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University and his team of researchers at Oxford University, has also negated the theory that people of Celtic ancestry were thought to have been from Central Europe.
He published his extensive research in his book, Blood of the Isles. Here he created the first genetic maps of the British Isles and stated his analysis.
He found through DNA analysis an almost identical genetic fingerprint to the inhabitants of coastal regions of Spain, specifically the northwest region of Spain called Galicia and who migrated north between 4,000 and 5,000 BC by crossing the Bay of Biscay in boats and then pushing up the English channel to land in England.
This means that the majority of people in the British Isles are actually descended from the Spanish. Sykes spent five years taking DNA samples from approximately 10,000 volunteers in Britain and Ireland to produce a map of their genetic roots.
Sykes took his research on the Y chromosome, which is inherited from the father, and found that all except a tiny percentage were original descendants from one of the six Celtic clans who arrived in the UK in several waves of migration prior to the Norman conquest.
He found that most of the 10,000 DNA when analyzed had the genetic fingerprint from the Celtic clan, Oisin. He found that the Celts were most prominent in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but they were also strongly prominent elsewhere in today's England.
As time progressed, Celtic tribes in England, then migrated back to the northwest corner of Spain, bringing with them their culture and language.
Celtic Dueling Violins
Ailein Duinn - singing in Scottish Gaelic
Through the genetic research of Stephen Oppenheimer in The Origins of the British and the genetic research of Brian Sykes in his book, Blood of the Isles, both comclude that according to genetic evidence, most Welsh people like most Britons, descend from the Iberian Peninsula.
There is a definite link and ancient relationship with the population of Atlantic Europe. Oppenheimer's research states that 96% of lineages in Llangefni in Northern Wales derive from the Iberian Peninsula.
Genetic research on the Y chromosone has shown that the Welsh, like the Irish, share a large proportion of their ancestry with the Basque region of northern Spain and southwest France.
Certain peoples of Wales continue to speak the Bythronic (Briton) languages with additions and borrowings from Latin. Gene scientists at the University College of London (UCL) have said that the Welsh are the "true" Britons and are remnants of the Celts that were pushed out by the Anglo-Saxons.
Today, through genetic research and analysis it is proven that the Celtic languages are the ancestors of the following modern languages:
- Gaelic (Irish, Manx and Scottish)
- Breton (in France)
These people are the modern Celts and attempts have been made to link these distinctive cultures to those of the ancient Celtic peoples.
The 19th century brought a Celtic Revival and a movement of ethnic nationalism in the UK of Great Britain and Ireland. It was believed then that the Celts came to the British Isles from Central Europe.
Additionally, the Irish Home Rule Movement resulted in the secession of the Irish Free State in 1922. There were also significant Welsh, Scottish and Breton nationalist movements that gave rise to the concept of Celtic nations.
The Celtic League was formed in the British Isles in 1961 and its efforts are dedicated to preserving the surviving Celtic languages. The Celtic Revival also led to the emergence of musical and artistic styles identified as Celtic. The music drew on folk traditions within the Celtic nations.
Late in the 20th century and early 21st century a number of scholars criticized the idea of modern Celtic identity arguing that there never was a common Celtic culture, even in ancient times. Malcolm Chapman and his book, The Celts: The Construction of a Myth (1992), was of this criticism saying he had a "politically correct disdain for the use of 'Celt.'"
So, the modern Celtic identity continues to be debated. However, with the genetic research of Oppenheimer and Sykes, it can be said there was a definite Celt ancestry in the British Isles in all four of the countries.
Modern 'Celtic identity' was constructed as part of the Romanticist Celtic Revival in Great Britain, Ireland and other European territories such as Portugal and Spanish Galicia. Today, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and Breton are still spoken in parts of their historical territories and Cornish and Manx are under going a language revival. And, Celtic refers to a family of languages and more generally means "of the Celts" or "in the style of the Celts."
Remember, the Insular Celts are Celtic-speaking peoples of the British Isles and their descendants. Celtic regions of Continental Europe are those whose residents claim a Celtic heritage, but where no Celtic language has survived. These areas are in the Western Iberian Peninsula, ie. Portugal and northwest and north central Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Castile & Leon, and Extremadura.
Therefore, the six nations associated with modern Celtic identity and considered "the Celtic nations" today are:
- Brittany (in France)
- Isle of Man
- Cornwall (in England)
And southeastern England and other parts of England have a strong Celtic ancestry. All Celtic languages extinct today in these countries belong to the Insular Celtic languages derived from the Celtic langues spoken in the Iron Age Britain and Ireland. They are separated into a Goidelic (Gaelic) and Brythonic branch from an early age.
Linguists have been arguing for many years whether a Celtic language came to Britain and Ireland and then split or whether there were two separate "invasions" of languages. Today, linguists lean toward a model of phylogenetic Insular Celtic dialect group.
Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe and Celtic historian John T. Koch state there was a Celtic culture in Britain (England) during the Bronze Age and credits its spread to gradual migration out of Proto-Indo-European culture and not as an invasion.
Under Caesar, the Romans conquered Celtic Gaul (France). At that time, Gaul made a language shift to speaking Vulgar Latin under the Romans. Under Claudius, the Romans conquered Britain (England). In Britain (England) Insular Celts retained their language.
Country spoken today
Cornwall, England; Canada; Australia
Wales; U.S.; Canada; Australia
Country spoken today
Parts of Scotland and the Hebrides; Australia; Canada; U.S.
Parts of Ireland; Brazil; Canada; UK; U.S.
Isle of Man
- The Bretons of Brittany, France
The Bretons are descendants of the Britons, who emigrated from southwestern Great Britain to the farthest western shores of Brittany, France and brought the Brittonic Celtic languages with them.
- The Celts of Northern Ireland
The Ulaid of the Ulster region were the largest of the Celtic tribes in N. Ireland in pre-history times.
- Celtic Wales
Wales of Great Britain was also originally the home of the Celtic peoples.
- Queen Maeve of Irish literature - fact or myth?
The intoxicating Irish Queen Maeve , known for her sexual prowess - was she a true warrior Queen or Irish myth and lore?
- Celtic Ireland
The Irish Celts were a fierce people who called themselves Gaels and had the longest Celtic history in the British Isles.
- Book of Kells - Ireland's national treasure
One of the most extraordinary of illuminated manuscripts in Europe is the Book of Kells from Ireland.
- Ghillie Dhu - part of Scottish folklore and myth
When walking in the forest alone at night, beware of Ghillie Dhu, protector of the forest, from Scottish lore and myth.
- The Celtic Picts of Scotland
The Celtic Picts of Scotland were the original inhabitants and genetic research today confirms that they were the original "Scots.
- Britons - the Celtic people of England
Britons, also known as Celts, where not the first to inhabit England, but they left their mark there during the Iron Age.
- Boudicca - Celtic Warrior Queen
Hell hath no fury as a woman wronged. Celtic Queen Boudicca revolted against the the Roman army in southwest England (60-61 AD) and soundly defeated them in three battles before experiencing defeat.
- Celtic Spain
There is quite the Celtic culture alive today in the northwest corner of Spain, known as Galicia.
- Celtic Woman - singing songs of Irish heritage
Enjoy St. Patrick's Day with the songs of Celtic Woman, beautiful Irish singers from Ireland, the Emerald Isles.