History of the Celts

History of the Celts

Brief History of the Celts

The Celts, as an individual society and people, do not exist today; however, most of those with European descent have some Celtic ancestry. The “truest” Celtic bloodlines existing today belong to those from the Scottish Highlands, Perthshire, Northwest Scotland and the descendants of the ancient ruling families in Ireland and Wales. Even though Celtic tribes dispersed and intermarried with other cultures over many centuries, their rich legacy and historical impact remains prevalent today.

Described as tall with fair hair and skin, the Celts, who originated from Bavaria, Switzerland, Austria and Hungry, were a series of tribes who spoke similar Celtic, or Indo-European,languages. They roamed the lands north of the Alps, often settling in new areas by migration or war. By the 5th century, B.C.E the Celtic tribes left their homeland east of the Rhine River and traveled into the Balkans, France and Spain. By the 3rd century, B.C.E, they reached Britain. 

The Celts gradually made their way to the Emerald Isle, not in one migration, but over a period of several hundred years. The first Celtic tribe to reach Ireland was the Priteni who settled in areas near Ulster and Leinster. Another tribe, the Bolgic, later came to Ireland and ruled more than half the land during their reign. Eventually, another tribe called the Laginians made their way to Ireland and settled on the west coast, and finally, a fourth tribe, known as Goidelic or Gaelic, arrived to the bucolic island.

The Celts were not the first inhabitants of Ireland. At the end of the Ice Age, more than 8,000 years ago, early humans migrated across the narrow sea from Scotland and eventually moved south down the coast. These early men and women were primitive hunter and gatherers; however, farmers with stone tools migrated to the area domesticating cattle, pigs and sheep. By 2,000 B.C.E, more migrants left for Ireland looking for precious metals such as gold and copper. By the late bronze age, the Celts arrived bringing with them their highly influential culture, art, religion and rule.

To this day, Celtic influence is the core of Ireland’s heritage. These tall, aggressive people introduced iron tools and weapons to the native Irish inhabitants as well as the idea of kingdoms, rule and power. Additionally, the Celts brought to Ireland their war-like culture and the concept of “honor in battle.” The Celts were known to spurn heavy body armor and fight naked, only weapons in hand. Not only Celtic men fought in battle. 

Women, who were equal to men in many ways, accompanied them on the battle fields as highly accomplished warriors. Women also ruled alongside their male counterparts or worked as successful merchants. Bravery, courage and fierce dedication are all aspects attributed to the Celtic people.

While the war-mongering ways of the Celts left their mark in the history books, so did their art. The Celts learned artistic techniques from other cultures, and were especially influenced by Scandinavian art, but they transformed these ways to create their own mark. Their metal work was highly sculptural and consisted of patterns, flora and fauna, knots and complex spirals. During the Middle Ages, Celtic art, or Insular Art, surged.  

Mary Comerford