Traditional Irish Gaelic song
Gaels - the Celts of Ireland
As we know, the Celts first were evident as a European cultural group and were first evident in continental Europe around the 7th and 8th centuries BC. The Celts were loosely tied together as tribes and spoke a common language.
The Greeks called them Keltoi and the Romans called them Galli and both terms meant 'barbarians.' They were fierce warriors who fought among themselves and fought the Romans when they were occupiers in Britain. They ruthlessly fought against any invader of the British Isles and their culture flourished the longest in Ireland and Scotland.
The Greek, Pytheas, referred to the British Isles as the Pretanic Islands which is derived from Priteni which is definitely a Celtic word.
By the 3rd to 5th century BC, they occupied much of Europe north of the Alps. By the 2nd and 3rd century, the Celts had arrived in Ireland. They became known as the Gaels, because of their language and culture and inhabited the island of Eire as Ireland was originally known and named.
The Gaels, Gauls, Britons, Irish and Gallacians were all Celtic people. Celtic culture survived longer in northern Europe and the British Isles longer than in continental Europe and still survives today in parts of Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Wales and Breton (France).
After the Romans withdrew from Britain in the 5th century, the Celtic culture survived more strongly in Ireland and elsewhere in the isles it is believed because of hill forts they built to fight off the invaders; and there were many.
From the 7th to 9th centuries the Vikings invaded Ireland again and again. The founded several Irish cities such as Belfast and Dublin, but they were never able to take over the island.
Ireland was not occupied by another nation until 1160 when the Normans invaded from England. Then, the British occupation of Ireland lasted until 1922 when the Republic of Ireland was born. Through all this the Celtic culture still survived.
Celtic culture has been continuous in Ireland for approximately 2400 years or more. But, who were the first Celts to arrive?
We know from the extensive research and DNA analysis of the English by Brian Sykes, head of the genetic department at Oxford University, that he found that the Celts were most prominent in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also in today's England.
What surprised him and most of the people of the British Isles was the DNA analysis which clearly showed a genetic fingerprint to the inhabitants of coastal regions of Spain. Specifically the northern Basque region of Spain and the northwest Galician region of Spain.
He discovered from approximately 4,000 to 5,000 BC that the Iberians migrated north to the British Isles and lived in all of the countries of the British Isles today. Therefore, the ancestors of the Irish Celts or Gaels were the Spanish and/or Portugal.
These Iberians first inhabited Ireland and throughout the ensuing centuries evolved into what we know today as the Gaels of Ireland.
The Irish Gaels
The Gaels of Ireland (Celts) emerged in the prehistoric era and their lives and culture lasted until the early 17th century. During this period Ireland was known as an island made up of a hierarchy of territories, made up of families of clans, and ruled by a hierarchy of kings or chieftains.
Gaelic culture and society was organized and centered around the clan (spelled clann in Gaelic) The landscape and history of Ireland was wrought with inter-clan relationships, marriages, friendships, wars, vendettas and trading etc.
Each person fit into a kin-group or clan. This was a large group of related people supposedly descended from one progenitor through male forebears. They were headed by a male chieftain or king although the clans were primarily based on blood kinship, they also included those fostered into the group and those accepted into it for other reasons.
Succession to the chieftainship was through tanistry. A relative was elected by the clan to be his deputy and when the chieftain died the tanist would succeed him, but had to share the same great-grandfather as his predecessor. The tanist elected from clan freemen who shared the same great-grandfather.There could be more than one tanist in a clan and if so they would succeed each other in order of seniority.
Warfare between the territories was common during these times as the Irish Celts or Gaels as they called themselves, were fierce and courageous warriors who fought strongly for their independence. Their culture was based around war. The Gaels also cut off the heads of their enemies to bring home as trophies as did the Britons.
The ancient Gaelic culture was patriarchal and every woman had to have a male guardian. During the 8th century the preferred form of marriage was one between social equals. The woman was legally dependent on the husband and had half of his honor price. She could exercise considerable authority in regard to the transfer of property. Such women were called "women of joint dominion."
Free women in Gaelic Ireland held a good position in society as social and property rights were quite on the level of men. Land was owned by men and inherited by sons, but if a family had no son to inherit, then the property passed on to the daughter.
Under Gaelic law, married women could hold property independent of husbands and couples could divorce or separate. These Irish Gaelic laws differed from continental Europe at the time and definitely differed from Catholic Church law.
Women could seek a divorce or separation as easily as men and all they had to do was to petition to do so. The woman could keep all the property she brought to her husband and into her marriage.
Therefore, some Gaelic wives wielded great political power and the wife of a chieftain was entitled to some share of the chief's authority over his territory.
Their economy and lifestyle was mostly pastoral and money generally not used as the barter system reigned. They built huts or stone buildings in the round as houses. Land was plowed using wooden plows pulled by oxen. Almost all farming was subsistence based and there was very little trade in food.
They used the hill-fort as their defense system against invaders. It is these defensive hill-forts that are given credit for the Celts or Gaels remaining in power and culture in Ireland until the 17th century.
Their religion was initially polytheistic or pagan and they believed in many gods and goddesses. They revered and worshiped the oak tree and places of water were especially important to them. They practiced their religious rituals in oak groves.
Their religious leaders after the gods and goddesses were the Druids who were first and foremost priests who practiced the religious rituals. They also foretold prophecies, judged civil and criminal cases, and taught the religious practices to the Gaels. Religious lessons, like all Gaelic lessons were passed down verbally by word of mouth from generation to generation.
Animals were very important in archaeological diggings and later in their stories. We know today that bulls were worshiped and sacrificed by the Gaels.
The sky and sun were also important to their religious practices and they believed in an afterlife. This is attested to by the archaeological digs of cemeteries that have discovered burials and graves with such things as food, weapons, and other implements that might be needed in the next life.
The early Gaels believed in magic and a belief in a parallel life of divine and magic entities such as faeries and leprechauns which were told in Irish stories.
Women had spiritual and political power as Gaels with some being even warriors and Druids. They had four main pagan religious festivals each year that centered around and marked the four traditional divisions of the year:
Ireland's rich mythology was originally passed down verbally and later written down by monks in Christian times. They modified these myths to fit the Christian role and tradition. The large body of work is split into three overlapping cycles:
- Mythological cycle - explained pseudo-history and how Ireland and people came to be
- Ulster cycle - explained the lives and deaths of Ulaidh heroes
- Fenian cycle - explained the exploits of Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna (his warriors and supporters)
Christianity came of Ireland in 432 AD with the arrival of St. Patrick who explained the Trinity or the three person God (God the father, God the son, and God the holy spirit) with the three leaf clover found among the grass, and the three leaf clover has been the symbol of Ireland since then.
The Gaels established a rich verbal culture and appreciation of deeper and intellectual pursuits. When Christianity came to Ireland many of their spiritual and intellectual tasks were passed on to Christian monks who worked them into the Catholic religion and faith.
Poetry, music, storytelling, literature and other art forms were highly prized and cultivated in both pagan and Christian Gaelic Ireland. Hospitality, fulfillment of social and ritual responsibilities were held sacred.
Insular Celtic culture (that on the British Isles) diversified into that of the:
- Gaels (Irish, Scottish and Manx)
- Brythonic (Welsh, Cornish, Bretons and Britons)
during the medieval and modern periods and this division also applied to their languages.
- Book of Kells - Ireland's national treasure
One of the most extraordinary of illuminated manuscripts in Europe is the Book of Kells from Ireland.
The Gaelic Language
Gaelige or Irish is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European languages family that originated in Ireland and was and is today still spoken by some of the Irish people. Both English and Irish are the official languages of the Republic of Ireland today and English is the official language in Northern Ireland. Today's modern Irish language is an official language of the European Union.
Irish evolved from a form of Celtic Gaelic introduced into Ireland during the great Celtic migrations between the end of the second millennium and the 4th century BC.
Celtic refers to a family of languages and means "of the Celts" or "in the style of the Celts." The link between language and artifacts dug up is confirmed by the inscriptions found on those artifacts. Celtic culture is diverse, but what pulls it together is the use of a Celtic language and is what they have in common.
The Celtic languages spoken on the British Isles are Insular Celtic languages and have been divided into two major family groups by linguists:
- Goidelic (Gaelic)
They are called Insular because they were spoken only on the British Isles and survived much longer that the Celtic languages of continental Europe.
The Goidelic language historically formed a dialect continuum stretching from Ireland through the Isle of Man and to Scotland.
The three modern Goidelic languages are:
- Irish (Gaeilge)
- Scottish Gaelic (Gaidhlig)
- and Manx (Gaelg)
These three languages are classified as Insular Celtic or Q-Celtic. The names used in all three of these languages are derived from Old Irish Goidelc, which actually derives from Old Welsh, Guoidel, which means "pirate or raider."
These Celtic languages all have a similar grammatical structure, but have little vocabulary in common.
Goidelic was once restricted to Ireland and possibly the west coast of Scotland. Medieval Gaelic literature tells us that the Gaelic kingdom of Dai Riata emerged in western Scotland during the 6th century.
The traditional view is that the Gaelic language was brought to Scotland by settlers from Ireland who founded Dai Riata.
Recent archaeologists and linguists though have argued that there are no archaeological or place names evidenced for a migration or takeover by a small group migrating to Scotland.
The kingdom of Dia Riata grew in size, influence and Gaelic language and culture and was eventually adopted by the neighboring Celtic Picts who lived throughout Scotland.
Manx is the Gaelic language spoken on the Isle of Man and is close to the Gaelic spoken in the Hebrides and the Irish spoken in the northeastern and eastern Ireland and the now extinct Galwegian Gaelic of Galloway (in southwestern Ireland) with some influence from Old Norse from the Viking invasions.
Written Irish or Gaelic was first attested in the Ogham stone inscriptions in the 4th century. It was a primitive Irish written with the Ogham alphabet. Primitive Irish is the oldest written Goidelic language. The Ogham script on the stones was a series of grooves on the corner of the stone. Each combination of grooves represented a different letter of the Ogham alphabet.
Examples of these writings were found throughout Ireland and on the west coast of Great Britain. Usually the Ogham script gave the name of a person or ancestor and were probably commemorative. This primitive Irish evolved into Old Irish through the 5th century AD.
Old Irish, dating from the 6th century used the Latin alphabet. During this time, Old Irish absorbed and borrowed many Latin words, including ecclesiastical terms. Old Irish is the earliest variant of the Celtic Gaelic language.
By the 10th century Old Irish was evolving into Middle Irish which was spoken throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. It is the language of a large bit of literature including the Ulster cycle of literature.
By the 12th century, Middle Irish was evolving into Modern Irish in Ireland, into Scottish Gaelic in Scotland and into Manx on the Isle of Man.
Early Modern Irish, also known as Classical Gaelic, from the 13th century on, was the basis of the literary language of both Ireland and Gaelic speaking Scotland. During this time Ireland was considered the Gaelic homeland to the Scottish literati.
Modern Irish was spoken and written from the 17th century on and about the time of the writings of Geoffrey Keating and was the medium of popular literature.
By the mid 18th century, English not only became the language of the government but of the Catholic middle classes, the Catholic Church and public intellectuals. As the value of English became apparent parents sanctioned the removal of the Irish language in schools.
The Great Famine (1845-49) was the final catastrophic event that brought about the decline of Irish in Ireland and English replaced the Gaelic Irish language.
However, in the 19th century, there was a Gaelic Revival begun by the recently formed Gaelic League in an attempt to encourage the learning and use of Irish though few adult learners mastered the language. The revival also focused on the Irish folk and myth traditions.
From the 17th to early 20th centuries, the Irish language was gradually replaced by English in most parts of Ireland.
However, today, there are three main dialects of modern Irish spoken in Ireland:
- Munster (An Mhumhain) - spoken mainly in Kerry and Muskerry in the western part of County Cork.
- Connacht (Connachta) - spoken mainlu in Connemara, the Aran Islands and Tourmakeady in County Mayo.
- Ulster (Ulraidh) - spoken in the Rosses
The Official Standard Irish was developed during the 1950's and 60's and combines the elements from all three major dialects and its pronunciation from the Connacht dialect. This is the form of the Irish language taught in most Irish schools.
In 1922, the Republic of Ireland was born and the official language became Irish adopted along with English. Irish government and civil servants are bilingual.
Henry VIII of England, in 1542, declared the Lordship a Kingdom and himself King of Ireland and the English began to re-conquer the Irish island. By 1607, Ireland was fully under English control bringing the old Gaelic political and social order to the end.
Even thought the British occupation of Ireland lasted until 1922, the Celtic Gaelic culture has still survived in Ireland. The Celtic Gaelic culture has been continuous in Ireland for approximately 2400 years or more.
The Gaelic culture still survives strongly in Ireland today. Most Irish consider themselves Celtic. Up to approximately 100,000 of the Irish speak Gaelic as a first language and approximately 500,000 of them speak it as a second language.
The Gaelic language is on street signs along with English, and also on storefronts, in phone books and in western Ireland some of the street sighs are posted only in Gaelic.
There are Gaelic language radio and TV stations available in Ireland. Celtic has become a big marketing angle in Ireland today.
In Ireland, the Celtic culture has never really died out. It took hold in times before Christ and has held on ever since then. Today, the Celtic culture is alive and well in Ireland!
The History of Ireland in Six minutes
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 28, 2015:
Hi Liz: Yes, I do know that Gaelic/Irish is still spoken in a few pocket areas of Ireland. I realize that English is the first language of Ireland today. I love the beautiful Gaelic language and I hope it does not become extinct. I did not mean to imply in any way that Ireland is a backward nation only speaking Gaelic. I have never visited your Island, but I hope to some day. I don't think it is a waste of time learning Gaelic/Irish because it keeps your heritage alive. But, I can understand not everyone is interesting in speaking Gaelic. Thanks so much for reading this and giving your opinion on the subject.
Liz on June 13, 2015:
EVERYONE knows how to speak English. For most Irish it's our first language. It's only rlealy in certain places in the countryside they would choose to speak in Gaeilge. Unlike most countries, there are a lot of Irish who don't know Gaeilge because it's a dying language, so it's a waste of time learning it.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on December 07, 2014:
JoyLevine: Thank you so much for your kind comments. I am very interested in the Celtics and their history. And, they do have a varied history. Each set of tribes were the same and yet so different. I am glad you enjoyed reading this and I hope to get to Ireland one day to see the country for myself.
JoyLevine from 3rd Rock from the Sun on December 06, 2014:
Incredibly extensive article, wow, you put a lot of work into this! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this and learning more. The Irish roundhouse reminds me of a yurt, which I have always wanted to live in because of its simplicity! Lovely article, thank you so much for sharing your talents with us!
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on July 29, 2014:
Dolores: Yes, after writing this Celtic series, I am convinced anyone with a western European background has a bit of Celt in them. The different tribes of Celts were all over Europe and the British Isles and intermarried with other non-Celtic peoples and tribes. I have found them to be so interesting. Thanks so much for stopping by to read this.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on July 29, 2014:
Au fait: THank you so much for stopping by to read this. I don't have an ounce of Irish in me, that I know of, but my niece and nephews are Irish through their father. It is an interesting culture that has produced some beautiful literature, music, art etc
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on July 29, 2014:
Interesting article. There are so many of us descended from Celts or who have at least some of the Celt in us. I was glad to read of the revival of the old language that could have so easily been lost.
C E Clark from North Texas on July 27, 2014:
Such interesting photos. I have Irish ancestors though I'm primarily English and Dutch. My daughter has Irish ancestry from both myself and her father. This history that must have taken you a lot of time to put together, is very interesting. Enjoyed the read.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on July 19, 2014:
Martin: How lovely of you to read this and comment. Coming from a true Irish man this is such a compliment. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this and thank you!
Martin O'Reilly, Cork, Ireland on July 19, 2014:
Thanks for this amazing insight into my past
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on July 09, 2014:
Hi jason: I have had company here from Italy for the past week or so and I have not been on HP. Please let me know if you come over here and I can introduce you to my "Irish family." I don't know your age, but you would love them all. A pub crawl in Dublin, OH is just the thing to do. LOL! Yes, my sister and her family tried to do their part to bring peace to Ireland. Life is too short to be angry and at war. So glad things have calmed down over there!
jason behan from Dublin, Ireland on July 02, 2014:
Suzettenaples: In reply to your comment, Dublin Ohio, is must go for me. Id be in stitches going round on a pub crawl over there, singing the rebels. Its amazing that there is a city like that. That story of the two girls was remarkable and very good of your family. It would have been one hell of an expierience for them. Wish you a lovely day :)
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 30, 2014:
Jessica: I am so glad you read this especially if you are of Irish descent. I learned a lot just writing the hub, which was the point. LOL! I am so pleased you enjoyed it and found it informative and interesting. Thanks so much for your visit and for your comments. Most appreciated.
Jessica Dawn Lee on June 29, 2014:
What an amazing amount of information! I was so interested to read and learn all of the information you presented, some of which I was previously unaware. I am of Irish descent, & was really amazed at all of the information contained in your work. Thank you!
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 27, 2014:
jason: de nada tiempos millones - a million your're welcomes! Thank you so much for your kind comments. Because of my niece and nephews (their father is Irish) I have an interest in the Celts. My niece and nephew also live in Dublin -- Dublin, Ohio that is! In the middle of the state, outside of our capital city, Columbus, is the city of Dublin, Ohio. And yes, it is quite Irish. You would love it and get a chuckle out of it. There are Irish pubs and of course the church, St. Brigit of Kildare, (we are Catholic and I hope you don't mind). They have a great St. Patrick's Day parade and celebration. Not many there speak Irish, though, it is mostly all English. LOL! But, soccer or futbol is a major sport there. During the 90's my sister and brother-in-law tried to help bring peace between N. Ire and the Republic of Ire by having two girls as exchange students. One was from the Rep. of Ireland and one was from N. Ireland. They stayed for a month and got along great and everyone had a wonderful time. I got to meet them and they were just lovely Irish girls. So, Ireland is on my travel list for sure. I hope to get there some day!
jason behan from Dublin, Ireland on June 26, 2014:
Hey it means a million thank you's. That is amazing, it is more people like you that we need to keep the legend of the celts alive. I am fluent in Gaelic as i went to an Irish school with just one english book in Dublin. I think knowing and remembering our history is an important part of life. Much respect for you and im moving onto your hub ''The Samnites'' today. Have a good night.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 25, 2014:
jason: You are welcome. Grazie (Italian) but I don't know Irish. So sorry. Your Gaelic is great - I just don't know what it means. LOL! I don't have a drop of Irish in me - its my niece and nephews who are Irish. Thanks so much for reading and I am thrilled a Dubliner would read this. I love the Celtic culture and can't get enough of it. I am so glad you enjoyed this.
jason behan from Dublin, Ireland on June 25, 2014:
Thank you for your great and facinating stories on the Celts. Gura míle mhaith agat.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 21, 2014:
The Examiner-1: Thank you so much for your kind comments and I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this. It is amazing how the Celts lived and survived so long in Ireland, and are still surviving for that matter. I have enjoyed writing this because I have such an intense interest in the Celts. The pictures of Ireland are beautiful, aren't they. It is such a beautiful country and countryside. That original alphabet on the Ogham stone is amazing. The family tree of languages reminds me of my linguistic classes in college. LOL! We had to learn and memorize those, but I don't remember them all today. Thanks so much for your visit and I am glad you found this interesting and informative.
The Examiner-1 on June 21, 2014:
That was beautiful Suzette! What a documentary about Celtic/Gaelic heritage. It is amazing how Ireland survived through all of that.
The picture of Celtic Castle with the greenery and the sheep was lovely. Then there was the tree showing the family languages, I would have liked to learn them. I liked the Ogham stone with the alphabet etched into it and would have loved to have had that stamp of Eire. You did a great job. I gave it thumbs up and UABI.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 20, 2014:
Chitrangada: Thanks so much for your comments and I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this. I have never been to Ireland, but the photos of it are beautiful and I would love to see it someday myself. Thanks so much for your visit and I appreciate the votes.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on June 20, 2014:
Wonderful hub with so much information about the Celtic, Ireland. Your article is so well researched with loads of interesting information. The place looks lovely and so green and the history attached to this is interesting.
Very well presented article. Thanks for the education, voted up!
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 19, 2014:
Correction: there one day. oops!
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 19, 2014:
ologsinquito: thank you so much for your kind comments. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this especially if you are of Irish background. I hope you visit their one day. Thank you for your visit. Much appreciated.
ologsinquito from USA on June 19, 2014:
My goodness, you did an amazing amount of research for this article. My background includes some Irish heritage, so I love reading about Ireland, which I hope to visit someday.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 18, 2014:
DreamerMeg: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. I hope I did justice to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Thanks so much for your visit. Most appreciated.
DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on June 17, 2014:
I enjoyed reading this. I live in Northern Ireland and have Welsh ancestry and I learned a lot!
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 16, 2014:
grand old lady: I agree with you, I like the power of women among the gaels and really all Celtic tribes. I am pleased you enjoyed reading this and thank you so much for your comments.
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on June 15, 2014:
I like the power of women among the gaels. The Irish accent is beautiful. However, this is the first time that I learned that they have other dialects too. Overall this is a great, comprehensive and interesting article about Ireland. This is knowledge worth treasuring.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 15, 2014:
Jodah: Thank you so much for your kind comments and I am so glad you enjoyed reading this. It was fun and informative for me to write. I have enjoyed learning about the Celts as much as my readers. Thanks so much for your visit.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 15, 2014:
Sannel: I have never been to Ireland either, so I also learned much from this article. I know what you mean; I am ready to visit the entire British Isles, as I have only ever been to London. Thanks so much for taking the time to read this and for your supportive comments.
Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on June 15, 2014:
Bill: What a fabulous idea. I think that is great. How could I ignore Ireland, of all places, they are the Celtic kingdom of the British Isles. I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and thanks so much for your comments.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 15, 2014:
Wonderfully informative and detailed hub Suzette. Thank you for the amazing history lesson about the Celts/Gaels. Voted up.
Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 14, 2014:
Excellent hub, looking forward to returning.
Sannel Larson on June 14, 2014:
Suzette, I have never been to Ireland but it's sure on my bucket list. I hope, one day to walk on the green meadows, and see for myself the magical beauty this country offers. Thank you for a wonderful article. I learned so much, that I did not know before. After reading all this the urge to go to Ireland amplified.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 14, 2014:
If I ever actually make money from writing, I'm going to rent a cottage in Ireland for a month and really experience the culture. Your hubs are making me very hungry for the experience.