Nora Chadwick, The Celts, with an introductory chapter by J. X. W. P. Corcoran (Pelican 1971; Penguin 1991), 302pp.; incl. maps & index.

Celtic Culture is the finest flower of the Iron Age, the last phase of European material nd intellectual development before the Mediterranean world spread northwards over the Continent and linked it to the world of today. [42]

in material culture the Celtic peoples heralded modern civilisation. Their widespread use of iron enabled them to conquer vast tracts of land and to increase the anemities of life by felling forests and opening up new areas for agriculture. [42]

The gulf between them and the civilisations of the Mediterranean was in reality an impassable one. [Discusses linguistic barrier and lack of written communication]. [43]

Goidelic: Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx

Brythonic: Welsh, Breton and Cornish

Pictish [incl. early type of Welsh]

Among illiterate peoples the training of the memory is cultivated to a degree undreamed among readers of books .. the elqouence of the Gauls impressed the Romans deeply throughout their history [45]


The conquest of Gaul by the Romans was the end of a great nation, but not of a great people. The heroic age was at an end, and with it the individuality, the pride and power of the great independent past. In exchange for these the Gauls acquired the amenities of a higher civilisation, material, economic and [62] intellectual; and the substitution of the Pax Romana for the wastage and uncertainties of centuries of restless warfare and military competition - the outward expression of a struggle for existence. These cultural gifts of Rome to Gaul must have been largely responsible for the development of the intellectual and spiritual pre-eminence of Gaul in the first five centuries of the Christian era, and indirectly for the rich gifts of poetry and saga - even now not fully appreciated - which Gaul transmitted to the insular Celts. It is impossible to over-rate the value ofthe gifts of education and literacy which Rome gave to Gaul in exchange for her liberty and which made her a partaker in the highest culture of the age. [63]

On the departure of the Romans the Celtic people of Britain entered upon a kind of Celtic revival. They had now not only to govern themselves, but also to foil the ever-increasing attempts of the Saxons on the east, the Picts to the North, and the Irish on the west to penetrate their defences and to overwhelm them. Obviously only a strong central government could hope for any success. The Britons had to fight on three fronts, but with the same aim - that of preserving their own Celtic integrity. / The Celtic Britons had learned much from their Roman overlords. they had learned something of the importance of unity, and of the essential value of civil government. [70] ... They now sought, though not always successfully, to oppose the barbarian conquests with a united front and a central power. [71]

[On Tain Bo Cuailgne:] From this and other sagas we can also visualise an Ireland with a population different form that of the dominant peoples of history. Before the fifth century, in fact, we find outselves in a different world. [84]

The actual union of the Picts and Scots seems to have taken place about the middle ofthe ninth century under Kenneth mac Alpin, traditionally about 843, possibly as a result of his having attacked them, as Henry of Huntingdon tells us, immediately after they had suffered heavily at the hands of the Danes. Kenneth’s father, Alpin, belonged to the royal line of Gabran, but he was killed in fighting against the Picts, who are said to have ‘Cut off his head’. Both Alpin and Kenneth appear to have been celebrated in elegiac poetry which is reflected in our records, and it is therefore not surprising that our records describe Kenneth as ruling the Picts happily for sixteen years after he had delevit (‘wiped them out’) and brought about their destructio. No record of such a conquest is given in any Irish, British, or English records, and all the annals simply call him king of the Picts in recording his death. The title remained in use by the Irish and Welsh annalists tiu the time of his grandson; but their subjects are referred to as Scots, and the Picts soon came to be thought of as a people ofthe past. Kenneth himself died in his palace at Forteviot in Fortrenn, it is thought at about 860, but the kings of what we must now call Scotland kept up the old Pictish customs. Henceforth their chief seat was at Scone, the old palace of the Pictish kings of the upper Tay. [94]

[On the Vikings:] ‘By far the chief sufferers were the Irish ... parts of Ireland, hitherto immune from foreign attack, were so overwhelmed by the Vikings as to be transformed from a cattle-keeping country, with an exclusively internal ecnomy, to one in which the coastal areas now bosted towns, traade, and the units and measures whcih invariably accompany them. In ireland, hitherto free from Tuetonic invasion and Teutonic influences, the old order still continued, up to the arrival of the Norse. The Uí Néill still ruled in the North, the Rock of Cashel the South. [101]

Brian Bóruma (Boru) ... led the attack against the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. This great battle put an end to the Viking supremacy in Ireland. The importance of the battle is at times disputed, and the issue between the Irish and the Norse is not really a dear one. Sihtric, the Norse king of Dublin, took no part in it. Leinster supported the Dublin Vikings, for she was always against Meath from the earliest times, and the Limeridk Vikings, always hostile to the Dublin dynasty, seem to have sided with Brian. The Irish victory was marred by the death of Brian, and although the outcome was undoubtedly an Irish victory there was no real break. The Norse and the Irish had lived together in a small country for two centuries; intermarriage was frequent; and conversion of many Norsemen to Christianity had tended to induce a mutual understanding. The leading bards of the Irish and the Norse were fraternizing. Brian had married Sihtric's mother, and Sihtric had perhaps, in his turn, married Brian's daughter. What was there left to fight about? / The true significance of Clontarflay in its site. It was the gateway into Ireland. The presence there of Sigurd the Stout, Earl of Orkney, who died in the battle, gives us the clue. It is inconceivable that he would have left his Orkney jarldom, which he had from Harald the Fair-Haired, for the sake of a quarrel between Dublin and the rising state of West Munster. His hope had been the extension of his earldom by the acquisition of Ireland. [... &c.] [105]

The intellectual loss to Ireland caused by teh Viking régime was enormous. .... perhaps only a small proportion of the great treasures of this period were preserved in the little western isle. [106]


Taking a longer view, however, Ireland gained from the Vikings in her position in the modern world. She has been likened to a saucer, with the rim neglected in pre-Norse times and the internal economy fully developed as a pastoral country when the bog had been cleared. She had no towns and no trade. The old royal sites - Tara, Cruachan, Emain Macha - were permanent forts, occasional meeting-centres rather than cities. The Vikings, on the other hand, concentrated on the coasdine, and although we find them in Armagh and Clonmacnoise, this was because they had then taken over old Celtic sanctuaries. Their own creations were such as depended on their fleets. It therefore transpired that the Vikings gave to Ireland some appreciation of the value of her coastine, widh the development of trade and harbours, especially in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork, Limerick. All her terminology of shipbuilding and trade, weights and~measures, was Norse, and the first coinage struck in Ireland was that of the Vikings of Dublin, which soon afterwards found its way across the Irish Sea, as in the hoard discovered at Bangor in Caernarvonshire. The Vikings introduced commerce to Ireland. [107]

Ireland, the oldest and purest of the Celtic countries, had remained longest as a collection of little states, but by her own nationalist risings, and by Viking pressure, had developed, for a time at least, a strong centralized monarchy. Fighting had been a necessity from time to time, but in general was only resorted to when absolutely necessary. First the Romans from the Mediterranean, then the Teutons of the North have gradually edged the Celtic peoples farther and farther to the West, to 'the limits ofthe habitable world'. We have watched the progress, and the struggles of the Celtic peoples to obtain and retain a foothold on the edge of the continent of Europe. It has been a long struggle and is not over yet.

Their cattle raids hardly exceed what we should expect in a country devoid of shps and permanent purchasing centres. [122]

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