Does the term 'Celtic' have any meaning in a British context?

Philip evans
03/19/14 09:25:35PM
31 posts
Interesting report Shan...what strikes me most is that the further you go from Wales the more patriotic you become...partly from desire but also by your accent and alienation in the community....a welcoming Celtic stranger in their son is in Durham and the other in that second best rugby playing nation in the World - New Zealand and they miss the simple things in life....Bara Brith...Cawl and of course Mams Sunday that Down to Welshness or hunger?....Phil
Shan Morgain
03/15/14 01:31:41AM
1 posts

Now Ceri you're being naughty. You say you're going to consider "the vexed question of Welsh identity." but you don't do that. What you do is very capably visit Celticity, and British genetics, via Bryan Sykes. Not the same thing at all.

First, it's debatable whether the Welsh are Celts. Shock! Horror! No really. The concept of the Celt is under fire anyway but let's leave the extremists out and accept there was a society we can call Celtic. Well that was a European society, not a Brit one. All the records that refer to Celts are talking about folk in places like Gaul, not Britain.

You can make links like Tribes who had the same name on both sides of the Channel. Another one is continuity of La Tene art with mediaeval MSS styles. Some deities: Rigantona, Rhiannon; Lugos, Lleu for example. Epona mostly outside Britain but a bit inside. A structure of alliances and federations, rather than empire, found in both regions. This and more, but it's not a solid case. Howsumdever it's enough to leave an open question for those who like a Celtic continuity. There's a quite nice usage which speaks of Insular Celts - that's us Brits.

But let's get on to the juicy stuff. What is Welsh, apart from an impossible language ;) chapels and rugby?

One thing I find fascinating is how the Welsh practice a microscopic hierarchy. (I should add I identify as Welsh or not as I fancy it so I say both' they' and 'we.')

My aunt by marriage, a grand family matriarch never left Pembrokeshire in her life. I was much honoured that she completely accepted me - after a lo-o-ong probation! as her niece, yet I'm a Londoner lady. I couldn't imagine a more Welsh lady than she was, so I was amazed when she said 'Oh I'm not really Welsh you know!'

The resulting discussion identified the problem: she had one non-Welsh grandmother. I had to stifle giggles because of course I'd have been a puddle on the floor with her Look if I'd been so rude.

Her nephew my beloved also advises me he is 'not considered really Welsh.' Whyever not?' I ask as he grew up here, only left to go to university, and then a second time to get a job for a year. Which is how he met me. He explains patiently to the dense incomer that he wasn't actually born here because his parents also had to 'follow the work' into England. This is beyond me as he was brought back here as a nappied bundle in arms, by two Welsh parents, and grew up here.

'Yes' he persists, 'but you see I left. I went to university, and then 10 years later I left again to take a temporary contract for a year.' Since it's him and not his formidable aunt, I can hoot with laughter, and he has a wry grin too.

So far I don't believe I've ever met anyone in Wales in 25 years who doesn't do this. There are a thousand fine grained statuses around being Welsh it seems.

How much Welsh you speak of course. Christine James the Archdruid solemnly explained to me she was, like me, a dysgu Cymraeg - a 'Welsh Learner.' For heaven's sake she began learning it when she was TWELVE, decades ago and she's now the top chief boss in the Gorsedd!

Then there's location, location, location. Diaspora might mean thousands live as Welsh who never yet set foot here. But then there's those who like my darling, dared to leave Wales for a bit to get an education or a job. Just don't leave your village or you risk losing all.

Genealogy? Apparently according to my aunt-by-marriage you trace your Welshness back to at least the fourth generation. Not surprising for a people who once paid bards highly to preserve their bloodline data. My poor son with an incomer mother has no chance. I think his grandchildren might make it if no one at all from now on budges over the boundary, or mates with outsiders. Oddly enough my researches show that the Welsh (in some sense) just love marrying out. I guess us non-Welsh are sexy and exotic. Maybe hybrid genetics contribute to the impressive vigour of the Cymru.

There is of course a bottom line in this. A certain kind of visitor to Wales arrives each summer, does a workshop or two, then wham bang we've got yet another 'Celtic shaman.' Never mind they can't say any place names, and don't even try. They mix Native American dreamweavers with a dash of knotwork, and season with a Gaelic god or two, until the potmess goes on the menu for good solid dollars. See 'Three Things there are ...' it's been called spiritual strip mining. (John Davies 1993)

With all this exquisite discrimination dance, I have rarely encountered a people so welcoming and kindly about me being an incomer. I have been told firmly by the local powers that I'm 'adopted,' to which I bobbed my head meekly and glowed. There are a few up north who don't want to extend Welsh privilege to anyone except their immediate relatives on that particular patch. Good luck to 'em say I let them build a sky high wall of spirit around their tight group. There's plenty of Wales and Wider wales for the rest of us.

So the rest of us are thoroughly enjoying all the 57 varieties of Welsh - including the fascinating fireside game of who holds the most points on the board. It seems to be all good clean fun.

As Wittgenstein warned us, any attempt to describe the world in language does not long outlast the onslaught of reality. It breaks, adn froths, splits and rejoins in different ptterns. Hmm, come to think being Welsh is remarkably like Celtic knotwork. Except didn't I say Celticity is a concept which shapeshifts as you look at it too? Shapeshifting now there's a helpful idea.

Oh well I'm going to count my points again to see if I've got any new ones.

Philip evans
02/21/14 11:18:31PM
31 posts
Well in Merthyr there are still lots of Neanderthal men who tend to draw on walls like at Lascaux in France , using their own artwork instead of modern paper material...there are also a lot of people with the surname Norman most of whom tend to be larger physical specimens and not so inclined towards membership of Mensa...Norman Wisdom is not often seen in the Valleys ( mainly Albania) or two Vikings mainly around the multitude of drinking Romans only Romanies...Boz
Ceri Shaw
01/08/14 09:37:33PM
568 posts

Fascinating arrticle on language shift in 'celtic' England:-

Ceri Shaw
12/10/13 09:42:27PM
568 posts

Agreed!....well 99% anyway, not sure about Cornish 'big faces' In the middle of updating the Short Story Competition. Will reply at length later.

Nick Stradling
12/10/13 09:28:06PM
13 posts

It goes like this,Scotland and Wales' identities are based fundamentally on one maxim, 'WE ARE NOT ENGLISH'.

The fact that Wales and Scotland exist in this state is often used as a dig by those English who wish to goad. But, if you can admit or claim that Wales and Scotland are defined by 'WE ARE NOT ENGLISH' then you must admit the reason for that definition. And the reason for that definition is, that English identity and culture is defined by the maxim 'EVERYBODY SHOULD BE LIKE US'. The Celtic countries of Britain made themselves because they HAD to make themselves.

There is nothing wrong with being defined by what you are not, That's why countries exist in the first place: to not be classed as other countries. And in the 21st century, it's a bloody miracle that both countries are still here.

But surely it's gone beyond genetics now? The Island is just a big melting pot of genes from all over the world so I doubt there's much 'Celtic' blood left in Wales. In the same way as there isn'y much 'Saxon' blood still. (Apart from in Essex of course. You should see their faces - they all look like they should be wearing Crusader helmets)

Talking of faces - that's where there must be some argument with your man Sykes. I can spot a Welsh face a mile away. Even the Cornish too are pretty distinctive - big, bony foreheads and big faces!

Ceri Shaw
12/07/13 08:22:34PM
568 posts

The discussion on Welsh independence elsewhere in this forum prompted me to reconsider the vexed question of Welsh identity. In particular I felt the need to revisit Bryan Sykes classic account of his research into the genetic makeup of the current population of the UK and Ireland. The book can be found on the Welsh American Bookstore in both its UK and US editions, the US title is 'Blood of The Isles'.

Broadly speaking his conclusions are that there is no substantial 'Celtic' contribution to the British gene pool and that:-"The genetic make up of Britain and Ireland is overwhelmingly what it has been since the Neolithic period". His research also suggests that the Anglo Saxon contribution was no more than 20% even in southern England.

This is interesting, indeed crucial, information for a number of reasons. To quote Sykes:- "Basically the cornerstone of Celtic identity is that they are not English. However, to try to base that, as some do, on an idea that is not far beneath the surface that Celtic countries are somehow descended from a race of Celts, which the English are not, is not right. We are all descended from the same people." ( Scotsman: We're nearly all Celts under the skin )

BUT if Sykes is correct and we are not ethnically distinct, what is it that distinguishes Wales ( and indeed Scotland and Ireland ) from England?


Summary of Sykes conclusions from the Wikipedia:-

The genetic make up of Britain and Ireland is overwhelmingly what it has been since the Neolithic period and to a very considerable extent since the Mesolithic period, especially in the female line, i.e. those people, who in time would become identified as British Celts (culturally speaking), but who (genetically speaking) should more properly be called Cro-Magnon. In continental Europe, this same Cro-Magnon genetic legacy gave rise to the Basques. But "Basque" and "Celt" are cultural designations, not genetic ones.

The contribution of the Celts of Central Europe to the genetic make up of Britain and Ireland was minimal; most of the genetic contribution to the British Isles of those we think of as Celtic, came from western continental Europe, I.E. the Atlantic seaboard.

The Anglo-Saxons are supposed, by some, to have made a substantial contribution to the genetic make up of England, but in Sykes's opinion it was under 20 percent of the total, even in Southern England.

The Vikings (Danes and Norwegians) also made a substantial contribution, which is concentrated in central, northern and eastern England - the territories of the ancient Danelaw. There is a very heavy Viking contribution in the Orkney and Shetland Islands, in the vicinity of 40 percent. Women as well as men contributed substantially in all these areas, showing that the Vikings engaged in large-scale settlement.

The Norman contribution was extremely small, on the order of 2 percent.

There are only sparse traces of the Roman occupation, almost all in Southern England.

In spite of all these later contributions, the genetic make up of the British Isles remains overwhelmingly what it was in the Neolithic: a mixture of the first Mesolithic inhabitants with Neolithic settlers who came by sea from Iberia and ultimately from the eastern Mediterranean.

updated by @ceri-shaw: 12/03/15 05:12:36AM