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The Homeland Of The Celts, Where The Celts Have Always Been

The origins of the Celts in western Europe
The origins of the Celts in western Europe – the ancient Atlantic homeland of the Celtic-speaking peoples

For the last century and more historians have believed that the homeland of the Celtic-speaking peoples lay in central Europe and from there they spread across the continent in several waves of migration bringing their language, culture and way of life to almost every corner of the European landmass. The Celts, we were told, originated in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age communities of southern Germany and northern Austria and this became the default reading of early Celtic and indeed early European history.

However there is problem with all this. Why? Because the theory is wrong and has been suspected or known to be wrong in professional academic circles for decades.

The homelands of the Celtic-speaking peoples were never in central Europe. They were in the one place where Celtic-speakers have always been known to exist and where some still do exist: north-western and western Europe. The modern nations and territories of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, England, Brittany, western France, Spain and Portugal formed the historic heartland of the Celts – and their ancient place of origin.

The BBC has news on a new three-year project to trace the origins of the Celtic peoples, including an interview with Professor John Koch, who points out the failure of the old theories to explain the origin of the Celtic-speaking nations.

19 comments on “The Homeland Of The Celts, Where The Celts Have Always Been

  1. wait for the anglophone supremacists to come along and tell us that we are ‘foreigners’ and so is our language and culture. sorry bigots but we are the natives here and we have academia on our side. na ceiltigh abú!

    • what you are saying is correct but the word ‘gael’ means stranger aka gaul. This island’s repeated story is one of colonization and conquest from the beginning

      • Not exactly. Gael come from Welsh Gwyddel which may have meant ‘wild man’ or ‘savage’. Remember the Welsh always saw themselves as the heirs of Roman Britain trying to defend christian civilisation against Irish, Pict and Saxon equally. It’s not unusual for peoples to be know by names given them by outsiders, often not very complementary names at that.

      • Not true — this is merely a superficial similarity. In fact the “gal”/”wal” root for foreigner (eg “wales”/”pays de galles”, “wallonia” etc) also occurs as a distinct word in Scottish Gaelic: “gall”, originally refering to any foreigner, but now meaning almost exclusively “lowlander” (with a couple of lingering historical reference to vikings and Gallovidians surviving alongside).

        • No you’re confusing two different words. The Wal(gh) word that gives rise to ‘Wales’, ‘Welsh’ and also ‘Valch’ etc. Is a germanic word applied to non-germans, especially people who were part of the Roman empire.
          Gael, previously spelled Gaedheal, Gaodhal, Gaoidheal in Modern Irish, < OI Goideal (where the d sounded like Welsh dd) which is one of many loans into Irish from Early Welsh/ Late British, modern Welsh Gwyddel.
          Gall probably is from 'Gaul', it means a non-Gael, first applied to Lowlanders (who btw were originally the Strathclyde Welsh) and maybe the Welsh (?), later extended to include English and Norse.
          I think we have three quite separate words here.

          • I’m afraid, guys, I’ll have to side with Marconatrix on this one. The modern plural Irish word Gaeil is derived from the ancestor of the modern plural Welsh word Gwyddelod. Though the latter word now means the “Irish” it literally means “Wild Ones”, “Wilderness Ones” or something similar.

            The word was probably imported into Ireland in the early Christian era as a general Irishcized word for the Irish people (alongside the Irish and Latin variations of Scot, Hibernian, etc.). The really interesting bit is the distinct possibility that the Welsh word actually has its origins in the widespread prehistoric Irish population group known as the Féine (Mod. Ir.). As well as being the immediate ancestors of the Connachta and Uí Néill peoples they were very likely one of the leading Irish powers involved in the raids/trading/settlement of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain.

            Their specific “tribal” name for themselves, the Féine “Wild, Wilderness, Forest People” was adapted into Welsh as Gwyddelod (Goidelic “V” > Brythonic “G”). But then it was re-adapted back into Irish as Gaeil, but this version was applied by the Christian scribes to all the Irish people. Incidentally the older term Féine was also applied to the Irish people as a whole in some texts.

            I’ll finish with one final nugget. The youthful, hunter-warrior groups of the Féine were known as a fiann (not the usual Irish cuire). In time fiann replaced cuire as the normal term for a band of hunter-warriors in the Irish language and most legends of the fianna (plural of fiann) originated in population groups with Féine roots.

            My one claim to fame. I am (as far as I am aware) the first person to publicly make the Féine > Gwyddelod > Gaeil connection, back in 2008/9 🙂

  2. Everybody came from somewhere, ultimately we’re all Africans. Celtic is a linguistic group and the Celtic languages are a subgroup of Indoeuropean, which as far as anyone can tell dispersed long ago from somewhere around the Black Sea. (Whether N S E or W of said sea may always be a matter of dispute!) Why do you want to do down the nation/people/culture that before the genocidal Romans started on their imperialistic adventures, dominated most of NW Europe north of the Alps, expanding West into Iberia, South to Northern Italy (and almost sacking Rome), West through Greece where they sacked Delphi and on to settle in Galatia, and not forgetting North into Britain and Ireland. There were of course plenty of people who settled Ireland before the Gaels arrived, quite probably more or less directly from the Continent, if not exactly from Spain. Still on the whole the legendary history is not too far out. The Gaels were just one of many waves of incomers to Ireland, simply the one that became politically and linguistically dominant (until the English took over that is). It’s clearly a linguistic/cultural thing, not a matter of ‘race’, since all the earlier peoples were included in the mix to some extend. Not to mention late comers who became ‘more Irish than the Irish’.

  3. I don´t know who made that map, but that empty space between southern Galicia and more or less 2/3 of northern areas of Portugal has not sense. No just talking about language, but as well about genetics or even the different cultures of ancient times. In that area have been many divisions as in other places of europe, but never like taht. I can show you maps of Bronze and Iron ages Neolithic, Backer people etc and you´d never find such thing. What is important is to know what is going on in some universities with te PCT (Paleolithic Continuity Theory) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_Continuity_Theory and how is it working in some European academic places.

    • Hi and thanks for the Comment. The map represents, in the most general terms, the geographical area in which the Celtic-speaking peoples are thought to have emerged during the Bronze Age. Their ancestors or related language-groups may have had a far wider spread. There is great uncertainty for instance about the the demarcation line in France between proto Germanic-speakers and Italo-speakers. One must also take into account the presence of the Etruscans, Ligurians, Aquitanians-Basques and others. So the area in France defined in “Celtic” red is confined to the north-west fringes of the country.

      Likewise in the Iberian peninsula we have Basques as mentioned but also other language families of an uncertain nature. We are not sure how to classify Lusitanian and Iberian. The former may well be a form of Celtic, albeit from another branch than the ones that gave us the better known Celtic languages of continental Europe. Iberian may be related to Aquitanian-Basque?

      The gaps in the “Celtic” red on the Iberian peninsula represent the uncertainties. Broadly speaking the Celtic peoples emerged in a broad arc of “Celticness” from Portugal and Spain to western France, Ireland and Britain.

      PCT is a fascinating theory. Lots of interesting stuff going on though it hasn’t really been reflected in English-language scholarship.

      If you feel like contributing something, an article on PCT or European pre-history, feel free. All views welcome 🙂

  4. Looking at the genetic evidence will reveal a lot! Invasion of Ireland c 550BC might have been a small number of Celts who imposed language culture & religion on larger population;)

    • Genetic evidence will tell us very little. Genes and languages do not correspond. There are proven genetic differences between north and south Walian speakers of Welsh. Language shift can be occasioned by smallish but powerful elites. A group which has recently switched language can impose their language on another group. Modern English speakers are from all over the world. Vikings traded widely in slaves hence Pictish, Irish, Welsh slaves could be working in Brittany, Wales, England or sold in the slave-markets of Cordoba or singing as castrated choir-boys in Hagia Sofiya in Constantinople. Raiding armies of young men far from their homes rape women. Norse blood founded elites in Normandy which then intermarried with local elites some of which brought this genetic material to England and Scotland along with numerous Breton lords who fought at Hastings, not to mention their retinues and servants. Genetics as indicators have to be treated with extreme caution and approached with great knowledge.

      • I tend to agree. It is a combination of sciences that give the best results. I think the old idea of a “Celtic invasion” of Ireland has finally fallen by the wayside. The idea of Ireland experiencing a form of accumulated Celticness over several centuries from c.1500 BCE to 500 BCE or of the Celts originating in Ireland (and n-w Europe) from c. 3000 BCE to 1200 BCE seems to be in vogue now.

    • 70%+ of Irishmen belong to a Y-Chromosome Haplogroup that first arose on the continent during the Bronze Age. This arose probably in what is now France in the period 2000BC-1700BC.

      It wouldn’t surprise me if Proto-Celtic arrived into Ireland/Britain and Iberia during the Bronze Age. The Y-Chromosome evidences with R1b is pointing towards higher genetic diversity as you travel eastwards. This is evident by L21 (which 70%+ of Irishmen are positive for) having higher genetic diversity in the likes of France.

      Of course what can be seen time and time again in Ireland is the impact of large medieval lineages in Gaelic Ireland, if we look at testing databases we can see clearly defined genetic clusters which contain surnames which are connected to:

      1. Uí Néill / Connachta (Uí Bhriúin and Uí Fiachrach)
      2. Eoghanacht
      3. Dál gCais
      4. Laighin
      5. Airghialla (two distinct clusters)

      When we consider how many sons some of the Gaelic lords had it’s no wonder. You read accounts from 14th and 15th centuries of Gaelic lords having anywhere between 25-50 grandsons (who survived to adulthood)

      -Paul

      • Thanks for the link, Paul. Interesting map. Lots more work needs to be done to bring the Celtic from the West theory together.

  5. We’ll have to await for Apple to invent the time machine before the full picture is known (shouldn’t take them long). In the meantime, it’s great to see the conventional histories being challenged. Somebody once claimed history was dead. Wrong!

    Still, what are we to make of this word ‘celt’? It doesn’t exist in Welsh prior to the linguistic classifications of Edward Lhuyd as far as I know. Us Welsh seem to have always called ourselves Cymry or Brythoniaid or Pretani or some variation thereof. Similarly spelt words which we do have are celu (to conceal), celf (art) and Celi (God or heaven). All of them feel tantalisingly significant to me as possible clues as to the meaning of the word celt, but why does it not appear to exist from ancient times in Welsh? What about Irish? Does the word celt have proven ancient provenance in Irish? What similarly spelt words exist, and what do they mean?

    Was there once, in ancient times, a common ‘celtic’ identity that bypassed ‘tribal’ affiliations?

    So many gaps!

    • Agreed, so many gaps but so many good researchers slowly filling them – not to mention digging out a few we thought had been successfully filled! 😉

  6. Bob Wilson

    I do remember reading a book by Simon James entitled “The Atlantic Celts, Ancient People or Modern Invention” he concluded “the ancient Celts are an essentially bogus and recent invention”. Not to worry perhaps someone filled a gap with some claptrap. The Scot Irish are susposed to be from Egypt but also there was the Brigantes who came to Ireland from what is now Yorkshire. The “Celts” have never been a nation, both Ireland and “Britain” or to use the proper name Albion have had different waves of arrivals since the last ice age. There is a sugested link with the Welsh language and Abu Dhabi in Suadi Arabia, so either some Welsh men got lost or some Arabs moved in. The Silurians or southern Welsh were always described as “swarthy”. Then we have references to Trojans arriving in the South East of Albion, the Caledonians who came from the Rhine land and other groups like the Belgie who were fleeing the Roman Empire, as well as the Cornovii who came from the Iberia. Hibernia the Roman name for Ireland will stem from the Iber a tribe who gave their name to the Iberia which is now Spain and Portugal. This became altered to the Iverni and Ireland became known as Ivernia, somehow later Roman writers corrupted this to Hibernia and people thought it meant winterland, perhaps some Roman was having a laugh. But there is no such thing as the “Celts”, just a mishmash of people from here there and every where, people in Ireland would be nearer the mark sticking to calling themselves the Iverni than “Celt”. A new arrival possible pushed the Iberni out and forced them to seek new lands, some of them arrived at Ireland. This new arrival who pushed out the Iberni was called the Esp, their nation was called Espan and later Espania. So the Irish contrary to belief may not have a link with the Spanish. But could be the remainder of the ancient Iber tribe. But Cornwall may also claim to have a link with the ancient Iber tribe if they are the remains of the Cornovii. Cornov could mean new Cor after the Cor area in now Spain. Cor could mean heart and the Cornovi were the new heart people who originally dwelled in now midland England, we still call the middle of a country the “heart land”. The Cornovi were pushed to the South West after losing a battle against the English who were invited in to defend the land from the Scots, but they decided to stay and the Walls were not all happy and the rest is history.

    • Bob, very little of that is even remotely true. Your “facts” are all over the place. I think one should give far greater weight to the opinions of acclaimed historians like Cunliffe and Koch, and several others, all of whom are recognised experts in the fields of pre-historic studies.

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