Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Debating The Celtic (?) Nations and an English Parliament

Two events readers, depending on their geographical location, might be interested in attending.

First up, the "Exploring Culture" lectures at W5 in Belfast's Odyssey Complex:
Who were the Celts? Were there any Celts at all in the British Isles? Are Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Celtic nations?

The historical and scientific truth behind these questions will be explored in the inaugural lecture of a series launched today at W5 by Minister Nelson McCausland.

The ‘Exploring Culture’ lecture series aims to encourage discussion and analysis of issues relating to culture, identity and public understanding of the historical, social and scientific themes that shape society.
The inaugural lecture "The Ancient Island Celts – modern invention or rediscovery?" will be delivered by archaeologist Dr Simon James at 6pm on Thursday 11 November at W5 in the Odyssey Complex (be prompt, tea and coffee served from 5.30pm!):
His research focuses on cultural identities, interactions, conflict and change in Old World societies. His work has considered how conceptions of the past impinge on the present, and how the present constrains views of the past. This includes how and why academics and public groups envisage and represent past societies as they do, through verbal discourses, ethnic stereotypes and visual clichés.

Dr James believes there are serious difficulties with some of the common, basic assumptions of Celtic history. He writes that the concept of the Scots, Welsh, Irish and other groups in the British Isles being called 'Celtic' evolved during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Simon James asks how far is it a rediscovery of a forgotten past reality? Or is it simply a modern invention, imposed on the past? His presentation will provide a highly visual and entertaining analysis of these issues.
It'll be chaired by the Beeb's William Crawley and the debate will be free to the general public.

Registration details can be accessed from the DCAL's site.

"This house believes that an English parliament is the last hope for a United Kingdom"

The English Speaking Union & The Campaign for an English Parliament invite anyone in the London area to their debate at:

English Speaking Union, Dartmouth House, 37 Charles Street , London. W1J 5ED (Nearest tube: Green Park) on 24th November, 6.30 pm for 7.00pm.

No mention of tea and coffee;)

The Campaign for an English Parliament is proposing an adoption of a federal model of parliaments as the "last hope for the continuation of the United Kingdom".
Speakers for the CEP will include Scilla Cullen and (occasionally of this parish) David Wildgoose.

I'm presuming this is free as well and registration details can be had from Scilla Cullen here.

Any recordings or transcripts from either event would be gratefully received and, with permission, posted here.


Brother Cadfan said...

The term 'Celt' has been known in academic circles to be a bit inaccurate for some time. Welsh and Gaelic are certainly 'celtic' type languages, this can be seen by comparing them with Gaulish, the ancient celtic language spoken in continental europe. Now the question of whether the Welsh and the Irish are 'ethnic' celts is another matter altogether. I leave the Scottish out of this because their ethnic history is too complex for easy comparison. The Roman sources described 'Celts' as being tall and blonde haired which as Im sure you know doesn't describe the dark and red headed Welsh and Irish. The Romans commented the language of the British Isles was celtic but never answered the question of whether the inhabitants were, an inconvienience as they and the ancient Greeks coined the term! As a Welshman I do find it frustrating that the Irish and Scottish have cornered the market in the term 'Celt' despite the fact that whatever you may call our shared history has been preserved so much better in Wales. I appreciate as a unionist you may be trying to promote the idea of a uniform culture across the British Isles but this is also manifestly incorrect by history. Post-Roman British history shows a migration of people who introduced a new, Germanic culture to Britain which became England, and that some remnants of whatever culture existed before this remained in Wales, Ireland and the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Sorry for the ramble but hope some stuff of interest.

Seymour Major said...

One of the questions, which seem to have been lost in history, is 'what happened to the Celts in what is now England?'

How much of the Celtic traditions remained at the time that the Romans left Britain? Were the native people who remained pushed out, wiped out or did just their culture/language disappear and merge with the settlers/invaders from Europe?

I suppose I am asking, do English people today have any connection with the Ancient Britons who inhabited what is now England?
Also, how on earth did Queen Boudica manage to become an historical heroine?

Perhaps these questions will not be covered by the Lecture but as things stand, this desire to identify with the ancient celts leaves England as the "odd man out" in the United Kingdom

O'Neill said...

"I appreciate as a unionist you may be trying to promote the idea of a uniform culture across the British Isles but this is also manifestly incorrect by history"

Brother Cadfan,

In this particular case I'm trying only to promote what I think could be an interesting series of lectures. Personally, I'd run a mile from the idea of a uniform UK culture, my Union is more of a mosaac with interlinking and inter-dependent parts.

Nelson McCausland, whose department is the one behind the lectures ( I think), would also most certainly not subscribe to the idea of a Celtic mono-culture existing across the British Isles.


This is only the first in a series of lectures, so I hope the wider questions you highlight are addressed and it doesn't just begin and end with the story in Ulster and Scotland.

Anonymous said...

Simon James brings some baggage to the debate on celticity if this interview is anything to go by:

“I am critical of all nationalisms as potentially dangerous. I distinguish between legitimate pride in one's national/ethnic culture as an equal among the world's peoples, and chauvinism with regard to neighbouring peoples. If I have a particular anxiety in this area, it is not any individual or collective 'threat' from the several Celtic nationalist movements, but paradoxically from a potential resurgence of English nationalism. I fear that the growing momentum towards the break-up of the UK could lead to the triumph of xenophobic nationalism in England, especially if it were followed by any faltering of European integration, and/or serious economic trouble and environmental crisis”


Brother Cadfan said...


What happened to the ancient Britons who lived in what became england isn't clear. Modern English contains very little 'celtic' component and there is some genetic evidence suggesting some kind of difference between the Welsh/Irish and 'whoever' came to live beyond Offa's dyke, especially in the north of england which is where the Angles and Danelaw existed. Now an interesting bit: In the north of England and Strathclyde upland farmers used a strange counting system for animals that seems to be connected to 'welsh stle' languages right into the early 20th century. Interesting! Also, Boudicea would be well known from ancient scholars, it actually appears in the works of Anglo-Saxon chronicler Bede, who had gleaned it from ancient scripture.

Sorry O'Neill if I seemed a bit extreme that wasn't quite the point I was trying to get across! As a Welshman I often get a bit upset at the sometimes crass and inaccurate ways the term 'Celt' is used by factions within Ireland and Scotland, and I certainly wasn't trying to promote celtic monoculture! England is culturally distinct from the so called 'Celtic' fringe.

O'Neill said...


That's an opinion on nationalism which is surely a different subject altogether from examining "celticity"?

Whatever, there will be an open debate later, so if there's material that is infactual/unsubstantiated, I'm sure it'll be challenged.

Brother Cadfan,

No offence was taken and I didn't think you were being extreme, just that you were unaware where I'd come from in terms of ethnic identities and history within the present UK

Anonymous said...

There is a view that the Saxons, Angles and Jutes displaced and destroyed the Britons of England pushing them westward to Wales and Cornwall. I understand that there are very few Brythonic words in English. Genetics should help solve the question.

As for nationalism, English and British nationalists seem to have a blind spot. Everyone else is a dangerous nationalist, but they are just being patriotic.


Anonymous said...

“That's an opinion on nationalism which is surely a different subject altogether from examining "celticity"?”

James refers to ‘Celtic nationalist movements’. Perhaps he is just using ‘Celtic’ as a handy short form for Welsh and Scottish but he would be foolish to suppose that Plaid Cymru or the SNP draw on celticity to any great extent. As James himself notes, celticity has been used to assert cultural otherness from Englishness. Apart from that it is a rather superficial concept in Welsh and Scottish politics.