Who were the Ancient Celts?                                                     

The Celts were a European cultural group first evident in the 7th or 8th century B.C. The Romans called them Galli and the Greeks called them Keltoi-- both meaning barbarians. Their maximum expansion was in the 3rd to 5th century B.C., when they occupied much of Europe north of the Alps (see maps). The Celts arrived in Britain by the 4th or 5th century B.C. and Ireland by the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., and possibly earlier, displacing an earlier people who were already on the islands.  The Gaels, Gauls, Britons, Irish, and Gallations were all Celtic people. 



Why are the Celts associated today with Ireland, Wales, and Scotland?

Celtic culture survived longer in these areas than in continental Europe. In many ways it still survives today. 

On the continent, the expanding Romans defeated various Celtic groups and subsumed their culture. Julius Ceaser conducted a successful campaign against the Gauls in 52-58 B.C., and as part of that campaign invaded Britain in 54 B.C. but was unsuccessful in conquering the island. Ninety-seven years later, in 43 A.D., the Romans invaded Britain again, pushing the Britons to the west (Wales and Corwall) and north (Scotland). Hadrian's Wall was built beginning in 120 to protect the Romans from the northern Celtic tribes.

The Romans never occupied Ireland, nor did the Anglo-Saxons who invaded Britain after the Romans withdrew in the 5th century, so Celtic culture survived more strongly in Ireland than elsewhere (partly because of hill forts).  Christianity came to Ireland in the 4th century, St. Patrick coming in 432.

Many of the Celtic cultural elements integrated with Christianity. The most "religious" aspect of Celtic culture, Druidic practice, diminished, and many say that the Druids were systematically supressed and killed. However, many cultural elements lasted, including ancient oral stories which were recorded by Irish monks in both Irish and Latin (without much editorial interference).

Viking invasions
in the 7-9th century A.D. interrupted the Irish culture and destroyed many cultural elements, including many manuscripts lost in plundered monastaries. The Vikings founded several Irish cities, such as Belfast and Dublin. However, they never really took over the island.

Ireland was not truly occupied by another nation until 1160, when the Normans invaded from England.  British occupation of Ireland lasted until 1922 (five northern counties are still part of Britain). Even under English occupation many elements of Celtic culture survived, so in many ways Celtic culture has been continuous in Ireland for 2400 years or more. 



Are there Celts left?  Tá!  (Yes)                             

How do we know about the ancient Celts?                       

Celtic culture stretched over much of Europe and lasted several centuries, so the evidence and the culture itself that is represented varies widely.  We know about them in three ways: through artifacts, historical accounts, and manuscripts that come mainly from Ireland and Britain.


Story “cycles” identified in the above works:

What was ancient Celtic Culture like? 

Who were the Celtic gods and Goddesses?    

Celtic dieties were more localized and particular to specific tribes than the gods and goddesses of larger, more centrally controlled civilizations like the Romans. However, some recurrent figures can be identified:

Which stories are the best known?

How do we approach these stories?       Find good ones! "The Three Etains" is an adaptation of two "Etain" stories found in the Book of the Dun Cow and The Yellow Book of Lecan (where it is more complete).


Resources if Needed

Extra Ireland Photos:

boar-head // case-boar // cemetary // stone mountain // green hill // cliffs

hill fort 1 // hill fort 2 // hill fort 3 // hill fort 4 // hill fort cliff // stone axes // metal axes.