Lately I’ve been exploring celtic reconstructionsim. Not because I want a religion, just out of curiosity.
As a ‘real-life’ Q-Celt, I’m of half a mind to start an Anglo-Saxon Reconstructionism Project - let’s ignore the achievements of modern English culture (inductive science, Modernism, the USA etc etc), and live in a romantic dreamworld where we pretend to have rediscovered the ‘true’ ways of worshipping Wotan. Oh things were so much better when we could just hop off with Hengist and Horsa a-raiding and a-plundering…
I wouldn’t doubt that there are Anglo-Saxon Reconstructionists out in the world, but I’ll set that aside for the moment, because I think you’ve misunderstood the Pagan religions.
I am an American. Specifically, I am European-American, with a mix of predominantly Celtic and Germanic heritage. Members of my family immigrated from Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Belgium to come seek a better life in the United States because of the war, violence, injustice, and famine that they had been confronted with on their native soil. With them, they brought as much of their culture as they could (considering that they were scraping for a living, like pretty much everyone else of the time, things were tight) to here in New England and other parts of America.
I am proud to be an American. If Mitt Romney wins the election I will consider fleeing elsewhere, but until that happens I will be perfectly content to be American. One of the great things about New England is the mix of cultures that we have brought with us: my primary encounter with these has been through Irish culture festivals. I live right outside of Boston, and grew up hearing people around me chatting excitedly about what was going on in both the US and Ireland / England / Germany / Belgium / Scotland / France and so on, based upon each person’s particular connection to and familiarity with that nation. We have items and photographs of family members who made the jump from the British Isles and Europe to America; some of them are in different languages.
As someone who has always found language and linguistics compelling, I have never not wanted to learn all of these languages, or visit all of these places. Like most people who are several generations removed from immigrant families here, I felt a disconnect between who I was and what my family was: it’s easy to get lost in the melting-pot, you see. And there’s always the sense from your grandparents that this family is losing something important, vital,and we need to encourage them to keep it right now.
So when I grew old enough to realize that Christianity wasn’t going to work for me, I was naturally drawn to other options, and Paganism was the one that spoke most to me.
Paganism, the movement, is not about denying or vilifying modern culture, and it is not about creating a “dreamworld” where we know all Ye Olde Majyck and Mystyk Things. It’s just not.
Paganism is first a foremost a religious path, but one that offers, particularly with Reconstructionism, an opportunity for the serious student to marry an interest in his/her heritage and culture with a spiritual path, particularly an nature-incorporating spiritual path, creating a whole that speaks to many levels of being. It is a mix of the precious little knowledge of what we have from ancestors long ago
As you can imagine, there is a lot of research involved. A lot. I cannot stress this enough — as a Reconstructionist, as a Pagan, you will always been studying, always be investigating, always be re-evaluating, always be researching, and always be reading something or other, from reports from archaeological finds while you take a morning walk to articles written by your fellow Pagans.
With all of this research, though, it is true that you will probably never know exactly, 100%, how the gods were worshiped. My response to this is that worship and religion are holistic, living creations — they grow, they shift, they change, because the people and culture accommodate the changes around them into their relationship with the divine, however we may name or envision that. Look at Christianity — Christian worship and practice in 300 C.E. was vastly different from Christian worship and practice in 1300 C.E. which is vastly different from Christian worship and practice today.
Paganism is about integrating your toolkit of religion, which addresses a heritage that you are exploring and studying and connecting to as well as a spiritual path that answers your spiritual needs, with modern life.
That includes supporting, joining in with, celebrating, and helping modern-day cultures.
I feel angry when reading the Celtic Paganism/Reconstructionism tag. When Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland is dying, Breton is on its knees, Welsh is just surviving, Cornish/Manx barely exist, why on earth waste time trying to reinvent religions which died out over a thousand years and which you can never in any way recreate properly? If you want to be part of Celtic culture, join in with modern, living, changing Celtic culture and languages. No culture, no religion, is a monolith. Its damn right offensive that so many people value dead Celtic culture over the living.
I’ve answered these points above, but I’ll reiterate here.
- Pagans are seeking out a religion that addresses who they are as a person on several levels, and one of these is cultural heritage. I find more authenticity praying to a figure from Celtic and Germanic mythology than I do praying to a figure from Abrahamaic mythology (mythology here understood as the archetypal narratives which religious ritual interpret). This is a valid desire — in fact, I can’t think of anything more natural. Christianity is what I object to because of my personal values, but I acknowledge that Christianity is a part of living Celtic — indeed, living Western — culture, and, as Celtic Reconstructionism has pointed out, co-existing peacefully with Christianity is a part of being a modern Pagan.
- Part of engaging in Paganism is valuing living culture and making every effort to support, help, continue, and engage with living Celtic culture, either in the pockets of Celtic culture brought to other nations or directly within Celtic nations themselves.
- “No culture, no religion, is monolith.” Correct. That’s why we change, grow, invent, re-invent, tell our sacred stories and retell them. This is the history of humankind. Do you think that the old pre-Christian myths and legends and practices existed in just one form, with one right way? Modern Pagans are adapting a religion that they connect to to the needs of modern-day living. Hence the name “Reconstructionism.”
- We want to understand old Celtic culture to better inform religious practice and personal knowledge, as much as we can from what we have available to us, through written sources and archaeological finds. This does not equate to valuing dead culture over living culture, because we, by joining in and supporting modern culture, are bringing out efforts and voices to the effort of keeping it alive.
Maybe if Scottish Gaelic dies by 2100, teens in 2200 will be dancing around the Cuilinn Mountains in Skye worshipping a whicker figure of the great bard-god Sorley.
Although many thoughtful, studious teenagers and even younger children are drawn to Paganism and Reconstructionism, the religions do not exclusively include these.
Yes, there are always people who are not as thoughtful and studious and respectful as they should be. But if these people invalidate an entire movement, then every single human effort in history is guilty of invalidity.
When real-life Celts have to fight day and night to preserve their languages, most people on Tumblr (as evidence by the size/activity of the paganism as opposed to celtic language tags) are more concerned with pretending to be worshipping the gods they imagine the ancestors of those real-life Celts worshipped.
True Pagans do not pretend to worship. True Pagans worship. It’s as simple as that. And although we do not know everything — we never will — we have archaeological and written evidence that communicates to us a certain amount of information about who was worshiped when, and how. And if someone connects to that? Then it’s not your business.
Celtic Reconstructionists should be serious about engaging in the preservation of Celtic language and culture. I’m studying modern Irish myself (I started before I was a Pagan, truth be told).
Also, I would not judge an entire community by its Tumblr presence.
And what about the cheek of Celtic Reconstructionismts who want to learn our modern languages in order to make their experience more genuine? See http://www.paganachd.com/faq/whatiscr.html#lcc They actually want to use Celtic Languages “to develop” their (invented) tradition.
… Are you objecting to a community’s desire to engage with, support, and actively continue Celtic language and culture? Is not having a community interested in pursuing the study of Celtic languages and passing them on to future generations a good thing? Learning the language of your family’s heritage and culture is another way of connecting to and valuing that heritage and culture.
There’s a psychological component to praying and practicing in a different religion; it creates a sure separation between mundane and divine, for one thing, and it works in the mind to engage the body while freeing thoughts from fixating on words. Why do you think Latin was used for centuries, and still continues to be used today?
Is the prayer I say in Latin any less genuine than the one in English? Is the prayer I say in German or Dutch any more genuine than the one in English? Is the prayer I say in Irish any less genuine than the one I say in English?
People are entitled to worship whatever they want. Believing in poorly-reconstructed and half-invented Celtic gods from 2000 years ago is no more objectionable than worshipping Wotan or Thor. The only difference is that the modern Anglo-Saxon culture and language is healthy and thriving and can afford to have people fixate on the past - it won’t make any difference to the survival of English if a few kooks want to try and ressurect life in the 600s, instead of trying to create new English literature and art. But for a language like Gaelic or Welsh, this fixation on a fictional past is dangerous - these people interested in Celtic could be becoming Gaelic science teachers, innovative Welsh poets, mechanics working thru the medium of Irish. They could be working to assist the survival and evolution of endangered cultures, instead they endanger us with their Celtic Reconstructionist cult.
You are entitled to your personal opinion, but I am entitled to point out that:
- All religions, to one extent or another, are reconstructed. Even religions with continuous lines have been reconstructed to fit an ideal, earlier stage. The entire history of medieval Christianity, for example, is a history of people looking back to the “original” church and reforming according to that ideal. Additionally, all religions change as the years go by, accommodating religious innovation and shifting culture.
- Paganism is not “fixating” on the past. Paganism is incorporating traditions and innovative, modern practices based on evidence from the past into a modern life. Kind of like, you know, every other religion on the planet.
- You can absolutely be a) a Pagan, a Celtic Reconstructionist, a Heathen, a Wiccan, a Druid, a member of Ásatrú, and so on and so forth, and b) science teachers, poets, innovators of modern Celtic languages in poetry, song, and literature, and in general work to assist the survival and evolution of endangered cultures.
- Celtic Reconstructionism is not a cult by the modern definition of “cult.”
- Celtic Reconstructionism is not dangerous to you, my friend.
I’ll leave you with the wise words of Derick Thompson, a great poet and scholar, who among other things, ran the vibrant Gaelic literary journal Gairm for half a century and proved to the world that James MacPherson’s Ossian was a load of bullcrap. This quote is from his Gaelic biology textbook(!):
“Bha mi riamh gu làidir de’n bheachd gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig glè chomasach air rudan ùra a thoirt a-steach thuice fhèin, agus gur h-e eachdraidh thruagh na trì ceud bliadhna chaidh seachad a bha gar bacadh anns an dòigh seo, ‘s gar stìuireadh cho tric gu beachdan is modhan seann-fhasanta.”
“I always strongly believed that Gaelic is very capable of embracing new ideas and concepts, and that it was the terrible history of the last three hundred years that prevented us doing this and that steered us so often towards old-fashioned ideas and styles.”
I am happy to see a Gaelic biology textbook. The Celtic languages ARE capable of embracing new ideas and concepts, and Paganism, which looks towards the future, is compatible with this.
Thankfully, the oppression of the last 300 years didn’t kill Gaelic - if we’re not careful, reconstructionism, and its resultant apathy towards the future, will cause Gaelic to atrophy, and die a slow, lingering death of neglect. Celtic Reconstructionism sucks up interest in and enthusiasm for Celtic culture and language that could be better directed at taking part in saving a living, breathing way of life. Its easy to prance around a wood celebrating a caricature of Lughnasa, its a lot harder to preserve the Gaelic culture and language that has moved on, embraced the Gregorian Calendar, and used An Lughnasdal as its name for the month of August…
- Reconstructionisms are not apathetic to the future. Where are you getting this idea? Have you ever actually spoken to a Reconstructionist or a Pagan in general?
- Celtic Reconstructionism specifically involves being interested and enthusiastic for both past and present Celtic culture and language, and in directing this enthusiasm and interest towards saving a living, breathing way of life.
- You can be a Pagan and also be a functioning member of modern society. I know this is a hard idea to grasp, but, yes, it’s true.
- You do realize that most of European culture as a whole became Christian largely through forceful invasion, violence, and oppression, right? Go read some accounts of Saints’ lives that detail the destruction of sacred groves, the burning of figurines depicting gods and goddesses, and the wholesale slaughter of people who refused to give up non-Christian identities and practice. “Moved on,” indeed.
I’m reblogging this because its a worthwhile critique of my original post. I enjpyed reading it. Thankyou for taking the time to go through my post point by point. I’m going to answer some of the objections below because I think quoting you quoting me will just make everything look muddled and confused!
First things first, my post was written as a rant - my own political and emotional reaction to Celtic Reconstructionism. Normally I’m a science blogger, and its frankly dispiriting that a late night rant garners me more reblogs that, say, an essay on the FOXP2 gene. As a native Gaelic speaker from the Western Isles of Scotland, the last heartland of (Scottish) Gaelic culture and language, Celtic Reconstructionism does offend me for reasons detailed in the original post. Now thats out of the way, I’ll move on to more substantial issues as opposed to my own subjective feelings.
Your first paragraph seems to me to exemplify the exact problem with Celtic Reconstructionism. You talk about your interest in your ancestors and their culture, specifically the Irish community in Boston. You then talk about the oppression and famine that sent them to America in the first place. This is all true, and I applaud you for taking an interest in.
But the point is - the Irish, Scots Gaels and Welsh who emigrated overseas during the age of the British Empire were not pagans. They weren’t oppressed because they were pagans. The Irish in the 1800s were disenfranchised and denied lands rights due to their Catholicism. Many people believe the Potato Famine was allowed to occur because the colonialist British Government didn’t give two shits about the poor Catholic Irishman. Similarly, the Scottish Gaels who were cleared in the 1800s were a mix of hardline Protestants and Catholics. They were forced out of their land mostly for economic reasons and because of supposed overpopulation. The oppression inflicted on Scots Gaels post-1745 was because some of them supported a Catholic claimant to the throne. Finallly, at least one of the reasons underlying English attacks on the Welsh lanaguges was because the majority of the Welsh population belonged to secessionist and radical churches.
No descendant of Celts in America can claim their immediate ancestor was a pagan. While they did carry some traditional folklore with them, aren’t Irish Americans famous specifically for their Catholicism? Similary, the deep-south Bible Belt was settled originally by Protestant Scots-Irish farmers. The ancestors who were oppressed and cleared off the land suffered immensely due to their low economic status and due to their unestablished religions - their Christian religions. I’m not saying you should be a Christian (I’m an atheist). I’m just trying to point out that becoming a pagan as part of a spiritual path to understand one’s ancestors would completely bypass the most important ancestors - the ones who brought your genes to the Melting Pot in the first place!
You’re right that Christian worship was hugely different between 300AD and 1300AD. But so was Celtic worship between 300AD and 1300AD. In that period, the Q-cetic speakers went from being pagan to being Christian missionaries. It was Old Irish speakers who converted Ireland, all of Scotland, and most of Northern England to Christianity. Indeed the first Irishman to have supposedly set foot in the USA was St Brendan the Christian Monk! On my island certain old ‘pagan’ traditions have survived (daoine sithe, Oidhche Chalainn etc), but that doesn’t invalidate the fact that the vast majority of modern Gaels (and Celts, generally) are either Catholic, Protestant or Atheist. Druidism, paganism, Fingalianism were manufactured by colonialist interlopers e.g. James MacPherson and then sold as genuine religious tradition to the Galltachd, England and America. On my particular island, the likes of Amy Murray and Ada Goodrich Freer visited the poverty-stricken people in the early 1900s, stealing and rewriting their ceilidh stories to create the narrative they wanted. Namely, the romantic, pagan narrative.
Moving on, I accept your point I shouldn’t judge a community by its Tumblr presence. However, it is a depressing point that the Sorley MacLean tag stretches to barely a page (most of the posts being my own and selchieproductions) while the various Celtic gods have pages and pages dedicated to them. This strikes me as neglecting the modern tradition in favour of the old. Its great you’re learning Irish – but why not learn Irish to take part in the thriving irish literary and music scence: why use Irish as part of your religion in the first place? Modern Irish or Gaelic have nothing to do with Paganism, the conversion to Christianity predates their evolution!
Again, moving forward, I don’t believe Celtic Reconstructionsim is dangerous to myself. I simply think that it is dangerous to the survival of the modern Celtic tradition – because it distracts us from focussing on the present and future, by trying to recreate a culture which lies thousands of years in our past. The most important history to the present is always the most recent – the history we are most connected to. Why should Gaelic and Irish-speaking energy be redirected towards saving gods who were worshipped in Gaul two millennia ago? Why not focus on preserving and revitalizing what we have managed to cling onto in the last two hundred years, in spite of oppression and emigration.
Next point, in terms of Reconstructionists learning modern Celtic languages – the problem here is that they are learning the language for the wrong reasons, as detailed above. I want to preserve Gaelic, I want it to thrive. But I want the change to be organic, from within the community. When you learn an endangered language you commit a political act. Do you really think you can come in and become a Celt, using ideas derived from foreign, colonialist sources – namely, 19th century Romanticism.
A final point. Of course the history of Christianity is one of oppression and religious persecution. But much of this was commited by your ancestors and mine, often towards other Celts! The Gaelic-speaking Scots converted, oppressed and (some think) commited genocide on the P-Celtic-speaking Picts! And do you honestly think that interCeltic warfare didn’t involve desecrating each other’s sacred sites and objects? Or that Celtic-speakers must have done some pretty major oppressive shit to reduce the Basques to a tiny corner of Spain?
Regaring the Gregorian Calendar. The Calendar exists for many historical reasons. It has been foisted on many cultures who had their own. But to be frank, for the world to work properly we need to count the days alike in business and politics. It just so happens that the Pope’s calendar won in the end – there are far more important issues than worrying about the oppression inherent in the Calendar. Okay, its arbitrary and unfair that it was the Pope’s. But now that Gaels are more likely to work in tv or politics than farming, surely it seems reasonable that we abandoned the old calendar in favour of the standard used throughout the world?
To conclude. You can learn Irish. You can be a pagan. You can consider yourself a Celt. I’m not gonna deny anyone religious liberty. I simply believe that Celtic Reconstructionists should step and consider what effect their actions (or lack thereof) havr towards living, breathing Celtic cultures. I want to keep my Gaidhlig alive. I want it to thrive, I want it to evolve. The Celtic cultures don’t need to reconstruct anything – they need a construct a healthy, future for themselves.
P.S: I probably come across as pretty Gaelocentric – and that’s because I am. I don’t pretend to speak for the Welsh, Irish or Bretons. I as a Gael have an opinion, and that’s that.
Anonymous said: Tell me about Scottish history! (In particular, your favourite parts of the parts that you think more people should know).
There is no such thing as Scotland.
Historically, at least, Scotland is a mish-mash of different peoples, languages and even governments, fused together by necessity.
I provided a nice long answer, but I’ve had to simplify alot, so apologies to any history experts who think its a little cartoonish.
In 1138, David I ‘King of Scots’ fought the English at the Battle of the Standard leading an army made up of “Normans, Germans, English, Northumbrians and Cumbrians, men of Teviotdale and Lothian, Galwegians and Scots.” This battle was in Yorkshire, and it was as a result of the King of Scots desire to rule over the north of England. He had Cumbria already and wanted Northumbria too, so he just invaded whilst the English were in the middle of a civil war. We were beaten, but that’s not why I bring it up. That eyewitness account of the composition of the King of Scots’ forces is helpful in showing the disparate people that have created Scotland.
We’ll start with the last on the list – Scots. Historians think ‘Scot’ comes from a Latin word meaning pirate, which was used to refer to the Irish raiders who attacked the west coasts of Britain during the AD 500s and 600s. (Indeed, the Romans called Ireland Scotia!) These pirates were Celts and they spoke a language called Old Gaelic, which is the ancestor of the language I speak ‘gaidhlig.’ During the Dark Ages, these Scots settled all over the Western Seaboard of Britain, but especially in Argyll. They called it Dalriada, named after their home in Ireland. In the 700s the Kings of Dalriada shifted from Ireland to their new territory in Scotland, which had been colonized by thousands of these Old Gaelic speakers. At that time the north of Scotland was under the control of a mysterious people called the Picts, who we only know from stone engravings, their language having been lost. In 843AD King Kenneth MacAlpin of Dalriada is supposed to have conquered these Picts and hence became the first King of Alba, or King of Scots. No one knows if the Picts were killed in genocide, or by plagure, or if (I think more likely) they were just absorbed into the Scots’ population. So, at MacAlpins’ death Scotland consisted of a Kingdom, north of the River Forth, uniting the Gaelic-speaking Scots (henceforth, we’ll call ‘em Gaels) and the unknown-speaking Picts.
I’ll sketch where everyone else was at that time, working back the way on our list from Scots. First – Galwegians. They were settlers of Norse origin living on the south coast of Scotland, who picked up the Gaelic language from the Scots and came to be know as Gall-Gaels, or ‘Foreign Gaels.’ The intermixing of Gael and Gall (i.e. Norseman) happened all the time in medieval Scotland. For instance, the Gaelic for Hebrides is Innse Gall (‘Foreign Isles’) because in the middle ages this now most Gaelic of places was brimming with Norsemen. The clan MacDonald is descended from Norse-Gaelic warrior called Somerled – he wrested control of the north-west coast of Scotland as well as the Hebrides from the Earl of Orkney (a Norwegian – this is confusing isn’t it?!) and set up the Lordship of the Isles. The Lordship of the Isles persisted as in independent state (or thorn in the side) to the King of Scots until well into 15th century and indeed, was the only truly Gaelic state in Scotland, because as we shall see the King of Scots was quick to abandon his Gaelic roots during the Middle Ages…
So, carrying on, our men of Teviotdale and Lothian, as well as our English and Germans, and Northumbrians, are representatives of the Anglo-Saxon speaking people that lived in the south-east of Scotland when MacAlpin united the kingdom. They weren’t under his rule yet though. King Malcolm the second grabbed them in the 1000s, and they were added to the Kingdom of Scots. However, they had a far higher population than the Gaels, and being on the east-coast were richer as they had better trade links with Europe. Their language – a variety of Anglo-Saxon – came to dominate urban life and Gaelic was gradually relegated to the countryside, and then to the wild Highlands, and then just to the islands. The Anglo-Saxons’ language came to be called Scots as most Scots spoke it, while Gaelic was disparaged as Erse (‘Irish!’). It’s interesting to note that this Anglo-Saxon language is not a dialect of English – English and Scots in fact share a common ancestor in Old German: they divided apart while still in Europe and came to Britain with different tribes.
The Cumbrians mentioned refer to the Britons (Welsh-speaking Celts) who lived in the south of Scotland during the Dark Ages. Their most important kingdom was Strathclyde, built around the River Clyde, but they were quickly absorbed the new Scots kingdom, and their language was wiped out, so they don’t much concern us here.
The Normans, however, are the same Normans who conquered England in 1066. They carried on to Scotland and made the king swear an oath to recognize Wiliam as his overlord – this was the basis all the subsequent English claims to the Scottish throne. Even after the armies withdrew, many Norman knights stayed in Scotland, and became the feudal aristocracy. Other Norman and Breton knights were induced to move there later thanks to generous offers from the King of Scots. Under Queen Margaret and these knights, Scotland was slowly Francophied, and it abandoned Gaelic. The last Gaelic king of Scots was old macBeth. After that, Anglo-Normans dominated. Even William Wallace was of Norman stock!
And speaking of Wallace, historians agree that these multifarious peoples I detailed above created for themselves a united national identity during the Wars of Independence. At Stirling Bridge the spearmen most definitely did not shout “FREEDOM!” – Gaelic, Scots, French and Norse would have been heard; none of which, however, were the universal language. There was no united Scottish culture when the English invaded at the end of the 13th century – there was no such thing as Scotland. Anthropologist Anthony Cohen says that Scottish identity did not arise from a unifying Scottish language but from the certainty that whoever the Scots were they were most definitely “not-English.” Thus, the Declaration of Arbroath, Scotland’s birth certificate, conceived national identity as ultimately that which was distinct from England.
We started off with the Battle of the Standard, but that was the personal ambition of a feudal king - it wasn’t enough to create a nation.
But in 1314 at Bannockburn, under Robert the Bruce, a descendant of norman knights, we have Normans, and Anglo-Saxons (Scots?), and Gall-Gaels, and Norse, and Gaels fighting. And with that battle, and the many others, the lowland Scots become a nation. They become the Scots. And we have a Scotland…
But, interestingly, it’s from this century – the 14th century – that the Scots turn against the Lordship of the Isles, and against the Gaels. And from then on the Highland Line becomes a chasm and we have two Scotlands – Highland and Lowland.
But that I think is a story for another day.
You wanna talk cultural appropriation? Look at the Irish. Their entire culture is appropriated from Scotland…except for the excessive drinking and leprechauns. But the bagpipes, kilts, step dancing, celtic music…all of that originates from Scotland. They say that the ancient Irish peoples most likely come from Germania, and were in fact not a Celtic people.
Obh mo chreach, someone doesn’t know shite about Celtic people.
Also, in which world are the only cultural traits of the Irish a bunch of green men and alcoholism?
Oh, right, in Hollywood.
First of all, you’re failing to distinguish between two, within Scotland, different cultures, i.e. Gaelic and Scots cultures, secondly, the Scottish Gaels - i.e. Scotland’s Celts - came from Ireland, not the other way round. The Scots came from Scandinavia and the Netherlands.
And guess what, Scottish Gaelic is a daughter language of Irish Gaelic.
Thirdly, you seem to know fuck all about real Scottish culture. Fourthly, the bagpipes were invented by the Hitite and the biggest producer of bagpipes today is the incredibly non-Celtic country of Pakistan.
Fifthly, your understanding of Celtic music is flawed and most likely based on a false understanding of who the Celts were - Celts spanned Europe for several hundred years, living in areas from the Black Sea to Portugal. Galician and Breton folk music is as Celtic as Scottish and Irish folk music.
Sixthly, Irish and Gaelic music share many similarities but are also highly different. We have the puirt, the Irish have sean-nós and so on and so forth.
Seventhly, the Irish have one of the longest surviving literary histories in Europe and eightly; if I hear anyone reduce Scottishness to step dancing and bagpipes again I will shove a set of pipes up someones arse.
This is entirely unrelated but I think we have to be careful when distinguishing Irish, Scottish and Manx Gaelic culture. The first point is that Scottish Gaelic is not a daughter language of Irish Gaelic. They both share a common ancestor in Old Irish which was spoken between 500-1000AD in Ireland and on the western seaboard of GB (including Wales). The precursor to Old Irish was Primitive Irish, which can be seen in Ogham inscriptions in Ireland, in Wales and in Scotland. We tend to think of Scottish Gaeldom as arising from the establishment of the Dalriada colonies in 600AD, but there were Gaels in Scotland long before, as attested by Ogham inscriptions etc. We should really talk about Primitive Gaelic, Old Gaelic and Middle Gaelic - there is a certain Hibernocentricism operating here, which I feel ought to be challenged.
Even during the medieval period its meaningless to speak of a distinct Scottish and a distinct Irish language. We know Scottish bards would train in schools in Ireland, and vice-versa. We know that until the 1200s both western scotland and ireland were part of a norse-celtic cultural area, separate from the lowlands of Scotland and the The Pale of Dublin. Early modern Irish and Classical Gaelic, in use to the 18th century, were the same language, and used the same alphabet. The first Gaelic book ever published in print was a translation by the Scottish Bishop of the Isles of John Knox’s book of prayer for use in Ireland…
There was a linguistic continuum stretching from Munster in the south to Lewis in the north. Ulster Irish as a dialect in the 1700s would have been intelligible to people in Tiree. I don’t imagine Lewis and Munster men would have had much luck talking to each other either. This continuum was lost in the late 19th century and early 20th century with the decline in Gaelic use in the inner hebrides and in argyll, as well as in Ulster. The notion of two separate ‘national’ Gaelics has been helped by the post-independence heavy standardization and simplification of written Irish, something which never happened in Scotland.
We have to remember that between the 1200s and the 20th century there was no real Gaelic national power in either country. Scotland, founded by Gaels, had been Anglicized, and, in reality, A United Ireland never existed as a political ‘kingdom’ until the English established one to control the various chieftains etc. So for 700 years or so, we had this pan-cultural stateless linguistic zone, attacked by English-speakers, and depopulated by famine and migration. But Ireland got independence and so gaelic became the language of Ireland, and so the shared oldest literature in the world was used by irish natiuonalists as a way of showing theirs was an ancient and great nation. The Irish state embraced gaelic as a signifier of Irish nationhood, and were happy to celebrate this ‘Irish’ language that went back 2000 years…
But, I believe we need to reformulate the linguistic history in terms of a shared Gaelic history, and recognize that Irish and Scottish Gaelics became only mutually unintelligle fairly recently in the last three centuries.
This story won second prize in the Northwards Now New Gaelic Fiction Competition. It has to be read carefully or the joke won’t be got!
“Tha an riaghaltas agaibh seasmhach. Gu dearbh fhèin, tha sinn deiseil airson buille sam bith a bheir Nàduir oirnn. Tha an t-àrm a’ gluasad. Tha sinn a’ dol gur cumail sàbhailt’. Tha sinne a’ dol gur dìon.”
Cha robh guth aig a’ Mhìnisteir uasal air cò bu choireach gun robh an là seo air tighinn. Faclan snog, cofhurtail, a’ suaineadh a-mach às an rèidio, a’ snàigeadh a-steach tro mo chluasan, ‘s a’ faighinn smachd air m’inntinn. Briathran breugach brèagha. Thug mi breab dhan rèidio. Bha mi seachd searbh sgìth dha bhi ag èisdeachd ri srannalaich a’ Mhìnisteir. Cha robh a gheusan ‘s a gheallaidhean a’ dol a thràghadh an tuil.
Dh’èirich mi, a’ casadaich ‘s a’ cofhurtaich, is plaide thana mam ghuailnean. Bha an saoghal a’ fàs teth ach bha mise fuar fuar. Cho fuar ris a’ phuinnsean, ri cridhe a’ Mhìnisteir. B’esan an aon chleasaiche a bha air fhàgail.An robh e a’ magadh oirnn, e fhèin sàsaichte le fhion ‘s le annlan? Chuir mi às a’ choinneal. Cha b’e solas iùil a bh’innte. Bha an dorchadas a’ sgaoileadh, cho farsaing ris a’ chuain. Bha an rèidio sàmhach san oiseann.
Nuair a dh’innis iad dhuinn gun robh an là seo a’ tighinn ‘s ann a dh’fheuch mi ri mi-fhìn fhalach ann an toll. Bha cabhaig orm. Chladhaich mi domhainn i. “Dùinibh an doras!” bhiodh an rèidio a’ sgiamhail, “Na tigibh a-mach! Dèan nead dhuibh pèin!” ‘s mar sin air adhart, gach comhairle a’ cur eagal às ùr orm. Ann an ciaradh balbh an t-saoghail an robh mi air fois fhaighinn mu dheireadh thall? Aig a’ cheann thall? Thug mi sùil air an dorchadas. Chaith mi smugaid. Bha mi seachd searbh sgìth a’ feitheamh. A’ feitheamh ri fairge, ri facal, ris an naidheachd dheireannach.
Ach, ged a ghlas mi mi fhìn ann am priosan, cha do chaith mi na h-iuchraichean air falbh. Dè feum a bh’ann feitheamh? Bha mi airson bàs an t-saoghail fhaicinn – air an dòigh sin, dhèanainn ciall dhan chùis. Cha robhas a’ dol gam thiodhlacadh mar ghealtaire aig aigeann a’ chuain ùr. Bha mi gus a bhith seasmhach, làidir, nam dhuine ceart. Bha mi gus an doras fhosgladh dhan tuil. Bha mi gus mo shùilean fhosgladh. Bha mi gus an rèidio a shadadh air falbh.