Category Archives: Celtic History

Brian Boru: High King of Ireland

 

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Brian Boru: High King of Ireland

By

Roger Chatterton Newman

Roger Chatterton Newman’s book ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland (Mercier Press, Cork, 1983), according to the author, sets out to elaborate on the High Kings achievements and contribution to Irish society but his reputation is, for the most part, based on fiction, “what the annalists would have us believe is romantic fiction”[1]; and the book presents itself as the first ever full length biography of Brian Boru. Newman wants to remove all this fiction and myth to reveal the ‘real’ Brian Boru. The book leaves no doubt that Brian Boru was the right man, in the right place at the right time, “Brian lived in the heyday of the Viking age, when Ireland was part of a scattered empire that stretched across northern Europe”[2] He is shown in the Western Europe of his day, largely divided but struggling towards a unified monarchical system. The Vikings were plundering and pillaging and Ireland needed a united front to drive back the foreigners. Other national leaders such as the Ui Neill’s were not, it seems, overly concerned with the Viking occupation or demonstrated any real desire to end outside domination so the task was left to Boru. Such unification, new contends, was by no means a new idea, the 10th century is marked with numerous attempts by the Ui Neill, amongst others, making deliberate attempts to ensure the King of Tara ruled all Ireland. Brian’s successful attempt to bring Ireland under his control had local and European patterns.

According to Newman the heroic Boru, not unlike the later Napoleon Bonaparte, “a product of middle-class pretentiousness” [3] was a man who knew how to fight his way to the top and he was determined to have his own way, impose his own rules, have his own will respected and was willing to enforce his demands by diplomacy or by force whenever the need necessitated, “Brian’s policies and reforms, unusual when compared with the average politics of his age, were based on a genuine desire to bring peace and prosperity to his realm.”[4] But, although Boru was very much aware that there were advantages to having the Vikings resident on Irish soil, Newman contends that the Vikings are undeserving of fashionable applause by todays historians, “they should not be credited with greater contributions to Irish history than is their due…they did much for Ireland in trade and commerce but their legacy should be compared at all times with what has been left by native craftsmen, scribes and builders of the same time.”[5] They advanced agriculture, knew how to build comfortable residences and were efficient traders in communication with many fellow traders in foreign lands. These benefits meant Boru was not determined to wipe them out but merely to tame them. Their immense economic and social benefit to Ireland would have enormous advantages for Brian’s kingdom.

Brian’s greatness came from the fact that he was equally skilled as warrior and politician and he was determined to break foreign rule. In Brian Boru’s Ireland foreigners were welcome as traders and visitors or peaceful residents but those seeking power on the island were dealt with using brute force, violence and bloodshed. Newman makes the point that the decline of Ireland’s naval power rendered the country vulnerable to foreign invaders. Because Ireland was a small island by comparison to other European countries the country was easy pickings for the Vikings. Ireland’s neighbours across the English Channel were equally as vulnerable but learned the lesson and developed itself as a powerful naval force. Ireland failed to do so and thus paid the price.

Newman contends that Boru was a most temperamental power monger who was a product of his own environment, “Boru was subject to sudden outbursts of temper, in the end, to cost him his own life and end his dynastic aspirations. It makes him more human.”[6]He was the youngest son of a petty king with little prospect of inheriting greatness but a combination of fortune and fortitude intervened and Brian built his own reputation through guerrilla warfare. His courage and determination convinced the Dal Cais that he was a true leader and from this moment on his campaign to secure the High Kingship of Ireland had become unrelenting. Although his relationships were not in keeping with the Catholic philosophy he was embraced by the Catholic Church because of his kindness and adherence to every other aspect of the religion. The church was perfectly willing to turn a blind eye to his marital fiascos in exchange for his support both monetary and moral. Newman finds Brian’s family life, although chaotic, most unusual in familial loyalty. Such loyalty, he argues, is evidence of Boru’s charisma.

The book pays too much attention to the ups and downs of warfare, divisions and rivalries; who won, who lost and what were the consequences and it can make the narrative somewhat confusing for those with only a passing interest. But the author attempts to resolve this issue by inserting comprehensive notes at the back for those eager for such information. The author cites the annalists as his primary sources but never loses sight of the fact that such sources are lacking in credibility.

Regardless of the fact that the book is academically written and is a scholarly study, supported by extensive research it remains a most readable work about a most mesmerising man. Newman’s more human ‘Brian Boru’ is clearly a great reformer and warrior and a very skilled administrator, but, perhaps most obvious of all a devout flag-waving nationalist, “that over-used word patriot is undoubtedly justified.”[7]

 

 

 

[1] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 376

[2] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 9

[3] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 110

[4] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 17

 

[5] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 389

[6] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 335

 

[7] Roger Chatterton Newman, ‘Brian Boru: King of Ireland’, (Cork, 1983) E-Edition, p 300

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Celtic Roots

Celtic Roots

Authors Note:

The following is a synopsis of Chapters 1 and 2 from ‘Celtic Mythology’  (Geddes & Grosset, 1999). I have extracted some of the key points in relation to the Irish Celts.

Gerard J. Hannan.

The Celts are much less well known to us than the Greeks and the Romans were although theirs was a great civilisation in its own way. The Celts were not empire builders, they were a tribal society. It is a problem that there is a serious lack of contemporary written history or literature in relation to the Celts. They had the ability to write but never really bothered to do so and it has been suggested that writing was not part of their social or religious culture and that their Druids or high priests forbid them to write things down.

Because of this, modern historians rely very much on oral tradition. Perhaps this is why the culture is rich in marvellous legends and stories handed down by word-of-mouth and as such are subject to variation. Archaeology has helped historians to understand the Celts.

It is rather fortunate that because the Celts believed that a dead person travelled to other worlds and should be accompanied by his or hers earthly possessions such as jewellery, clothing and valuables that we are left with some significant information about the culture. What the Celts have left us is positive evidence to the reality that theirs was an advanced culture.

Ireland’s earliest legendary and poetic records are of great interest and value. These records influenced the destiny of the Celts that created them and indeed the destiny of Ireland. In the period in which they were still fresh, belief and pride in them were powerful enough to bring scattered tribes together into Confederation. Furthermore they give inspiration to sculptors and poets to produce an art and literature unsurpassed, if not unequalled, by any other age or race. When the glory of the Celtic age had faded and her people had entered into the modern world they had left behind them a significant account of their culture for modern archaeologists.

Mythology is vital to literature. Celtic mythology has little of the heavy crudeness that repels one in Germanic and Scandinavian stories. It is as beautiful and graceful as the Greek and, unlike Greek, which is the reflection of a Mediterranean climate quite different from our temperate zone, it is our own. Gods should, surely, seem the inevitable outgrowth of the land they move in. The Celtic gods and heroes are the natural inhabitants of the Irish landscape, not seeming foreign and out of place in a scene where there is no vine or olive but shading in with our home grown Oak and Bracken, gorse and heath.

In the legend haunted Ireland, the Hills and Dales still hold memories of the ancient gods of the ancient race. There are regions once mysterious and romantic that the Celts held to be the homes of gods or outposts of other worlds. In Ireland, there is scarcely a place that is not connected in some way with the traditional exploits of the Red Branch champions or of Fionn and his mighty men. But the old deities are still remembered, dwindled into fairies perhaps but keeping the same attributes and often the same names. Many of these deities live on in modern culture as, for example, long dead saints of the early churches of Ireland. Their wonderful attributes and adventurers are in many cases only those of their original namesakes, the old gods, told afresh. And they still lived on in another more potent way. They have become a significant part of modern literature and their influence is immense, their primary poetic impulse is still resonant in Irish literature, playing a particularly strong part in works by 19th-century poets and writers. The elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits which haunted the waves and streams appear again as kings in the Irish annals or as saints and hermits. To trace the Irish kings and saints back to ‘elemental powers of earth and fire, and the spirits that haunted the woods and streams’ of Celtic romanticism is not an impossible stretch of the imagination.

The fabled deeds of St Patrick are embellished by romantic writers. These writings are contained in parchment manuscripts long preserved from destruction in great Irish houses and monasteries. Only during the 19th century have they been brought to light, copied and translated by patient scholars who grappled with the long obsolete dialects in which they were transcribed. Many of these volumes are curious miscellanies. Usually a single record of a great house or monastic community, everything was copied into it that the scholar of the family or brotherhood thought to be worth preserving. Hence they contain diverse material. There are translations of portions of the Bible and of the classics, lives of famous saints, together with works attributed to them; poems and romances of which, under a thin disguise, the old Gaelic gods and heroes; together with treatises on all the subjects then studied – grammar, prosody, law, history, geography, chronology and genealogies of important chiefs.

The majority of these documents were put together during the period that, roughly speaking, lasted from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 16th century. It was a time of literary revival after the turmoil of the previous epoch. In Ireland, the Norsemen, after long ravaging, had settled down peacefully and rendered the country comparatively quiet. The scattered remains of history, lay and ecclesiastical, of science and of legend were gathered together.

Of the Irish manuscripts, the earliest, and, perhaps the most important, on account of the great store of ancient Gaelic mythology which, in spite of its dilapidated condition, it still contains, is in the possession of the Irish Academy. Unfortunately, it is reduced to a fragment of 138 pages, but this remnant preserves a large number of romances relating to the old gods and heroes of Ireland. Among other things, it contains a complete account of the epic saga called the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, the ‘raiding of the cattle of Cooley’, in which the hero, Cuchulainn, performed his greatest feats. This manuscript is called The Book Of The Dun Cow, from the tradition that it was copied from an earlier book written on the skin of a favourite animal belonging to St Ciaran, who lived in the seventh century. An entry on one of its pages reveals the name of its scribe, one Maelmuiri, whom we know to have been killed by robbers in the church of Clonmacnois in the year 1106.

Far more voluminous and only a little less ancient is the book of Leinster, which is said to have been compiled in the early part of the 12th century by Fionn Mac Gorman, Bishop of Kildare. This also contains an account of Cuchulain’s mighty deeds, which supplements the older version in the Tain Bo Cuailgne. Somewhat less important from the point of view of the student of Gaelic mythology: the Book Of Ballymote and the Yellow Book Of Lecan, belonging to the end of the 14th century, and the Books Of Lecan and of  Lismore, both attributed to the 15th century. Besides these six great collections, there survive many other manuscripts that also contain ancient mythical lore. In one of these, dating from the 15th century is to be found the story of the Battle of Magh Tuireadh, or Moytura, fought between the gods of Ireland and enemies, the Formorii, or demons of the deep sea. Other ancient manuscripts found in Scotland corroborate these Irish documents, add to the Cuchulain saga and make a more specialist subject of the other heroic cycle, that which relates the no less wonderful deeds of Fionn, Oisin and the Fianna. They also contain stories of other characters that are more ancient then either Fionn or Cuchulain, these are the Tua De Danaan, the God tribe of the ancient Gaels. The native literature bearing upon the mythology of Ireland may be attributed to a period that lasted from the beginning of the 12th century to the end of the 16th. This day’s marks the final amalgamation of the contents of the manuscript into the form in which they now exist without bearing at all upon the time of their authorship. As they are copies of ancient poems and tales from much older manuscripts, these books do not fix the period of the original composition of their contents. This has been proved both directly and inferentially. In some instances as with the Book of the Dun Cow the dates of authorship are actually given. In others, we may depend upon evidence that, if not quite so absolute, is nearly as convincing. Even where the writer does not state that he is copying from older manuscripts, it is obvious that this must have been the case from the glosses in his version. The scribes of the earlier Gaelic manuscripts very often found, in the documents from which they themselves were copying, words so archaic as to be unintelligible to the readers of their own period. To render them comprehensible, they were obliged to insert marginal notes that explained these obsolete words by reference to other manuscripts more ancient still. Often the mediaeval copyists have ignorantly moved these notes from the margin into the text, where they remain, like philological fossils, to give evidence of previous forms of life. The documents from which they were taken have perished, leaving the mediaeval copies as their sole record. The ancient legends of Ireland may not have been mere inventions of scholarly monks in the middle Ages. Circumstantial evidence can be an adduced to prove that the most important portions of Gaelic literature can be safely relegated to a period of several centuries prior to their now existing record. Our earliest version of the episode of the ‘Tain Bo Cuailgne’, which is the nucleus and centre of the ancient Gaelic heroic cycle of which Cuchulain, is the principal figure, is found in the 12th century Book of the Dun Cow. But legend tells us that at the beginning of the seventh century the Saga had not only been composed but had actually become as obsolete as to have been forgotten by the Bards. Their leader, Seanchan Torpeist, a historical character and chief bard of Ireland at that time, obtained permission from the saints to call Fergus, Cuchulain’s contemporary and a chief actor in the ‘Raid’, from the dead and received from the resurrected hero a true and full version. This tradition, dealing with a real person, surely shows that the story of the ‘Tain’ was known before the time of Seanchan and probably preserves the fact either that his version of Cuchulain’s famous deeds became the accepted one or that he was the first to put it in writing. Such considerations as these push back, with reasonable certainty, the existence of the Irish poems and prose tales, in something like the present shape, to a period before the seventh century. But this, again, means only that the myths, traditions and legends were current at that, to us early, but to them, in their actual substance, late date, in literary form. A Mythology must always be far older than the oldest verses and stories to celebrate it. Elaborate poems and sagas are not made in a day or in a year. The legends of the Gaelic gods and heroes could not have sprung full born out of some poet’s brain. The bard who first put them into artistic shape was setting down the primitive traditions of his race. We may therefore venture to describe them as not of the 12th century or of the seventh but as of a prehistoric and immemorial antiquity. Internal evidence bears this out. An examination of the Gaelic legendary romances shows, under embellishing details added by later hands, an inner core of primeval thought that brings them into line with the similar ideas of other races in the earliest stages of culture. Their ‘local colour’ may be that of their last ‘editor’ but their ‘plots’ are pre-mediaeval, pre-Christian, prehistoric. The characters of early Gaelic legend belong to the same stamp of imagination that created all Olympian and Titan, Aesir and Jotun. This aspect of the Celtic literary records was expressed by Matthew Arnold when he said, ‘it is evident that the mediaeval storyteller is pillaging and antiquity of which he does not fully possessed the secret’. So, too, with the figures, however reconciled with history, of the tree great Gaelic cycles: that of the Tua De Danaan, of the heroes of Ulster, of Fionn and the Fianna. Their divinity outshines their humanity; true their masks may be seen the faces of gods.

Yet, gods as they are, they had taken on the semblance of mortality by the time histories were fixed in the form in which we have them now. Their earliest records, if those could be restored to us, would doubtless show them as eternal and undying, changing their shapes at will but not passing away. But the post-Christian copyists, whether Irish or not, would not continence this. Hence we have the singular paradox of the deaths of immortals. There is hardly one of the figures of the Gaelic pantheon whose demise is not somewhere recorded. Usually they fell in the unceasing battles between the gods of darkness and of light. Their deaths in earlier cycles of myth, however, do not preclude their appearance in later ones. Only, indeed, with the closing of the lips of the last mortal who preserved his tradition can the life of a God be truly said to end.

Bibliography

Geddes & Grosset, 1999. Celtic Mythology. 2006 ed. New Lanark: Geddes & Grosset.

 

Saints In Hibernia.

Order Of The Saints Of Hibernia.

Here begins the Catalogue of the Orders of the Saints in Hibernia according to different periods:

432-543.

The first Order of the Saints was in the time of Patrick, and then all the bishops, 350 in number, were famous and holy and full of the Holy Spirit. They were founders of churches, worshipped one head, Christ, and followed one leader, Patrick. They had one tonsure, one celebration of Mass, and celebrated one Easter, namely, after the vernal equinox. And what was excommunicated by one church, all excommunicated.

St. Patrick

They did not object to having women as housekeepers and companions, because founded on the rock, Christ, they did not fear the wind of temptation. This Order of Saints lasted during four reigns: to wit, from the time of Laoghaire, the son of Niall, who reigned thirty-seven years; and Olioll, styled Moll, who reigned thirty years; and Lughaidh, who reigned seven years; and this Order of Saints lasted to the very end of Tuathal Maelgarbh, and all remained throughout holy bishops, and these were for the most part, Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.

543-599

The Second Order of the Saints was like this. In this second Order now there were few bishops and many priests, 300 in number. They worshipped one head, God, and had different rituals or rites of celebration, and different rules of living, and celebrated one Easter: to wit the 14th of the moon. And they made a uniform tonsure from ear to ear. They shunned having women as companions and housekeepers, and excluded them from the monasteries. This lasted for four reigns also …. Those (saints) received the ritual of celebrating Mass from holy men of Britain; to wit, from St. David and St. Gildas and St. Cadoc. And their names are these: to wit, Finian, Endeus, Colman, Congal, Aedh, Kieran, Columba, Brendan, Brechen, Caineoh, Caemgin, Laidrean, Laisre, Lugeus, Barrideus, and many others who were in the second grade of the Saints.

599-666.

The third Order of the Saints was like this. Now they were holy priests and few bishops, 100 in number, who used to dwell in desert places. They lived on vegetables and water and on the alms of the faithful, and held earthly things of no account, and wholly shunned back-biting and slander. These had different rules (of living), and different rituals of celebration, and also different tonsures, for some had the coronal tonsure and some the hair. And they had a different Paschal Solemnization, for some celebrated on the 14th and others on the 13th moon. This Order lasted through four reigns…..And their names are—Petran, bishop; Ultan, bishop; Colman, bishop; Edan, bishop; Lomnan, bishop; Senach, bishop. These were all bishops and many more. And these now were the priests—Fechan, priest; Airendan, Failan, Commian, Ernan, Cronan, and many other priests.

Note that the first Order was holiest, the second very holy, the third holy. The first glows like the sun, with the heat of charity; the second like the moon sheds a pallid light; the third shines with the bright hues of the dawn. When a bishop was appointed over the new diocese his first and most important work was the construction of a church. The churches of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries were very small and rudely built. The first churches were of wood and circular in shape, and there are 110 remains of these, but we have the remains of stone churches of the period, and we find they were built without cement, and the stones used were very large, from 6 to 17 feet long, which would take four men to lift.

The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick furnishes us with the dimensions of the churches he used to build:—”In this wise then St. Patrick measured the ferta, namely, seven score feet in the enclosure, and seven and twenty in the great house (tig mor), and seventeen feet in the chule (kitchen), and seven feet in the aregal, and in that wise it was he used to found the congabala always.” The ” great house ” was the church, which at the time was circular, and the diameter used to be 27 feet. The roof was formed by overlapping. The doorway was placed at the west-end and covered by a lintel and was broader at the bottom.

Churches with arches and semi-circular window heads were erected in the early part of the 9th century. Recessed semi-circular arches belong to the 10th century. The walls built in this period lose much of massive stone work, and are higher, and cement was used. The windows exhibit a slight recess upon the exterior, and were of greater size. As style advances the sides of the doorways become cut into a series of recesses, chevron and other decorations are commonly found, and various mouldings of doors and windows become rich and striking. The term Irish Romanesque has been applied to this style of architecture. The transition can be traced to the beginning of the nth century, but was not fully developed till a century later. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, decorated art reached a high state of perfection in this country.

Cormac MacCuillenen’s chapel on the Rock of Cashel, which was consecrated in the year 1134, presents a specimen of Irish architecture which has not been excelled. Donough O’Brien, King of Thomond, founded the cathedral, 1152. It consists of nave and chancel, with a square tower at each side, 55 and 50 feet high. The walls of nave and chancel are ornamented with a row of semi-circular arches slightly recessed, and enriched with chevron, billet, and mouldings. We have remains of many churches scattered through the country which exhibit the highest degree of art. These and the beautifully sculptured crosses and metal work which still remain afford ample evidence of the skill the Irish attained in various departments of art prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion.

The training of the clergy was an important matter for the consideration of St. Patrick and his successors. Colleges or seminaries had to be established for the education and training of young levites to fit them for their future mission. St. Patrick again followed the practices that prevailed in France, where monasticism was the established system. The monks founded in that country schools and colleges in which the future clergy were trained in the practices of discipline and piety. Monasticism was thus introduced into Ireland by St. Patrick, and became an important factor in the Irish Church. Monasteries sprang up in different parts of the country. Clerics and others not only from Ireland but from Great Britain and the Continent flocked into them, and received gratis their education. Some of those institutions contained as many as 3,000 pupils. This may be the place to describe the origin of monasticism.

Footnote:

One of the areas looked at is Archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of the people of the time. It must be said that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. 

In the case of the Celts it proves very little. As stated earlier Archaeologists contend that there are too few objects found in Ireland to prove any invasion of Celts actually occurred. Interesting, Geneticists support the Archaeologists theory. Geneticists say the Celts share D.N.A. and had a pre disposition to Cystic Fibrosis and were usually of the O type Blood Group.

In the 1960‘s there were Blood Group studies and the distribution of Blood types and the results may indicate where Celts located. Munster has the strongest distribution of Blood Type O and this may indicate the Celts densely populated this area. In the 1990‘s Studies In DNA And Chromosomes showed that Y Chromosomes are Inherited from the father while Mitochondrial DNA is Inherited from the Mother. However, this can not be deemed a totally reliable source for accurate information and most Scientists are dubious, to say the least, about the results of DNA research because samples have been contaminated both inside and outside of the laboratory.

In short, Genetics is far too young a discipline to draw any firm conclusions. Geneticists contend that there is little or no evidence to conclude that there was, in fact, a prehistoric Celtic invasion which leads us to the problem of why then do we speak a form of Celtic language. In point of fact we do know that C.400 CE when St. Patrick arrived on Irish soil he could communicate with the natives in some form of Celtic. 

Irish Historical Sources.

The Brehons

The start of Irish History is usually considered by historians to have happened the 5th century CE with the arrival of St. Patrick because with him came the first written documentation. The language spoken was Celtic and we know this because when St. Patrick arrived he could communicate with the natives. This documented history is our primary source of information in relation to early Irish society.

Our Main Sources For Documented History Are begin with Brehon Law which was a form of law brought about by tradition within the tribes. A sort of natural law that was similar from tribe to tribe. The law was enforced by local Judges known as Brehon. This law is best defined as Early Irish Law. These laws were, more or less, agreed upon by the people and are therefor based on customs, traditions and practises. The Bretons memorised the laws and the information was passed from father to son which made the Bretons a privileged class in early Irish society.

The Bretons were guardians of the law but it was the people, through custom and practise, which created it. It is also worth remembering that while the laws were not imposed they were practised. In the 5th Century AD Ireland was a Celtic country and the language spoken here was of Celtic origin. It is not yet finally established as to how the Celtic language arrived here but there are numerous theories but these are only theories. One of the best sources for exploration of Irish history is Early Irish Law. Also known as Brehon Law but scholars don‘t like this title because it suggests the laws were created by the Brehons and, in fact, this is not the case at all. The Brehons were the nobles of Early Irish society and were more guardians of the law then creators of it. Law was created through customs and traditions within a society and over time the Brehons committed these laws to memory and were practitioners of it. This skill was passed from father to son as time passed and thus the laws were carried from generation to generation prior to the arrival of literacy to the country.

When we think of Law today we think of it as being imposed. This was not the case in medieval times. The laws were brought about in the interests of the maintenance of the group that operated within it. The law came from the bottom up. It was the customs and practises of the ordinary people of the community. These were agreed upon by all as the best way to live their lives.
There is a whole range of laws that covered every aspect of society and these laws give us an excellent insight to medieval society. It is not a perfect source because there are no case histories as is the case today. Nothing was documented as to what happened in each case.
The study of Brehon law is actually relatively new. The first major steps were taken with the production of the six volume Ancient Laws of Ireland from 1865 to 1901.

The translations in these volumes are no longer considered to be wholly reliable. But they do represent a goodly part of the available Brehon law texts and they stimulated the slow, patient production of further scientific editions during the 20th century. The major breakthrough came in 1978 with the production of DA Binchy’s transcription of almost the entire corpus of vellum manuscript materials for Brehon law. These also fill six volumes. But they extend way beyond the selective coverage offered by the Ancient Laws of Ireland. Binchy’s Corpus Iuris Hibernici runs to 2343 pages (or around 1.5 million words of text).

It contains numerous ancient tracts and digests that are mostly in the Old Irish language of the 7th to 10th centuries. These are supplemented by glosses and commentaries in Middle Irish (dating to the end of the 12th century) and Early Modern Irish. (There are also occasional snippets of Latin.) Binchy’s Corpus Iuris Hibernici contains no translations. It is a scholarly transcription of the medieval manuscripts. However, the publication of Binchy’s work in 1978 came only two years after the completion of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of the Irish Language, which concentrates on the ancient and medieval forms of the language. And one year earlier, in 1975, an English translation of Thurneysen’s masterful Grammar of Old Irish was also published. Suddenly, scholars had ready access not only to the ancient legal materials themselves, but to the chief linguistic tools for their translation.

Since then, the acceleration in published research on Brehon law has been quite remarkable. By 1988 Professor Fergus Kelly of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies was able to publish his remarkably wide-ranging Guide to Early Irish Law. The first edition of Nery‘s Patterson’s Cattle Lords and Clansmen followed in 1991. More recent volumes include Robin Chapman Stacey’s The Road to Judgement: from Custom to Court in medieval Ireland and Wales (1994). In addition, numerous journal articles have appeared in the Irish journals Peritia, Ériu and The Irish Jurist (the leading Irish academic law journal, published by University College Dublin). What all this research has revealed is a legal system of extraordinary sophistication. The English common law only emerged with the development of a professional judiciary, and the emergence of a professional bar, in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. But both had been part and parcel of Brehon law from at least the time of its earliest texts (composed in the 7th century). The development of degrees of intent in the English common law was a slow process. The concepts of accident and self-defence did not emerge until the 13th century; those of mistake and negligence finally took root in the 16th century. At that time the common law finally reached the level of development displayed in the Brehon law texts of almost a thousand years earlier. For example, the treatment of women under the ancient laws speaks to their sophistication: “The care which is evident for the individual personality of the woman in Irish marriage law is a widely shining landmark in this period of history as compared with the unrespected position of women in earlier times and in other societies.

The Annals Of The Four Masters

Our next source for Irish history are The Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland are a chronicle of medieval Irish history. Compiled in the 17th Century in Co. Donegal. The task was to compile all the existing known history for future generations. They were put to writing in final form by the Four Masters in the Franciscan Monastery in Donegal, starting in 1632. The work was completed in 1636.

Many of the sources they drew from are no longer available. It tracks history from c.2000 BCE to c.1600 CE ―The Chronicle of Ireland is the modern name for a hypothesized collection of ecclesiastical annals recording events in Ireland from 432 to 911 AD. Several surviving annals share events in the same sequence and wording, until 911 when they continue separate narratives.

They include the Annals of Inisfallen, the Annals of Ulster, the Chronicon Scotorum, the Annals of Clonmacnoise, the Annals of Tigernach, the Annals of Roscrea, the Annals of Boyle, and the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland. “The Chronicle of Ireland” represents the scholarly consensus solution to this Gaelic synoptic problem.

Events are listed in separate entries under the heading of a single year. Most entries consist of only one or two sentences, and some years contain only one or two entries. The Viking raid on Iona Abbey in 806, in which the entire population of the abbey was massacred, is recorded with typical brevity: “The community of Iona was killed by the gentiles, that is sixty-eight (referring to the number of dead) There is no direct evidence for the identity of the Chronicle’s authors at any given point in time, but scholars are confident that it was produced by annalists working in churches and monasteries and was intended for an ecclesiastical audience.

The Chronicle was written in different places at different times; the earliest evidence for one of its authors places it in Iona sometime after 563, continuing until about 642. Around 639, another chronicle of uncertain origin was begun elsewhere and merged in with the Iona chronicle in the second half of the 7th century.

The chronicle was then continued until about 740. From about 740 to 911, the Chronicle’s annalist was working in the Irish midlands, probably in the midland province of Brega (sometimes Breagh) but possibly in the monastery at Clonard. Some scholars believe that work may have moved to Armagh by the beginning of the 9th century, and debate continues on this point. After 911, the Chronicle’s descendants break into two main branches: one in Armagh, which was integrated into the Annals of Ulster; and a “Clonmacnoise group” including the Annals of Clonmacnoise (an English translation), the Annals of Tigernach (fragmentary), the Chronicum Scotorum (an abbreviation of Tigernach), and the Annals of the Four Masters.

Most surviving witnesses to the Chronicle’s original content are descended from the Clonmacnoise chronicle. A large number of the Chronicle’s entries are obituaries. The cause of death was significant to the annalists as an indicator of the death’s “spiritual quality”; they felt it indicated whether the deceased would go to Heaven or Hell. After 800, records of Viking raids (as in the example above) also make up a large number of entries. Other entries include observations of astronomical events, such as a solar eclipse that took place on June 29, 512. Some events outside Ireland also appear in the Chronicle; during some parts of the eighth and ninth centuries, its chronology for certain events in England is more accurate than that of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. As of the middle 7th century, the Chronicle’s dating scheme “consisted of a kalend (Kl) followed, until at least the mid-seventh century, by the ferial of 1 January”. This scheme, and much of the Chronicle’s witness to world history prior to 400, was based on the chronicle of Rufinus of Aquileia who wrote in the early 5th century.*

(*Source: ‘The Chronology and Sources of the Early Irish Annals’ by D. Mc Carthy, Early Medieval Europe 10:3(2001)323-41.‖27

St. Patrick is rightly styled the Apostle of Ireland. The Faith, no doubt, was preached and known by many before he began his mission. It is recorded that an Irishman, a Roman soldier, was present at the Crucifixion, who, after the completion of his military service, returned home, preached the faith and converted many.

Christianity was solidly established in Britain and Gaul long before the coming of our Apostle; and it is quite certain that there was considerable intercourse between these countries and Ireland during the first centuries of our era, so the faith must have been made known and embraced by many. Paladius came some short time before St. Patrick, but, while he must have converted some, his mission was not a success. Patrick made his studies at Lerins, now St. Honorat, South of France, and next under St. Germanus.

Lerins was the alma mater of many bishops and saints. Being a relative of St. Martin of Tours, he must have spent some time at Marmoutier, a famous monastery founded by that saint. In those institutions he learned the discipline and constitution of the Church, and organised the Irish Church accordingly. The Church of France was even then divided into dioceses, and the dioceses sub-divided into parishes. Each diocese was territorial and governed by its own bishop.

This was the mode of Church government St. Patrick introduced into Ireland—an episcopal Church governed by successors of the Apostles. St. Patrick could not introduce all at once perfect church government. His principal work at first was to convert and baptise. As the tribal system then prevailed he adopted the policy of addressing himself first to the chiefs or heads of the tribes.

The conversion of a chief soon brought about the conversion of the whole tribe. When the chief and tribe were converted the next step was to appoint a bishop over the territory occupied by the tribe. Thus in the early Irish Church bishoprics in Ireland were conterminous with tribal lands. Our Saint did the best he could, but the plan was a bad one. In course of time bishops multiplied unduly. Some assert that there were one hundred bishops in Ireland at the time of St. Patrick, and long after; there were without any doubt at least fifty. This at the time was a necessary evil, for every tribe of any importance should have their own bishop, as they would not submit to the jurisdiction of a bishop belonging to another tribe. Thus the nation was kept divided.

The multiplicity of bishops gave offence to the rest of Christendom, and at the Synod of Rathbrasael, held 1115 A.D., they were reduced to 26, besides Dublin and Waterford, under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury—28 in all. There are 26 dioceses at present. The system of tribal dioceses produced another evil effect: members of the families of the chiefs were raised to the episcopate without the necessary qualifications. The abuse was carried so far that many of the occupants had received no orders at all and enjoyed the benefices without performing the duties attached to them. All this produced nepotism, corruption, and disorders in the Irish Church. At the time of St. Patrick, however, it would seem that many of the bishops wereforeigners—Britons, Franks, and Romans. This would appear from that important document known as a Catalogue of the Orders of the Sts. in Hibernia. After giving the number of the first Order of Sts. the text adds: “And these were for the most part Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.

Here begins the Catalogue of the Orders of the Saints in Hibernia according to different periods:

432-543.

The first Order of the Saints was in the time of Patrick, and then all the bishops, 350 in number, were famous and holy and full of the Holy Spirit. They were founders of churches, worshipped one head, Christ, and followed one leader, Patrick. They had one tonsure, one celebration of Mass, and celebrated one Easter, namely, after the vernal equinox. And what was excommunicated by one church, all excommunicated. They did not object to having women as housekeepers and companions, because founded on the rock, Christ, they did not fear the wind of temptation. This Order of Saints lasted during four reigns: to wit, from the time of Laoghaire, the son of Niall, who reigned thirty-seven years; and Olioll, styled Moll, who reigned thirty years; and Lughaidh, who reigned seven years; and this Order of Saints lasted to the very end of Tuathal Maelgarbh, and all remained throughout holy bishops, and these were for the most part, Franks and Romans and Britons and Scots by birth.

543-599


The Second Order of the Saints was like this. In this second Order now there were few bishops and many priests, 300 in number. They worshipped one head, God, and had different rituals or rites of celebration, and different rules of living, and celebrated one Easter: to wit the 14th of the moon. And they made a uniform tonsure from ear to ear. They shunned having women as companions and housekeepers, and excluded them from the monasteries. This lasted for four reigns also …. Those (saints) received the ritual of celebrating Mass from holy men of Britain; to wit, from St. David and St. Gildas and St. Cadoc. And their names are these: to wit, Finian, Endeus, Colman, Congal, Aedh, Kieran, Columba, Brendan, Brechen, Caineoh, Caemgin, Laidrean, Laisre, Lugeus, Barrideus, and many others who were in the second grade of the Saints.
599-666.
The third Order of the Saints was like this. Now they were holy priests and few bishops, 100 in number, who used to dwell in desert places. They lived on vegetables and water and on the alms of the faithful, and held earthly things of no account, and wholly shunned back-biting and slander. These had different rules (of living), and different rituals of celebration, and also different tonsures, for some had the coronal tonsure and some the hair. And they had a different Paschal Solemnization, for some celebrated on the 14th and others on the 13th moon. This Order lasted through four reigns…..And their names are—Petran, bishop; Ultan, bishop; Colman, bishop; Edan, bishop; Lomnan, bishop; Senach, bishop. These were all bishops and many more. And these now were the priests—Fechan, priest; Airendan, Failan, Commian, Ernan, Cronan, and many other priests.

Note that the first Order was holiest, the second very holy, the third holy. The first glows like the sun, with the heat of charity; the second like the moon sheds a pallid light; the third shines with the bright hues of the dawn. When a bishop was appointed over the new diocese his first and most important work was the construction of a church. The churches of the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries were very small and rudely built. The first churches were of wood and circular in shape, and there are 110 remains of these, but we have the remains of stone churches of the period, and we find they were built without cement, and the stones used were very large, from 6 to 17 feet long, which would take four men to lift.

The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick furnishes us with the dimensions of the churches he used to build:—”In this wise then St. Patrick measured the ferta, namely, seven score feet in the enclosure, and seven and twenty in the great house (tig mor), and seventeen feet in the chule (kitchen), and seven feet in the aregal, and in that wise it was he used to found the congabala always.” The ” great house ” was the church, which at the time was circular, and the diameter used to be 27 feet. The roof was formed by overlapping. The doorway was placed at the west-end and covered by a lintel and was broader at the bottom.
Churches with arches and semi-circular window heads were erected in the early part of the 9th century. Recessed semi-circular arches belong to the 10th century. The walls built in this period lose much of massive stone work, and are higher, and cement was used. The windows exhibit a slight recess upon the exterior, and were of greater size. As style advances the sides of the doorways become cut into a series of recesses, chevron and other decorations are commonly found, and various mouldings of doors and windows become rich and striking. The term Irish Romanesque has been applied to this style of architecture. The transition can be traced to the beginning of the nth century, but was not fully developed till a century later. Between the 10th and 13th centuries, decorated art reached a high state of perfection in this country. Cormac MacCuillenen’s chapel on the Rock of Cashel, which was consecrated in the year 1134, presents a specimen of Irish architecture which has not been excelled. Donough O’Brien, King of Thomond, founded the cathedral, 1152. It consists of nave and chancel, with a square tower at each side, 55 and 50 feet high. The walls of nave and chancel are ornamented with a row of semi-circular arches slightly recessed, and enriched with chevron, billet, and mouldings. We have remains of many churches scattered through the country which exhibit the highest degree of art. These and the beautifully sculptured crosses and metal work which still remain afford ample evidence of the skill the Irish attained in various departments of art prior to the Anglo-Norman invasion.
The training of the clergy was an important matter for the consideration of St. Patrick and his successors. Colleges or seminaries had to be established for the education and training of young levites to fit them for their future mission. St. Patrick again followed the practices that prevailed in France, where monasticism was the established system. The monks founded in that country schools and colleges in which the future clergy were trained in the practices of discipline and piety. Monasticism was thus introduced into Ireland by St. Patrick, and became an important factor in the Irish Church. Monasteries sprang up in different parts of the country. Clerics and others not only from Ireland but from Great Britain and the Continent flocked into them, and received gratis their education. Some of those institutions contained as many as 3,000 pupils. This may be the place to describe the origin of monasticism.

Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position. As opposed to impartially providing information, propaganda, in its most basic sense, presents information primarily to influence an audience. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda. Propaganda can be used as a form of political warfare. While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense is neutral, and may also be construed to refer to uses which are generally held to be relatively benign or innocuous. In the study of Irish history propaganda sources are, for example, the words of the pagan Bards as transcribed by the Monastic Monks, such words may not have been without Bias and, as such, contain some propaganda.

One of the areas we will be looking at is archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of the people of the time. It must be said from the outset that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. The application of Genetics as a reliable source of stabling history is not a reliable one for many reasons.

In the case of the Celts it proves very little. As stated earlier Archaeologists contend that there are too few objects found in Ireland to prove any invasion of Celts actually occurred. Interesting, Geneticists support the Archaeologists theory. Geneticists say the Celts share D.N.A. and had a pre disposition to Cystic Fibrosis and were usually of the ‘O’  type Blood Group. In the 1960‘s there were Blood Group studies and the distribution of Blood types and the results may indicate where Celts located. Munster has the strongest distribution of Blood Type O and this may indicate where the Celts had located. In the 1990‘s Studies In DNA And Chromosomes showed that ‘Y’ Chromosomes are Inherited from the father while Mitochondrial DNA is Inherited from the Mother.

However, this can not be deemed a totally reliable source for accurate information and most Scientists are dubious, to say the least, about the results of DNA research because samples have been contaminated both inside and outside of the laboratory. In short, Genetics is far too young a discipline to draw any firm conclusions. Geneticists contend that there is little or no evidence to conclude that there was, in fact, a prehistoric Celtic invasion which leads us to the problem of why then do we speak a form of Celtic language. In point of fact we do know that C.400 CE when St. Patrick arrived on Irish soil he could communicate with the natives in some form of Celtic. From the point of his arrival history started to be documented.

Celtic Myths And Sagas

Celtic Myths And Sagas

Through the centuries many events and stories change in the retelling for many reasons. Exaggeration, bias or perhaps hostility to the subject matter or the outcome of the event led to inevitable distortion and misrepresentation of the reality. We must allow for this fact as we study ancient documents relating the events of the distant past.
Manuscripts started to emerge from Monks and Monasteries hundreds, and in some cases a thousand years or more after certain events were documented by them. One can only imagine what happened to these stories before the Monks and Scribes began to recount them in document form. It is a difficult job to interpret these stories. Nonetheless, these stories are a rich source of information as to the beliefs and religions of the Celts.

The Cathach

We find our information in manuscripts and the earliest of these is the Cathach of St. Columba of Iona which is kept in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin and comes from the late 6th or early 7th Century in date, almost two hundred years after St. Patrick arrived in Ireland (c.400 CE) and is a copy of the Old Testament Psalms and written in Latin. The manuscript known as the ‘Cathach’ ‘, a psalter or book of the Psalms. It is conceivable that this, the earliest surviving Irish manuscript, was written in the lifetime of the saint, if not as traditionally claimed by Columba himself. (Columba died in 597 CE.) The decorative features which characterised the later magnificent manuscripts are already present in simple form in the Cathach.

Book Of Armagh

The earliest known manuscript of Native Stories was The Book of Armagh (C.808 CE) and was kept in a leather satchel. It was a small personal copy of the Old Testament written for the leader of the Armagh community that included a number of stories about St. Patrick and written in Irish and Latin and this makes this document of great help to us. The St. Patrick that emerges from this manuscript is far different from the St. Patrick we learn of from his own manuscripts (St. Patrick‘s Confession, which appears to be a genuine copy written by him). In the former he emerges as a sort of mystical warrior, a hero figure, and in the latter a hard working gentle and humble man. What is really important here is the fact that The Book of Armagh is the first book we have that is a book written in Irish by Irish people. This demonstrates that even though the stories in this manuscript are about Saints some of the material to do with them, appear to be borrowed from earlier stories of earlier Christian mythology.

Book Of Dun Cow

The earliest manuscript relating stories of Ireland‘s warrior society that we know of is The Book Of The Dun Cow which was compiled in 1106AD, The Book of Leinster around 1150AD at the same time as another book known simply as Rawlinson‘s Manuscript.
The Book of Ballymote was written in 1390/91 and was produced by scribes and remains to this day at Trinity College, Dublin and is an invaluable source of information for historians.
We must remember when we start to interpret ancient texts that three dates need to be applied:

1. The date of when the text was published.

2. The date the text was written

3. The date of when the story of which the text relates is set.

When we look at, for example, a manuscript written in the 14th century, the events depicted in this hypothetical manuscript may be copies of earlier texts written, let‘s say in the 13th Century, but relating to events in the 10th Century and thus confusion and disinformation is entirely possible. The first date we can be sure of and the second date more difficult because they may be copies of copies and so on and so forth, copying was very common in ancient Ireland and thus the third date is completely wild because the storytellers set things in the ancient past at supposed dates. All we really know about the third date is that this was what the story tellers choose as the date. Thus, for the most part, the real dates of events are beyond our knowledge.
However, many of these stories are mythological which renders the date unimportant. The stories can still tell us many things about the culture, traditions, religions and beliefs of ancient Irish society and this is where these myths and sagas have their real significance.
The earliest known tales of Irish tradition in terms of language are from the 8th Century just before the arrival of the Vikings. We will be looking at four different strands of Mythology (A modern classification techniques which was different from pre-modern methods. We will characterise the stories by the Characters involved rather than the events they describe which was how the pre-modern documents categorised them.

1. The Ulster Cycle.
2. The Fenian Cycle.
3. The Cycle Of The Kings
4. The Mythological Cycle.

The Mythological Cycle is a cycle is very much concerned with tales from the Book of Invasion which documented how various tribes came and settled in Ireland down through the centuries. Our interest in this book for now is what it documents in relation to a tribe known as the Tua De Danaan. They are portrayed as a tribe of people with magical powers but realistically we can infer with some confidence that these were the Gods and Goddesses of pre-Christian Ireland. There are no dating indications with this grouping and we can not imply dates but we can have early or late stories in the Mythological Cycle. These stories were mainly composed by Christians so they naturally embedded religious elements into the stories.

The medieval manuscripts, primarily the Lebor Gabála Érenn imply that the first ever groups of immigrants who arrived in Ireland were some of the descendants of Noah. They tell of a woman named Cessair, a granddaughter of Noah who arrived here along with forty-nine women and three men prior to the Biblical flood which was to eventually sweep all of them away with the exception of Fintan who survives in various guises by becoming a shape-shifter and turning into a salmon for the duration of the flood and eventually, after a series of animal transformations, he becomes a man again and tells his people‘s story.
The next group to settle in Ireland were led by Partholon who supposedly arrived after the Biblical Flood with a thousand followers who multiplies to four thousand and then all were dead within a week after a plague. All of which were buried in Tamhlacht (Tallaght) – the plague grave. Interestingly, many of the stories were tied to real place names and this gave them an element of substance. The story of Partholon was relayed by the lone survivor of the plague and his name was Tuan mac Cairill through a series of animal transformations he survived into Christian times and relayed his tale to St. Finnian. (The story is documented in The Book of Dun Cow).

Tuan told St. Finnian that he witnessed many of the waves of invaders including the Nemedians, Firbolg and the Tuatha De Danaan. He claimed he crawled off to a cave as an old man and went to sleep. When he awoke he was a young stag and this process kept repeating itself each time he became old and he was reborn as a boar, an eagle and eventually as a salmon. During his life as a salmon he was eaten by the wife of a chieftain and passed into her womb to be reborn as Tua mac Cairill (son of Cairill.)

The tale of the Nemed was recounted in some detail to St. Finnian by Tuan. They were the third group (according to the Book of Invasions) to come to Ireland. The country had been empty for many years when Nemed sailed to Ireland to settle at Tory island. His wife Macha died and was buried at Ard Macha (Armagh).

He went to battle with the Formorians (a divine race said to have inhabited Ireland in ancient times) and was victorious but soon after he fell victim to plague, along with 3,000 others and died. The survivors separate into three different tribes, Fir Bolg, Fir Domnainn, Fir Galeoin and all depart Ireland (Eriu as it was known then) to different lands. The Fir Bolg went to Scandinavia and learned magic and decided to return to Ireland where they ruled until the arrival of the fifth group to settle here, according to Lebor Gabhala Erenn, the Tuatha De Danaan.

They went to war with the Fir Bolg in Sligo and the latter were defeated but The Tuatha De Danaan was led by their first King Nuada who lost an arm in the battle which meant he was no longer eligible for Kingship, according to the rules of the Tuatha De Danaan, and he was replaced by King Bres.

The new king was not at all popular because he lacked generosity and hospitality. Under his tyrannical rule times were not good in the Kingdom of Ireland and revolution was inevitable. The people started to manufacture weapons and in time Bres was removed from Kingship and Nuada, who had had his arm restored by physicians, and he ruled for many more years. He eventually became known as Nuada of the Silver Arm and is, perhaps, the statue we still see at Tandragee in County Armagh. Bres, assisted by the Formorian Balor attempted to retake the Kingship and war followed. When the youthful Lugh joined Nuada‘s court he stood down to allow the youthful warrior to lead the attack against the Formorians and during this battle Nuada was killed and beheaded but Lugh led the Tuatha De Danaan to victory.

Irish Evidence To Celts.

Cruachan

Cruachan

In County Roscommon, near the village of Tulsk is the Cruachan which is a complex of archaeological sites in what is described as the capital of Connachta. It hosted some of the main ritual gatherings in ancient times and is important to mythologists as the seat of Ailill and Medb (the intoxicating one – related to Meade), King and Queen of the Connachta in the Ulster cycle. This site is also known as the ‘Cave of the Cat‘, an entrance to the other world and at Halloween all sorts of spirits came out of this portal to and from the underworld. Another interesting way of tying Archaeology to Mythology is that here at Cruachan were found a number of Ogham Stones; the first alphabet in Ireland, dating back to 5th or 6th Century and names were recorded on these stones in an earlier form of Irish and it is quite unusual to have mythological figures recorded on stones.

The Ring Barrows

The Ring Barrows are mounds of earth heaped over burial places in use from Neolithic times, though they were typically of the Bronze Age and usually covered a single or at most two people buried in each one. We don‘t find swords, jewellery or tools in these types of graves which implies that they occurred prior to the coming of the Celts with their tradition of the burial of possessions with the deceased. Ring barrows date back prior to the Celts in Ireland and are another good argument against the theory that a huge wave of Celts showed up into Ireland because continental burial traditions were far different from those used at the Ring barrows.

Petrie Crown

1. Petrie Crown (George Pitrie) – This piece of high status metalwork was very much an elaborate headdress and extremely well made piece of La Tene style sophisticated work discovered in County Cork and influenced by Greek art forms. It exhibits the repetitive symmetrical design popular with both Hallstatt and La Tene craftsmen.

Bann Disc

2. Bann Disc – A bronze disc about four inches in diameter found during digging in River Bann in 1939. The design features of an Irish version of Celtic art. We have no clue what it is but it has been speculated that it may have been some kind of warrior jewellery piece.

Tandragee Idol

3. Tandragee Idol. – Found in Co. Armagh this curious piece may have deeper significance than just a common statue. The nubs of horns on this figures head and the cross arm are directly related to what experts suggest may be an image of Nuada, popular King of the Tuatha De Danaan, who had his arm cut off by the Firbolgs during a battle for control of Ireland, but later has the arm replaced by a silver arm by skilled physicians. If so, then here is an example of reality intermingling with mythology.

Tricephalic Head

4. Tricephalic Head – Depicts three faces that probably represented a ‘Trinity’ of some kind. This dispels the popular myth that St. Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate what a trinity was to the pagan natives because they already knew what a trinity was. It may have represented three divine persons in one or it showed a God who could see in three directions (past, present and future perhaps) at once. We can only speculate as to which.

Beltany Stone Circle

5. Beltany Stone Head – With it‘s ‘Bealtaine’ inference and found in Donegal at Beltany Stone Circle the name implies the festival of May 1st (Bealtaine) which may mean it was some kind of sacrifice and dates from the Bronze Age and thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Celts. We cannot rely totally on the evidence presented to us by Archaeologists because stones are silent and all we can do is try to interpret their meanings as best we can but such interpretations are always left open for further investigation and thinking. We must then look elsewhere for further evidence and thus we turn to the early Irish myths and sagas.

Celtic Conundrum.

Craggaunowen

It was during the Iron Age that Celtic culture was first introduced to Ireland. There were both similarities and differences between Irish Celtic culture and continental cultures of that period. Archaeology and history combine to give us a vivid picture of the Continental Celts but is that picture accurate when it comes to Ireland? Were the Irish really part of that culture?
It must be remembered that there were two different Celtic cultures coming from Western Europe during the Iron Age, the Hallstatt Celts, the earlier ones and the La Tène Celts who arrived much later. There is little evidence of the Hallstatt Celts in Ireland and with the exception of a few small artefacts such as the swords and bits of jewellery that tell us very little about how they got here and where they came from. Even if they were made in Ireland they were copies of European designs. But, chances are, they may have been imported.

Hallstatt, Germany.

In the period 600 to 300 BCE Ireland would have been in line with the introduction of Iron in Western Europe in the Hallstatt period. This is often described by historians as the Irish Dark Age because very little is known about this period in ancient times but there is some evidence to suggest that the Hallstatt Culture had arrived in some form by virtue of the fact that implements made of Iron began to appear.
These implements indicated the presence of Iron in Ireland and include items such as the Gundlingen Sword, a bronze copy of an Iron sword found in Athlone, Leech Fibula, a broach found in County Clare. But the existence of these items is not really evidence of the coming of tribes in the in the early Iron Age to Ireland.

La Tene Celts

We do know that from the little use of various metals, including Iron, that it is highly unlikely that there was any kind of invasion of Celtic culture but there was some influence. In about 300BC we start to see the influence of the La Tène Celts and this had a big impact on Ireland. Items such as the Knock buffer Torc which was similar to what one would expect to find in the Rhineland (the general name for areas of Germany along the river Rhine). Other objects considerably more La Tène start to appear after 200BC and this suggests to us that there is an influx of Celtic culture into Ireland and manifesting itself in art, jewellery and tools. But what can this tell us about the people?

Firstly, from the evidence we can see that Celtic religion is starting to thrive in Ireland and furthermore, because many inscriptions are in the Celtic language, the arrival of Gaelic to Irish shores has occurred. Interestingly, we don‘t find great graveyards or chariots or other significant symbols of Celtic cultures to the same degree as in Western Europe and this seems to imply that it was small groups who came to the country and because they were skilled with Iron the rest of the culture quickly became Celtic. It is difficult to interpret what really happened but the small group‘ theory, such as the Brigantes, seems to be the most credible theory. In any case, Ireland shows very little evidence for mass migration.

Brigantes

The relatively small amount of Torcs, necklaces and jewellery discovered further implies that those who were coming here were part of the elite classes who enjoyed finery and functionality in their adornments. A brilliant example of this is the Broighter Hoard of County Derry. This find offered good evidence that the richest, most powerful people were coming from Britain and Western Europe.

Why was such very valuable jewellery buried in the ground, not only in Derry, but at random places all over Ireland? Historians suggest that perhaps it was buried as an offering to the Gods and this implies that other world spirits were being acknowledged and sacrifices including very expensive (in terms of time and effort and craftsmanship) trinkets were handed over to the spirits for one reason or another. In Loughcrew, Co. Meath, hundreds of decorated cat’s bones were found and this not only gave an indication of sacrificial ceremonies but also pointed us in the direction that places of burial were used and reused throughout the centuries by numerous different cultures. It begs the question were the people of the latter burials attempting to reconnect in some way with those who were buried in these sites in the past? Some of the expanses of time which occurred between burials can be thousands of years; yet, these sacred sites were being used over and over again.

Turoe Stone

The Turoe Stone located in Co. Galway is one of the most instantly recognisable examples of ancient art of the La Tene culture and is assignable to c.300BC. Its phallic shape implies it may have been in some way associated to a fertility cult. Other stones with La Tène art Castlegrange, (Roscommon), Kilcluggin (Cavan), Mullaghmast (Kildare) and Derrykeighan (Antrim). These were carved between 2nd Century and 1st Century BCE and have been likened to Delphi in Ancient Greece. Delphi was considered to be the very center of the ancient world and here there were similar phallic like stones of similar age. This suggests a clear link between Greek and Celtic cultures.

Lisnacrogher Scabbard

Other pieces of evidence that have come to light in recent decades include the Lisnacrogher Scabbard and numerous other swords, the Loughnashade trumpet, Four trumpets were found but only One survives, the others are supposed to have been given as gifts to visiting foreign nobility. The Corlea Bog Road in County Longford is a tantalising discovery dating back to around c.150BC– the age of the road was ascertained by Archaeologists by checking the age rings in the wood in the Oak used for the actual track way. What makes this so interesting, apart from its immediately obvious historical significance, is that it may link history with mythology because it suggests comparisons with the myth of Etain where King Eochu Airem sets Midir tasks such as planting a forest and building a road across a bog where none had ever been. It‘s fascinating that something in reality ties in so well with mythology.

The Dorsey, County Armagh

The Dorsey, County Armagh is an earthwork, great big banks, constructed in the Iron Age and part of that is one of the most significant finds to demonstrate the clear existence of a strong La Tène culture was what has been named the Black Pigs Dyke. It consists of a shallow ditch and seems to have been defensive perimeters. This is provoking some debate in relation to reality and mythology in Irish history too because stories in mythology regarding raids and battles going on around these types of tribal construction.

Black Pigs Dyke

It is important for us to look closely at the Archaeology of the Iron Age to discover what it may tell us about the so called Mythological Cycle. When we look at areas such as the Hill of Tara we can immediately see significant spiritualistic influences. There are similar sites worth looking at such as Black Pigs Dyke, Dorsey and the Doon of Drumsna.

Hill Of Tara

The Hill of Tara is significant spiritually and is essentially a series of earthworks. It was important spiritually, politically and religiously. It covered a multitude of different dates and one of its most historically significant locations is the Mound of the Hostages. In the Bronze Age it was an important burial ground and in the Iron Age it retained its importance and continued to be used for religious and spiritual purposes.

Mound Of The Hostages

The Mound of the Hostages was a Stone Age tomb and burials of high status burials took place here. In the Iron Age it was also used for the burial of nobility. It is of some significance that the storytellers (Dindsenchas) who assigned the names to these places merely speculated and perhaps made things up about what actually occurred at Tara. It is a place that was used over and over again and each culture gave it new stories. Inevitably, over centuries, fact was convoluted by fiction and mythology emerged.

Stone Of Destiny

When we look at the famous Lia Fail (Stone of Destiny) at Tara, it was said, that when a true King stood on it that it would cry out to confirm the presence of nobleness. This demonstrates elements of mythology and reality and complicates the true purpose of the site. In fact, Lia Fail (best known for its phallic shape) was also known as Bun Fhearghasa (Fergus’s Penis) which may very well be a symbol of fertility, strength, leadership and Kingship.
Tara is a very complex place with lots of differences influences from different times and was shaped by each culture by its own influences. It throws up unusual questions because when it was excavated some Roman relics were found there. Some important figures from History that are very much associated with Tara are Cormac, Maeve (Medb) and St. Patrick. Tara has remained as a site of extreme importance throughout History and that is still the case today.

Emhain Macha

Tara was the centre of Ireland which, at the time constituted not four but five provinces which were Crachain (Connaught), Caiseal (Munster), Leinster (Dun Ailinne & capital was Kildare) and Ulster (Emhain Macha – capital was Navan) and Cuige (Meath) or the fifth province of which Tara (Tamhair) was the capital. The borders of these provinces shifted and changed in time until Meath was absorbed into Leinster. One of the more unusual places of interest at Tara was Eamhain Macha (Navan Fort) which was a large structure built at c.98BC and what was different about this was that shortly after it was built it was immediately destroyed by fire. Nobody knows was the entire structure built as a sacrifice to God or if it was a deliberate act of destruction. We know it was a temple of some kind. Maeve, Queen of Ulster was at war when her enemy at the time so it‘s not beyond the realms of possibility that it was a deliberate destruction of the temple.
In the medieval period they imagined that Tara was the palace of a King and it was the centre of the Kingdom of Ulster. Conchobhar Mac Nessa allegedly lived here according to mythology and thus Tara became the centre of the Ulster Cycle of Mythological stories.

Caesar On The Keltoi.

Caesar Wrote Extensively On The Celts (Keltoi).

They worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him, the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have very great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions.


Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars.


To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.
All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.
The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.

Caesar‘s writing of the Celtic religion and politics was known as Interpretatio Romana in which he writes; “The God Mercury plays a big part in Caesar‘s understanding of the religion of the Celts”.  Rome at this time worshiped stone Gods (statues) while the Celts thought that depicting these Gods in this way was not good. Caesar continues, “This God is considered to be the God of Journeys. He was first identified in Lyon, France at a now well known Fort known as Lughduna where archaeologists found artefacts and relics associated with travelling”. This is relevant because Caesar‘s description of Celtic law in relation to oaths and pledges was imperative to understanding how all contracts in Celtic law were accomplished. Interestingly, Mistletoe was a plant depicted on inscriptions and statuary associated with both the God Lugos and the Goddess Rose Mertha who is seen holding a cup, chalice which depicts Kingship or a higher force.

Footnote:

The term Interpretatio Romana derives from Tacitus Germana (Chapter 43) wherein he describes two German Gods worshipped as brothers and youths – twins – as being like Castor and Polloux.11 These young Gods filtered through the Roman Culture.

Celtic Religious Festivals.

 

We can infer certain things about the religious beliefs of the Celts from the nature of their festivals. To get accurate information about these festivals historians usually turn to the Coligny Calendar which appears to be written in Gaulish by the people of France before the coming of the Romans and this language continued on alongside Latin into the 5th century.

The calendar was clearly influenced by Romans in that, although it was written in Gaulish it used the Roman alphabet. Romans had kept calendars and the Coligny Calendar is based on a Roman prototype. It is what is called a Lunisolar calendar which meant it was based on both the Moon and the Sun. The months would go by the movements of the Moon but every two and half years they would put in an extra month and this would keep it on track. It seems, according to the calendar, that the first month was called Samonios (Summer End) and if we are to interpret this correctly then we may conclude that the Solar year began in Halloween (October 31st to November 1st) which ties in well with Caesar‘s idea that when the Celts celebrated time they celebrated the dark before the light (night before day – a festival began at sundown of a given day and end at sundown of the following day.) It follows then that if the day began with the dark half it is fair to conclude that the year began with the dark half beginning at Halloween.

Halloween was clearly a major festival in Ireland in pre-Christian times and Samonios was considered to be the beginning of the Celtic year. The months in the Calendar were divided into two halves and were also arranged into lucky – 30 day months and unlucky months. They described the lucky months as ‘Mat‘ and the latter as ‘Anm‘ or ‘not good‘.

The whole cycle runs for about thirty years and then starts over again.

To the Celts, time was circular rather than linear. This is reflected in their commencing each day, and each festival, at dusk rather than dawn, a custom comparable with that of the Jewish Sabbath. It is also reflected in their year beginning with the festival Samhain (Halloween) when nature appears to be dying down.

The Months were as follows:

1. Samonios – Seed Fall – Oct/Nov

2. Dvmannosios – Darkest Depths – Nov/Dec

3. Rivros –Dec/Jan – Cold Time

4. Anagantios – Jan/Feb – Stay Home Time

5. Ogronios – Feb/Mar – Ice Time

6. Cvtios (Sonnocingos) – Mar/Apr – Windy Time

7. Giamonios – Apr/May – Shoots Show

8. Simivisionnacos – May/Jun – Bright Time

9. Eqvos – June/July – Horse Time

10. Elembivios – July/Aug – Claim Time

11. Edrinios – Aug/Sept – Arbitration Time

(The translations are based on those of Caitlin Matthews)

When we study the Coligny Calendar we can see certain dates are marked. It is thought that these marks indicate important points in the Celtic year. When we look at Irish tradition we see that these same dates are included in the Irish Celtic calendar:

1. Samhain – Oct 31st – Halloween.

2. Bealtaine – May 1st – Bonfire Night.

3. Lughnasa – Aug 1st – Lughnasa.

4. Imbolc – Feb 1st – St. Brigid‘s Day. (1st Day Of Spring)

12. Cantlos – Sept/Oct-Song Time

Gaulish Influence On Celts

Sculpture Of An Armoured Torc-Wearing Gaul

 

Generally speaking the basic tenet of Celtic religion was polytheist (belief in many Gods) as opposed to monotheist. We can clearly see from the number of Gods worshipped by the ancient tribes that they were polytheists. It seems that they were also an animist culture – which means they believed that not only people but also animals, places and objects had a soul. They had basically an inherent spiritual presence of some kind. But we see that they worshipped in places of natural beauty which implies they were close to nature in their religions. We find evidence for ritual objects in ritual places and vice-versa. They imbued the world around them with religious significance. Things like the sky and the sun would have been associated with religious ideas. They had a concept of the underworld. They communicated with the underworld through the burial of objects and this was their way of interacting with the realm of the dead which they clearly acknowledged.

Sacred spots in the landscape included rivers and springs, which seemed to have great importance both in Irish and Gaulish religion. Rivers are normally associated with Goddesses; all the rivers of Ireland are given grammatically female names. For example, the River Shannon was associated with the Goddess Sionna.

The people for the most part were rural agrarians and this comes through in their deities of fertility, nature and agriculture and similar themes. Animals were also important to the tribes and we see this when we look at the God Artio (a sacred Bear), dogs and wolves held great importance too, probably associated with the warrior tradition in Celtic society. There was a warrior class within Celtic society and war and the creation of war was a significant part of life.

They had specific sites for religious practise and worship and they named these locations Nemeton (sacred place amongst the Oaks) which is related to the Gaelic words for holy and place. It was in such forests that they conducted their rituals. There is a very interesting account of Druid rituals to do with Oaks and this is by the 1st Century CE natural historian Pliny who recounts that; “The druids – that is what they call their magicians – hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and a tree on which it is growing, provided it is Valonia Oak. Mistletoe is rare and when found it is gathered with great ceremony, and particularly on the sixth day of the moon. Hailing the moon in a native word that means healing all things, they prepare a ritual sacrifice and banquet beneath a tree and bring up two white bulls, whose horns are bound for the first time on this occasion.

A priest arrayed in white vestments climbs the tree and, with a golden sickle, cuts down the mistletoe, which is caught in a white cloak. Then finally they kill the victims, praying to a god to render his gift propitious to those on whom he has bestowed it. They believe that mistletoe given in drink will impart fertility to any animal that is barren and that it is an antidote to all poisons.

This testimony is much debated and arguably fanciful on Pliny‘s behalf but it can still be accepted at face value. There is very little written about the Druids so it remains one of the few pieces of documented testimony available and as such has some merit.

We can conclude from Pliny‘s evidence that Mistletoe is sacred amongst the Celts. Further to this we also find in certain pillars and statutes we see embedded carvings of mistletoe and in one case we even find what has been interpreted as a crown of mistletoe leaves.

We also find great importance was given to bog lands and lakes which implied that natural water was extremely important to them. They often placed objects of religious significance into the water perhaps by way of returning a gift for the gifts given by water. (Other sacred elements were the Sky, the Sun – the wheel in the sky – and Lighting and Thunder). Danu was an important God of water and the fertility it brings about. Moisture and fertility went hand in hand and the Gods, such as Danu (The Danube), had rivers and other expanses of water named after them. One of the more important Celtic Goddess was Sequena (fast flowing one) and she was a Goddess of healing and water and often depicted standing in a boat. In 2nd Century BCE there was a shrine dedicated to her.

In fact many of the offerings, over 900 in all, found at her shrine indicated that it was a shrine of healing (as in Lourdes). The relics were mostly statues of body parts. Interestingly there were also statues of internal body parts such as livers and lungs which remains a mystery as to how they could have been depicted. In short, she was perhaps one of the most important of many of the European River Goddess and very much worshiped. These cults and customs may have come about from the fact that the Gauls were animists (everything had a soul) and that included rivers and these souls are the basis of these deities. It is possible that local deities eventually became bigger deities through word of mouth and thus, Goddesses evolved.

Some other shrines or temples have been discovered and one of the most notable one is known as Roquepertuse which is near Marseille, then Marcillary, a Greek town, in Southern France. The statuary discovered here was Celtic in origin. Evidence suggests that because few homes were found nearby that this was not a place of general worship but one used exclusively by the Druids themselves.

Yet another shrine of note was Gournay Sur Aronde in Northern France was a site similar to Stonehenge and was near a marchland and excavators found that a perimeter was built round it and within the area they were digging pits and burying Oxon. These animals may have been sacrificed. The reason why Oxon were sacrificed was to ensure new herds would thrive. What is interesting here is the fact that excavators found human remains which implies that human sacrifice was not beyond the Celts. On this particular site a number of pillars were constructed and on spiked on top of these poles they had warriors. It suggests that both people and animals were slaughtered at this site and then sacrificed. It seemed that the site had a military theme to it but it remains uncertain whether the humans who were sacrificed here were tribe members or enemies or victims of war. There was also weaponry destroyed and buried in the ground and so we know that these weapons were being ritually damaged and perhaps the souls destroyed or somehow rendered powerless in this world. Over 500 warriors were sacrificed and buried at Gournay Sur Aronde.

Decapitation of those sacrificed was a very common practise and at sites such as Gournay Sur Aronde many of the bodies excavated had their heads chopped off. No real significant conclusions can be drawn from this fact because this practise by modern standards is barbaric but perhaps this was not the case at all for the Celts. It may very well have been the case that the already deceased warriors were decapitated as a matter of honour. We can‘t know if such an honour was something the warriors wanted, it is possible, and maybe decapitation was part of the burial process for a warrior. There is evidence to suggest that it may not have been against the persons will because it may have been part of their religious belief. Maybe they considered decapitation to be part of a greater good or way to be united with the Gods in the next world. In short, the process of decapitation does not imply barbarism or bloodlust. With the passage of time what seems barbaric to one society may very well have been natural to another. There is no real evidence to suggest either way. Other cultures were also carrying out beheadings as much as the Celts. It was a way of life. We are not entirely sure if in Celtic tradition the beheading of somebody clearly indicated a barbaric act. It is possible that in their culture it may have been a way of honouring them, or a cult tradition but there is sufficient evidence to suggest that this was also another form of human sacrifice in the fact that decapitation seemed to be commonplace. Scholars are somewhat divided on this point but there is strong evidence that it did definitely take place. If it was not an object of veneration the head seemed to have symbolically represented the whole person and thus the taking of the head perhaps meant somehow disempowering the whole person. Livy (a Roman Historian 59BC/AD17 – Titus Livius) records that in 216 BCE a Roman general called Postumius met his end at the hands of the Boii. (A Gallo-Celtic Tribe located in Central Europe but mostly in Bavaria, Bohemia) After he was killed they: stripped his corpse, severed the head, and bore their prize in triumph to their most sacred temple. There, according to their habit, they cleaned it, decorated the skull with gold and employed it as a sacred vessel for the pouring of libations for the priests and acolytes of the temple to drink from.‖15 From this we can ascertain that beheading should not be seen as entirely barbaric, it may have been done out of a mark of respect for warriors but this is very unlikely.

Diodorus Siculus, (A Greek historian) in the 1st century had this to say about Celtic head-hunting: “They cut of the heads of enemies slain in battle and attach them to the necks of their horses. The blood-stained spoils they hand over to their attendants and carry off as booty, while striking up a paean and singing a song of victory; and they nail up these first fruits upon their houses, just as do those who lay low wild animals in certain kinds of hunting. They embalm in cedar oil the heads of the most distinguished enemies, and preserve them carefully in a chest, and display them with pride to strangers, saying that for this head one of their ancestors, or his father, or the man himself, refused the offer of a large sum of money. They say that some of them boast that they refused the weight of the head in gold; thus displaying what is only a barbarous kind of magnanimity, for it is not a sign of nobility to refrain from selling the proofs of one’s valour. It is rather true that it is bestial to continue one’s hostility against a slain fellow man.”16

So obviously the Celts were being judged pretty harshly by implying that the Celts continued their hostility towards those they conquered by keeping their heads as trophies. There is some direct evidence for this as well. When we look at some of the statuary we find niches are often cut into stone and heads were put into these niches. Whether these were the skulls of persons captured in war or part of the group or tribe we are not entirely sure and so we can only see it as a piece of evidence in defence of what the Romans were saying at the time.

The pillar at Entremont has heads carved into it and there were skulls found in this place and there were holes in the skulls which suggested that they may have been pierced and descended on spikes of some kind.

Further evidence of the use of heads as objects of adoration can be found in Ireland, specifically the famous triple Corleck Head which has three faces on it. Whether this represents the trinity or some kind of God we don‘t know. But it probably recognises some kind of cult activity.

Celtic Gods.

The Druid priests of the Celts did not write down the stories of their gods and goddesses, but instead transmitted them orally, so our knowledge of the early Celtic deities is limited. Romans of the first century B.C. recorded the Celtic myths and then later, after the introduction of Christianity to the British Isles, the Irish monks of the 6th century and Welsh writers later wrote down their traditional stories. Here are some of these Gods. Some of them were stolen and raised to Sainthood by Catholicism in order to begin the conversion of Ireland. Those left behind (according to legend) were cast underground and turned into Leprechauns.  

Gods Of The Celts.

Lugos

1. Lugos: There are hundreds of inscriptions across Europe and Britain to a God known as Lugos whose name is dedicated to Contracts and Commerce and was also a God of travelling and a patron of the arts which included the art of Commerce. Mistletoe was sacred to Lugos.

Dis Pater

2. Dis Pater (Father God or The Good God): Other Gods were descended from Dis Pater and was named by the Romans and not by the Celts. We can conclude from this that he was a teutilary or God of the Tribe‘ (Teutonic God) deity. Julius Caesar called him Dis Pater and linguists have concluded that this name is a derivative of Good Sky or Good God. This is very significant to us when we look at Irish Mythology because there is a similar God known as Daghdha, a leading mystic character in Irish literature, one of the Tua De Danaan, who was demonstrably the principal deity in ancient times.

The greatest of the Gods was Daghdha (Dagda), who had beaten off the monster Formorians when they attacked, in a mystical mist. He is usually referred to with the definitive article; namely, the Daghdha (the Daghdha). He was the founder or the father of the tribe of Tua De Danaan and so, indirectly, we can link Dis Pater as described by Julius Caesar.

This seems a logical step but is not inconclusive evidence. In fact, when we look at the Irish image of an Daghdha we see many Romanic motifs and ideas. Dis Pater is depicted in Roman accounts as an underground God and people would make Oaths or promises to him. In Roman Mythology he is sometimes associated with the Dead and the underworld. In Ireland an Daghdha was related to another God called Donn‘ (Brown or dark, or Dead) and is God of The Dead. When we look at Gods or Goddesses we find that many of them can manifest in different ways. The same God can sometimes have different names so, sometimes, we can find the same Gods with different functions.

Camas (Or Camulus)

3. Camas (Or Camulus): When we look at Continental material in relation to Camas we are still somewhat unclear as to who or what he may have been. We take our definition from Irish mythology because it is somewhat clearer and better defined.

Epona

4. Epona/Equna: She was a horse Goddess and her name would have been pronounced in two different ways. As mentioned earlier there were two different types of Celts, Q-Celts and P- Celts. The former laid more emphasis on Q and thus Epona became Equna while the reverse occurred with the P-Celts. Epona was a horse Goddess and in her depictions she is often seen riding side-saddle on a horse and holding a Cornucopia, a basket with corn coming out of it, a symbol of fertility, life, grain, fruit and drink, which featured heavily in all Mythology. It seems that Romans adopted her from the Celts probably because they were great admirers of horsemanship. She was a very popular Goddess and what is interesting here is that the Romans adopted her from the Celts whereas with other Gods the opposite was often the case. In fact, there have been statues and plaques found in Rome depicting Equna and in many cases these artefacts are found in stables.

Matres

5. Matres (The Mothers): A triple Goddess (Trinity) and depictions in the classical style show three women side by side and is clearly Romano-Celtic (deeply influenced by Roman Celts) in design. However, regardless of the style of the depiction, it is still generally agreed that the Celts worshipped Matres long before they ever encountered the Romans. Not a lot is known about the Matres but they were depicted as triple Goddesses and this idea of triple form (or trinities) is something that crops up in Celtic mythology regularly. In the statues the three women are often sitting down while one on left, often bare breasted, is holding a baby, the one on the right is holding loaves, bread or cakes, the one in the centre is holding a scroll of some kind perhaps depicting knowledge. The Matres may very well be a tripe-form of three Goddesses, it could be one or all of them but it is not really known if this is, in fact the case.

Brigantia

6. Brigantia (The Exalted One) – St. Bridget: Under the Interpretatio Romana where she was referred to as Victoria and they see her as dictatorial because she ensured victory to warriors. There were tribes known as Brigantes who mostly came from France and Britain arrived in Ireland in the 2nd Century. They were the followers of the Goddess Brigantia. Most of the information we know about her comes from the Irish material to do with St. Bridget. It is thought that the St. Bridget that we know was a follower of Brigantia; she may have been a priestess of the Goddess who later converted to Christianity and is now more famous for bringing this new cult of Christianity to Ireland. We know that Brigantia was worshipped in Gaul, Britain and Ireland and possibility as far as the Iberian Peninsula as well. We do find coins and artefacts depicting her image in many parts of Europe. There are a few place names that remember her name including Brigantio in Hungary. Brigantia was also a Goddess of healing, of blacksmiths and is very much steeped in folklore and tradition. She is also very much associated with Poetry and Poets who were deemed to be very important people who could see into the mystical world. Their poetry was a mystical language and they spoke the language of the Gods.

Ogmios

7. Ogmios: (Ogmios Herakles) – God of Eloquence – Was said to be very strong and associated with Hercules. His name comes from ―Leading One‖ because he could lead people around with words or the Golden Chain which was a chain of Gold from the tip of his tongue to the ears of a merry band of his followers which implied that he may have had a amazing word power. Being that public speaking was the only real form of communication having a Golden Tongue may very well have given one enormous power. The Irish equivalent to Ogmios was Ogham who it is believed brought writing to Ireland and the first Irish Alphabet was known as Ogham‘s Alphabet. Ogmios was said to be physically very strong and the Romans associated him with the God Hercules. He is depicted carrying a club, as did Hercules, and he sometimes was described as bald and his name Og came from the Celtic word Leading One. In an oral culture – public speaking was of paramount importance and the fact that we find a God dedicated to oral power is important.

Taranis

8. Taranis – (Thunder God as with Jupiter) – Taranis was a merciless God who required sacrifice. He is not a very well known Character but is mentioned by Roman Poets who depict him as merciless. In the 9th Century a trio of Gods, of which Taranis is one, Asos and Toutates the others, were appeased by human sacrifice. We know little about Asos while Toutates was a God of Tribal protection and in Interpretatio Romano he was associated with Mars. He was a Teutonic God (Germans in pre-history but referred to as Teutonics because they lived in Tribes). He may very well have had some sort of war function as well.

Cernunnos

9. Cernunnos: (Horned God) –His named only once on the Pillar of The Stone Men. He is very much associated with animals and holds a Torc in his right hand and about him is a purse, usually overflowing with money, which implies he is a God of wealth. In Irish mythology he is linked with Derg, a God of poetry and wisdom and wild deer but the evidence for this is pretty scant.

Maponus

10. Maponos: (P Celts: Maponos/ Q Celts: Maqungs) – Mostly found in Britain and has its origins in Gaullist French tradition. There is not a whole lot of information about Maponos but what we do know is that he is a youthful God mostly associated with the God Apollo and that his name suggests that he may have been a divine Son. When we look at other similar son images in Irish mythology we see that there are parallels in the figure of the divine son. According to a sacred 12 line prayer text known as Chamalieres found in France the ancient Gauls regularly prayed for help to Maponos.

Rosmerta

11. Rosmerta: This Goddess is often shown embracing a Cornucopia or a purse with coins coming out of it or a petera (plate) with food on it and she is a God of fertility and abundance, as is the case with most female deities, she is also best known as a carer of people. There are many examples of inscriptions where people literally wrote to her for their requests. Her name in Gaulish means the great provider or carer. People often wrote to both Mercury and Rosmerta so, if we take Mercury as being another Gaulish God then it may be safe to assume that both these Gods appeared together.

Sucellus

12. Sucellus: Is related to other Gods in European mythology and is known as a good Striker. He is often depicted with a massive hammer perhaps symbolising hard work, blacksmithing, axe wielding or some such activity. Perhaps a working class God and seems to be adored by ordinary working people in farming, forestry and, interestingly enough, alcohol. He is not associated in any way, like Thor, to Thunder, as the hammer may suggest but what we do find is that he is more than likely in some way connected to a Roman God named Sylvanus who was a God of forestry and wild places and both these Gods are interlinked in the Interpretatio Romano.

Nanto Suelta

13. Nanto Suelta (Nantosuelta): In Gaulish religions she is a Goddess of Nature, the earth and fire. Her name means the sun worn valley and she was a Goddess of fertility and abundance. Her imagery shows her surrounded by greenery, trees and fine-looking meadows. In general she is associated with fertile places.

Esus

14. Esus: His name means the Lord and is most often portrayed as a woodman, forester or lumberjack. He was associated with strength and would give strength to those who prayed to him. In Interpretatio Romanio he is most associated with Mercury or Mars. He is interesting in that he was one of the Gods that appeared to be worshipped with human sacrifice.

Tarous Trigaranus

15. Tarous Trigaranus: We don‘t really know much about this God. Esus seems to be somehow connected to Tarous Trigaranus and this has been established through imagery whereby both Gods are depicted falling trees or depicted as lumberjacks or woodsmen.

There are, of course, many more Gods but these seem to be the ones that had widespread following and were believed in by lots of different tribes. There were also lots of local Gods that would be purely belonging to a given tribe. There are over two hundred different deities recorded but these seem to be the most widespread and consequentially influential Gods.

Celtic European Influences.

The Celts Brought European Culture To Ireland.

 

In order to fully understand Irish Celtic history we must also understand how the people of the time were influenced by fellow Europeans. For example, Julius Caesar, fuelled by propaganda, who fought the Gaul‘s (or Gallicos) of France, wrote extensively about them. Our main focus is on the Celtic Period or, as it was better known, the Iron Age and to fully understand the traditions of this age and how they came about we need to look at what was going on in other European Countries.

The Celts can be best described as a people from Western Europe who spoke a language known as Gaulish. The earliest known Celts can be traced back to 600BC and came from the small town of Hallstatt in Austria where they controlled large salt mines. The wealthy Chieftains at Hallstatt were trading salt in Europe which meant that they travelled extensively, primarily by boat, across the continent. To an extent the Hallstatt Chieftains adopted the popular Greek style of language which was a precursor to other European languages including Gaulish and Lepontic. It must also be remembered that there were basically two different types of Celt and they were known as Q-Celts and P- Celts. It seems that at some time in the past the Celts split and subsequently both were categorised primarily by the sounds they emphasis was on the P. The most common dialectics of the Celts were, Irish, Manx Welsh, Cornish, Breton, Welsh, Scottish and in the ancient world, Gaulish, Leponic and Celtic Iberian.

A Celt is normally defined by historians as someone who speaks any of the main Celtic languages of Welsh, Breton, Scottish, Gaelic, Manx Welsh, and Cornish and in the ancient world Gaulish, Leponic or Celtic Iberian. 19th Century language scholars and archaeologists mostly agree that at some stage in pre-history that the Celtic race spoke the Celtic language, used Celtic objects, lived in the French Alps from where they invaded Europe and finally settled in Ireland, Britain, Spain and France. The Archaeologist‘s definition of a Celt is someone living in the Iron Age who used objects from the continental Hallstatt or La Tène cultures, emanating from the Alps, or is buried with rituals associated with these cultures.

The Le Tène Culture in 300BC in Lake Neuchâtel, the Celts, deliberately put ornaments into the Lake in offering to the Gods. This was done in relation to pleasing g the Gods and sometimes they would destroy the ornaments perhaps as a mark of respect for the dead or some sort I of disempowerment of weaponry i.e.: bent swords or implements and tools. It must be remembered that this was a stereotypical ‘animate’ culture which meant that everything had a ‘soul’ and that the soul of the tools or weapons passed to the next world with the owner.

The Gauls and the Celts were on the move on a regular basis i.e.: Germany, Spain, Switzerland (Alps), Asia, so these tribes did not write down their own history, the people around them did. One particular tribe the Keltoi, a name of Gaulish origin would be described as ‘barbarian’ and animal like by it‘s contemporaries who deemed the Romans and Greeks as civilised and respectful. Julius Caesar names them at the beginning of his ‘De Bello Gallico’ (Gallic War). He refers to the Gauls as those who are called Celts in their own language. So, it appears, and logically so, that ‘Celt’ was a name that the Celts called themselves. The Romans were greatly disturbed by the ornaments and battle noise of the Celts. Also terrifying was the appearance and rapid manoeuvring of the naked warriors in front, men at the prime of their strength and magnificence; “The Gauls are tall with moist white flesh; their hair is not only naturally blond, but they also make artificial efforts to lighten its colour, their hair thickens until it is just like a horse‘s mane and they wear amazing clothes: tunics dyed in every colour and pin striped cloaks. The whole race, which they call both Gallic and Gallatin, is war-like, both spirited and quick to war. De Bello Gallico continues; “they worship as their divinity, Mercury in particular, and have many images of him, and regard him as the inventor of all arts, they consider him, the guide of their journeys and marches, and believe him to have very great influence over the acquisition of gain and mercantile transactions. Next to him they worship Apollo, and Mars, and Jupiter, and Minerva; respecting these deities they have for the most part the same belief as other nations: that Apollo averts diseases, that Minerva imparts the invention of manufactures, that Jupiter possesses the sovereignty of the heavenly powers; that Mars presides over wars.

To him when they have determined to engage in battle, they commonly vow those things they shall take in war. When they have conquered, they sacrifice whatever captured animals may have survived the conflict, and collect the other things into one place. In many states you may see piles of these things heaped up in their consecrated spots; nor does it often happen that any one, disregarding the sanctity of the case, dares either to secrete in his house things captured, or take away those deposited; and the most severe punishment, with torture, has been established for such a deed.

All the Gauls assert that they are descended from the god Dis, and say that this tradition has been handed down by the Druids. For that reason they compute the divisions of every season, not by the number of days, but of nights; they keep birthdays and the beginnings of months and years in such an order that the day follows the night.

The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites; and on that account they who are troubled with unusually severe diseases and they who are engaged in battles and dangers, either sacrifice men as victims, or vow that they will sacrifice them, and employ the Druids as the performers of those sacrifices; because they think that unless the life of a man be offered for the life of a man, the mind of the immortal gods cannot be rendered propitious, and they have sacrifices of that kind ordained for national purposes.

One such historian and documenter of Celtic traditions was Julius Caesar who led the campaign against the Gauls in France. Caesar‘s writing of the Celtic religion and derives from Tacitus Germana (Chapter 43) wherein he describes two German Gods worshipped as brothers and youths – twins – as being like Castor and Polloux. These young Gods filtered through the Roman Culture. Mercury; the God plays a big part in Caesar‘s understanding of the religion of the Celts. Rome at this time worshipped stone Gods (statues) while the Celts thought that depicting these Gods in this way was not good.

The God Lugos is considered to be the God of Journeys. He was first identified in Lyon, France at a now well known Fort known as Lughduna where archaeologists found artefacts and relics associated with travelling. This is relevant because Caesar‘s description of Celtic law in relation to oaths and pledges was imperative to understanding how all contracts in Celtic law were accomplished. Interestingly, Mistletoe was a plant depicted on inscriptions and statuary associated with both the God Lugos and the Goddess Rose Mertha who is seen holding a cup, chalice which depicts Kingship or a higher force. There are a few different types of evidence that we can use to establish what Gods and Goddesses were believed in by the Celts.

Inscribed Dedications were a practise whereby people used inscriptions to write dedications to their Gods and Goddesses. This was a common practise particularly after the Romans had come and invaded the area in which such inscriptions can be found. This is interesting because it further complicates the issue in that we now also need to understand the influence of Roman Religion. However, it also gives some indication as to the influence of this, by then, advanced religion on the Celts. Along with the Romans came literacy thus empowering the written word and consequently these inscriptions began to appear. The Statuary was very much influenced by the Romans. The Celts started to produce Statues in a very classical style. The Classical Accounts were also a source of information and primarily of these classical accounts was the “Interpretatio Romanio‘ (Roman Interpretation) which was a Roman account and was therefore somewhat biased. However, it still remains a source of evidence worthy of consideration.

When we examine the Classical Accounts we discover that most of these are all based on one particular source, Roman classical writers were notorious for copying, and thus the reliability of source is considered questionable. Bad information was reported and re-reported over and over again. The final significant sources are archaeological Sites and names and place names. These would give us some hints; names of rivers, wells, shrines, towns and cities usually had suggestions of Celtic deities. Finally, it is also worth noting that, with very few exceptions, names of male Gods usually end in ‘OS‘ while Goddesses names end in ‘A‘. These are our primary sources of evidence.

Four Celtic Cycles.

Four Celtic Cycles.

The Irish evidence and international evidence as to how life must have been, not only for the Celts resident in Ireland, but also for international Celts living across Western Europe is mostly based on mythology. The international evidence can show us, for example, what kind of religion the Celtic speaking people of Europe believed in. The first thing we must do is define what exactly we mean by the word ‘Celts’, what exactly is a Celt? It is after all, a rather complex term worthy of close analysis.

We need to understand the Celtic societies all across Europe, not only in Ireland, but also in France, Spain and Germany. Looking at the Gods and Goddesses of the Celtic tradition we can ascertain many of the religious beliefs of the Celtic peoples. One of the areas most fruitful in our understanding of the Celts is archaeology where we can find physical examples such as Temples, ritual objects, and statues, and other types of artefacts and burial places, which can tell us a little bit about the religious beliefs of these people.

It must be said from the outset that there is not a lot of archaeological clues but the few we have available to us are worthy of close analysis. One needs to also look at history which includes pseudo history, tribal names and place names. This ‘pseudo history’ came about long after events took place and, with the passing of time, stories became somewhat romanticised or, depending on the agenda of the storyteller, would have a political or religious spin to it. Tribal names and place names can tell us a lot about certain different cults and figures. However, our primary source is Mythology.

There are four main cycles in time to be concerned with when trying to understand the Celts but when we talk about some of these cycles we have a problem in that the information available to us was, more than likely, prepared long after events actually took place. In many cases, evidence suggests, that such stories were relayed thousands of years later. In fact, some of the mythology available only came to us in the medieval period. But the fact is that the mythology survived in medieval manuscripts for the most part and modern scholars have broken it up to four different strands. Four different areas of mythology which are known as the Mythological cycle, the Ulster cycle, Fenian cycle and the Historical cycle.

Mythological Cycle.

The mythological cycle, which is mainly based on the contents of a book known as ‘The Book Of Invasion’ which was not really a history book but it discusses at great length the different tribes, one after another, which came to Ireland until eventually the final wave of invaders arrived to conquer the land, the Gael, who became the masters of the Ireland. One of the most important tribes to arrive prior to ‘The Gael’ was a tribe known as the ‘Tuatha De Danaan’ who were presented in ‘The Book Of Invasion’ as a group of magicians or magical figures whereas, in reality, they were a pantheon of Gods.

Ulster Cycle.

The ‘Ulster Cycle’ concerns a warrior and aristocratic society in the province of Ulster and is supposed by historians to have taken place around C.1 CE. It is primarily concerned with a mystical King known as Conchobhar MacNeasa (one who is desirous of warriors) and the various different peoples of his kingdom and rival kingdoms as well. There is a single story that is very important to this cycle and is known as the Brown Bull of Cooley. This tale is significant because it introduces a character known as Cu Chulainn who single handedly defends the province of Ulster against a great army. In any study of Irish Mythology one should be concerned not so much with the stories themselves but with the symbolism used in them. One should try to understand from where these symbols came and what is their true meaning or substance in history. For example, Cu Chulainn probably represents the warrior cult that came to Ireland from parts of Liverpool in the 1st century CE and the Kings may have represented a phase of kingship in Ulster in the centuries BCE. In short, if we break open the stories we can see clues to the realities of history within their meaning. We should never take the stories at face value. We could always examine them and try to find out that‘s underneath.

Fenian Cycle.

The next wave is known as the Fenian Cycle has a lot to tell us about certain cult figures. These stories are basically about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and the Fianna (Young Hunters). The story of the Salmon of Knowledge tells us of Fionn sticking his thumb into a salmon and tasting the juices thus gaining great knowledge. This can be interpreted as the salmon, having it‘s origin in the mystical world, and Fionn acquiring mystical knowledge by tasting the juices, and is therefor in some way super powerful. There are many stories in the Fenian Cycle of Fionn and the Fianna going to the mystical world and fighting supernatural warriors and it is from such stories that we can acquire a greater knowledge of how the Celts may have lived and what beliefs they may have had.

Historical Cycle.

The historical cycle is also known as the cycle of the King‘s because it mainly deals with kingship, how King‘s are viewed, what powers King‘s had in both mortal and spiritual worlds. There are lots of stories of Kings taking trips to other worlds or encountering visitors from other worlds who were to bestow the role of Kingship upon them. It‘s all essentially political propaganda but these stories can tell us a fair amount as well about the Druids and the Druidic rituals.

Pre-Christian Ireland.

Early Medieval Ireland.

Historians and Mythologists often disagree in relation to when the Celts first arrived in Ireland. Very little was documented prior to the C.600 BCE and this, according to historians, is taken as an indication that this may very well have marked the arrival of the Celts. It was somewhere about 600-500 BCE that the race perhaps most associated with the early Irish history first appeared on the scene.

The Celts, as they were known had been living in central and Western Europe, prospering as both farmers and fighters. From these locations they had begun to fan out across the continent and beyond, eventually ending up in Ireland. These Iron users were soon to become the dominant people on the island. They spoke a form of Gaelic and, although they had no written language, they developed a system of writing that we know as Ogham. This was made up of the series of straight and angled lines of varying lengths, which were carved onto large standing stones. Initially the Celts were pagan and celebrated the great festivals of Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain. By about 400CE, however, they had begun to accept Christianity. That said, many of the deeper pagan practices were slow to die out.
The history of human life in the island of Ireland begins in C.7500 BCE with the arrival of hunters, gathers and fishermen. It is thought by Historians that the first farmers did not come to Ireland until around C.4000BCE and Bronze appeared on or about C.2000BCE. The Celts may have arrived in Ireland at around C.600BCE and they brought with them Iron tools and weapons. Mythologists seem vague in relation to whether the Celts were here or not prior to C.600BCE. The races that occupied the land when the so called Milesians, named after Milerius of Spain whose sons invaded and conquered the country in 1000BCE, were chiefly the Firebolg and the Tuatha De Danaan both of which were not exterminated by the conquerors. Prior to the Iron Age, according to legend, three tribes of the Celtic family who had separated from the main stem and blended into Gaels came across Europe to end up on Irish soil. The Firbolg came first from Greece where they had been enslaved and they were followed by the Fomorians who landed on Tory Island but the Firbolg were defeated by the capable and somewhat cultured Tuatha De Danaan (people of the Goddess Dana).

However, what is relevant for now is that documented history began in C.300BCE and so when we discuss pre Christian religions of Ireland we are usually talking about an era known as the Iron Age which was the years from C.300 BCE to C.500 CE. In point of fact, the Iron Age actually may have started around C.600BCE but Historians have little or no idea of what was going on in Ireland at that time but they do suspect that Celtic speaking people were not present in the country priorto 300 BCE. It was indeed a very long period of time and very little remained static. Very little was documented in any way, shape or form prior to the arrival of the Celts.

In general, during the Mesolithic Period (8000BC – 4500 BCE) it is most likely that the native Irish were not agricultural but Hunter/Gatherer tribes. They probably did not have hugely complex societal structures but Historians can tell a little bit about their religious beliefs from shrines, monuments and graveyards. Archaeologists have found mass graves in which burned remains of humans were found clutching stone tools and this demonstrates that funeral pyres not only destroyed human remains but also any flammable attachments to the stones. It shows that objects were placed in the hands of the dead prior to cremation. It seems then that the dead were treated in an extraordinary way in that bodies were not abandoned but cremated and buried. Unlike modern cremation techniques, it was not a dust that remained but bones and these final remains were interred in shallow graves.

The Dying Celt.

The objects buried with the dead were expensive objects in that they took some time to make and were deemed to serve some purpose in the other world. This indicates some kind of sophisticated belief about the dead and the post-death journey and the afterlife. This is the earliest evidence that exists about religious beliefs in Ireland. This period happened around 4500 BCE to 2500 BCE and from this period there still exists different types of tombs in different parts of Ireland. For example a Court Tomb had a U-shaped area on the front of the tomb and is known as the horseshoe shaped tomb and was more than likely used, not only for burial of the deceased but also as a sacred space for the adoration of the Dead. It clearly shows that the Neolithic people were going to great effort to take care of their ancestors. There was also ‘portal tombs’ or ‘Dolmens’ and they varied in size and one of the best examples of this still stands in Ballyvaughan in Co. Clare.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Co. Clare, Ireland.

Again, this demonstrates that sophisticated tombs indicate a reverence for the dead and the journey in which they are embarking. The most prominent of the passage tombs in Ireland is Newgrange and uses over two hundred thousand tons of stone and soil and is a massive construction. It had taken over thirty years to build. If the average age of a person was fifty or so then this clearly indicates a very significant commitment.

Newgrange Passage Tomb.

These tombs are best known these days for how the sun beams its light down the otherwise pitch dark passages at certain times of the year and again this indicates religious symbolism of some kind. Adoration of a Sun or Sky God influencing celestial events and linking such events up with the realm of the dead involved a very sophisticated set of religious beliefs.

It can be argued that these ancient societies were every bit as complex as today‘s society. They came up with as interesting, complex ideas and designs as modern human beings can produce in modern-day life. If such societies were capable of such sophistication then it is also possible that they were capable of intricate and abstract ideas such as the existence of superior other world powers of some kind. Furthermore, such massive commitment from the workers of these civilisations was clearly encouraged by superior members, such as priests, Druids or Kings, or High Priests perhaps proffering eternal reward in the afterlife in exchange for dedication in the construction of these massive tombs. We also get powerful art like engravings on the tombs and these were possibly in some way related to their mythology. Some beautiful objects were found inside of these tombs. This, again, may indicate an acknowledgement of some sort of purpose for such beauty in the afterlife and indeed the existence of the afterlife being somehow beautiful.

Stone Circles At Grange Co. Limerick.

With the Bronze Age came stone circles, a tradition which continued into the Iron Age and nobody really knows the true purpose of Stone Circles, as in Grange, Co. Limerick, where the biggest stone circle has been located, and any conclusion is no more than guesswork. Archaeologists suggest they are probably some form of religious expression but there is no real evidence to prove or disprove this theory. It is possible that these stone circles were some kind of burial ground and there are examples of human remains buried in pots or urns within these circles. These pots suggest, from remains, that gifts of food and tools or weapons were interred with the dead, just as in Ancient Egypt, so perhaps there is a basis to believe that religion had a role to play in this society.

In short then, relics and tombs from both the Mesolithic and subsequent Neolithic ages clearly show an acknowledgement of the existence of some kind of mystic belief in relation to the afterlife. Death did not seem to indicate the end of life but a step into the next life or realm. Just as politics and religion interweave in the Modern world, evidence suggests that this was also the case in those times. The existence of a societal stratum of some kind whereby workers made enormous lifelong efforts at the behest of their overseers for eternal reward may demonstrate religious belief.

In order to better understand the Celts we should try to understand their religious beliefs and the main religious festivals‘ were:

1. Spring – 1st Feb – St. Bridget‘s Day – Imbolc.

2. Summer – May 1st – Bonfire Day – Bealtaine.

3. Autumn – August 1st – Lughnasadh.

4. Winter – November 1st – Halloween – Samhain.

The calendar the Celts followed was mainly an agricultural calendar‘ with festival days to mark the start of each season. In Winter, the grass stops growing and the harvest is in, Lughnasa is when the crops are ready to toil, Imbolc was when the ploughing and planting began and Bealtaine was mostly about Animals and care for them. It can be therefor concluded that as a well as religious, spiritual and mythological elements to the calendar there was also some very practical components to it. It clearly indicates how the Celts considered farming a very significant part of their lives.

Culture Of Celts.

The Culture Of The Celts

There are very few clues as to the lifestyle and culture of the people who inhabited Ireland at the end of the Stone Age. Far away in central Europe at the north of the Alps, at around 1000 BCE there lived a warlike people, named by their enemies as Keltoi tribes, a name they also adopted for themselves. Linguistics research relates this word to “warriors”. These peoples, according to evidence found, were uniquely horse riders which had given them an advantage in warfare and travel.

They journeyed across Europe and fortified and conquered large areas which they made their own. One of these areas was Hallstatt in Austria where large-scale salt mining took place which made the location a most important trading area. Those who lived and worked in Hallstatt were an enormously prosperous people who made great ceremony of displaying wealth and opulence in their attire, jewellery, tools, customs and burial ceremonies. The power base of these warlords extended along the valley of the upper Danube progressively, over a century, moving east to west to create an area known as the country of the Keltoi. The development of trade routes meant further prosperity for these tribes of metalworking, cattle, slave and gold trading entrepreneurs.

Lust for land was the primary motive of the aggressive Celts clearly satisfied to eliminate all in their path to accumulate land, wealth and power. However, around the ninth century BCE, with the arrival of iron and its use in weapon manufacturing, came the true source of power for Celtic expansion. Large iron working centres were established, around the 6th century BCE to manufacture weapons, tools and jewellery all adorned with gold and silver. These aesthetic but functional items were uniquely Celtic in design, shape and appearance. This is known as the ‘La Tene’ period when the Celts were renowned for power, wealth, brutality and desire for artistic beauty in clothing, jewellery, armoury and transport.

It was perhaps inevitable that Celtic tribes conquering Europe were not only at war with their common enemies but also at war with each other. The great migrations from the 6th century BCE meant that many of these tribes crossed paths and went to war to secure territory. A rapid increase in populations meant that ambitious younger male tribal warriors had desires to form their own tribes and acquire their own lands. This, in fact, means that as these tribes slowly but surely crossed Europe they also segmented as parts of the tribe move forward while others stayed behind. Some tribes headed north to now modern day Paris while others went east re-crossing the Rhine. Burial customs along these routes suggest the interconnection between these tribes. The northern tribes sought new territories and moved westward and as they spread their settlements they would have encountered indigenous peoples who had been descendants of the original Celtic tribes of some six centuries earlier.

The Romans tended to call the Celts by the name “Gauls” which was a corruption or slang form of “gal” meaning one of ability or valour. Those tribes that remained in France were known as Gauls. Meanwhile the new tribe known as ‘Belgae’ or ‘furious ones ‘ emerged from central Germany and quickly gained a reputation of being barbaric, brutal and bloodthirsty land grabbers. All across Europe new tribes were increasing in strength and influence at such a pace that the Romans saw them as a single Celtic culture even though many of these tribes where independent of each other were independent of each other. The Celtic influence soon spread in all directions but mostly West and South Europe as the tribes established themselves in strong hill forts scattered in thousands of locations across mainland Europe. These populations grew so rapidly that a 5th century BCE population explosion meant tribes were rapidly advancing toward European coastlines.

The first written reports of the geography of Europe concerns a voyage around part of the Atlantic Coast sometime around the year 530 B.C.E. which was later reported upon in Greek and this text gives a few insights into prehistory. It’s accuracy in relation to the size of Europe and the islands beyond is far from correct. In relation to Britain and Ireland the text is extremely vague and difficult to decipher boss, interestingly, some historians argue that there are references within the text to the Cliffs of Dover. Ireland, which they referred to as ‘Hierni’; a word derived from an old Celtic language meaning land or soil. The Greeks called the island ‘Hivera’ meaning “sacred isle”; an island rich in green pastures amid the  waves. Britain was heavily populated with tribes who had arrived earlier from northern France in the fourth century B.C.E. and these migrants became known in time as Brigantes or ‘high ones’ naming themselves after the Celtic mother goddess Briganti. These tribes brought with them iron weapons and tools similar to those later found across the sea in Ireland. Archaeological evidence suggests that warriors used such weapons in the fifth century B.C.E. but it is most likely that these weapons came from displaced peoples from Britain who were pushed forward by the arriving Celts. The full impact of Celtic culture was not felt in Ireland for another century or so.

The social structure of Celtic society was tribal which most Celts considering themselves to be descended from the same divine ancestor which was their common bond and right to be members of their tribe. The social structures varied from tribe to tribe boss each tribe had three distinct classes; the nobility, commoners and slaves or bondmen who were captives taken in war. Economic pursuits were mostly agricultural but also there appears to have been a significant amount of trading between tribes who met at places of public assembly used for seasonal religious ceremony and bartering. To the Greeks the Celts were a bewildering race who were unprejudiced and vegetarians. The Greeks wrote that the Celts were ‘fat conscious’ people who punished and a young man with a big belly. However, such tall tales were perhaps the propaganda of enemy tribes. Aristotle praised the Celts for their courage but added that they were rash to the point of madness. Aristotle also questioned the sexual mores of the Celts, claiming that they openly approve of physical connection with their fellow males. Celts were often portrayed as uncivilized, Plato saw then as drunkards and Ephorus castigated them for going to war with the sea to prove that they are unafraid of any enemy. However, the ferocity of the Celts in battle can not be doubted and this late to great demand for their warriors.

From most accounts it seems that the Celts were tall in stature with moist white skin. They had golden hair and cultivated beards and used gold for personal ornamentation. They wore tunics dyed in various colours, striped cloaks, trousers and straps, buckles, belts and chains. The dining habits of the Celts are also well documented and it seems feasting was a common occurrence. While some accounts claim that the Celts were vegetarians other accounts are emphatic that they were ardent meat eaters. They were also very heavy drinkers and aggressive drunks who went into duals to the death rather than prolonged verbal argument. They considered it a glory to die and a disgrace to survive without victory. In the event of a battle they would lay down their weapons and retire if their leader was defeated. They were generous by disposition and every man’s house was open to all comers and food would be shared as if the stranger were a member of the family. The writer Strabo thought them naïve but subservient and loyal to their leaders. Pytheas, a mariner and explorer,  thought them as exotic and from a sacred place where the sun sleeps. The ancient Greeks, from Homer spoke of them coming from Elysian, a heavenly place, and the Greeks themselves were influenced by this thinking and from this came the characterisation of Ireland as a sacred island. Reports such as this lead to the imaginations of classical writers who depicted a ‘strange island’ inhabited by strange people in the Celtic mist. The Celts were primarily sun worshipers but they also talk of rivers as being a principal fertilizing aspect of life and were worshiped by naming them after their goddesses. There was also widespread tendency to associate wells and springs with goddesses, paired with male deities and the importance of this appears to be the coupling of the male sky with female or so as to ensure fruitfulness. Each deity had a specific function such as the production of rain, sun, crops, fertility and the guaranteeing of social and commercial contracts. The sound was the ultimate father and ear was the ultimate mother and this doctrine was protected by the wise men of the Celts. These wise men were the singers and poets known Bards, Vates who acted as communicators with the Gods to determine sacrifice and Druids who were experts in the science of nature. The most prestigious of these were the Druids. They were divinely inherited ‘mediators’ with the spirit world and held in supreme esteem. A King functioned as a substitute for a deity and was the ‘husband’ of the earth goddess but the elevated position of King was very much controlled and dictated by the Druids. If the King was doing his job properly then the tribe would be happy and the reverse could result in the removal of the King by the Druid. It is clear from this that the Celts were a very superstitious people vulnerable to the mercy of the Druids which placed them at the centre of the social order an in control of the space between the King and the Gods. The Druids had, according to some accounts, magical powers and could cast spells over warrior tribes that prevented warfare. However, such power is invested in the Druids by the commoners terrified of offending or provoking the Gods by ignoring the Druids. One has no way of tracing how these Druids became so powerful within their tribes or what is the chronology of the Celtic religion, myths and practises. The Druids assembled at locations such as forest clearings known as Nemeton (sky-place) where the trees climbed upwards and connected the sky to the earth. It is also interesting that the Druids thought (according to Caesar) that all people are descended from one divine ancestor and for this reason they count periods of time not by number of days but by the number of nights. The night is followed by the day and not the other way around. This implies a connection between the darkness of night and the ancestral lord. It also implies that time is absent with the sun as it sunk to abide with the dead. The Celts, according to some Greek writers, spent their nights near the tombs of their dead where they awaited inspiration which emanated from darkness and thus reconciled the living with the dead. There were separate deities for daylight and night-time hours and the latter seemed to have dark powers while the former had powers of fertility and life giving influences. The Druids taught that life is eternal, even after death, and thus disposed of the earthly possessions of their dead. They even allowed tribesmen to defer debt or completion of business until their arrival in the next world. The afterlife was not perceived as sad and dreary but happy and a new and valuable place of existence. Such beliefs may account for the valour of the Celts who have a disregard for life and will fight to the death just to make passage to the next world. According to Diodorus Siculus , the Celts were wont to resort to fighting on the least provocation, regard their lives as nothing.

Primary Source

The Celts – A Chronological History

Dáithí Ó Hógáin.

Celtic Spiritual Beliefs.

 

The following account of ‘Continental Celtic’ people and their spiritual beliefs and practices will offer substantiation from historical classical writers to the assertion that they were a ‘spiritual people’ in reverence of nature. It will consider the evidence of Linguists and archaeologists in the on-going examination as to the true spiritual identity of these ancient societies whose deities were venerated as supernatural powers of natural forces.

The Celts were primarily a ‘sun-worshiping’ group of people inhabiting much of Europe and Asia Minor in pre-Roman times. ‘Their culture developed in the late Bronze Age around the upper Danube, and reached its height in the La Tene culture (5th to 1st Centuries BC) before being overrun by the Romans and various Germanic peoples.’ A Celt is a native of any of the nations or regions in which Celtic languages were spoken. ‘The name Celt comes from the Latin Celtae and from the Greek Keltoi, in later use from French Celte ‘Breton’, taken as representing the ancient Gauls.

There are no first hand Celtic accounts of an individual’s religious belief, ‘Unfortunately no Celt left an account of his own religion, and we are left to our own interpretations, more or less valid, of the existing materials, and to the light shed on them by the comparative study of religions. (MacCullogh, 1911:1) To determine the spiritual or religious belief structures of the Celts it is important to explore their mythological and historical traditions.

The historical primary source for Celtic culture is its mythology, with its background in religion which is influenced by Gaulish beliefs, itself influenced by Romanesque ideals. By examining the mythological, hagiographical and poetic material found in sources such as medieval manuscripts, shrines and artefacts we can understand the spirituality of the Celts.

Modern European society has been formed by its early European roots which were influenced by the Roman Empire’s affect on the continental Celts. Contemporary festivals such as Halloween, formerly Samhain, and St. Bridget’s Day, St. Stephens Day and even St. Patrick’s Day are part of the Celtic religion. By examining specific international evidence we can better understand how life must have been for the Continental Celts living across Western Europe.

For our purpose we consider the modes of religious thought customary in the nations which, in course of time, were mainly characterised by their Celtic speech. To the body of knowledge relating to Celtic spirituality many contributions has been made.

The archaeological, historical and linguistic evidence can show us the religious beliefs and practices of the Continental Celts. Some of the earliest evidence of Celtic religious belief are found in Julius Caesar’s Interpretatio Romano; ‘The nation of all the Gauls is extremely devoted to superstitious rites. This implies a belief in mystical existence.

Caesar added that they were extremely superstitious, “submitting to their Druids in all public and private affairs, and regarding it as the worst of punishments to be excommunicated and forbidden to approach the ceremonies of religion.” The geographer Strabo noted that the Celts believed in, ‘the indestructibility, which implies in some sense the divinity, of the material universe. (Rolleston, 1911:40)

Polybius makes adequate reference to Celtic warrior spirituality when he claimed they “stripped naked for the fight” (Rolleston, 1911:41) which implied they acknowledged the eventuality of death and were prepared to exit from this world in the same manner that they entered. Diodorus Siculus, a contemporary of Caesar endorses the thoughts of Strabo when he confirms that ‘untouched gold’ was used in temples and sacred places. (Rolleston, 1911:42)

Through these contemporary witnesses to Celtic culture it is evident that the Celts were a spiritual people. We can interpret from the number of Gods worshipped by the ancient tribes that they were polytheists. Furthermore, the practise of ‘Inscribed dedications’ was a custom whereby people used inscriptions to pledge allegiances to their Gods and Goddesses.

This was a common practice particularly after the Romans had come and invaded the area in which such inscriptions can be found. This is interesting because it further complicates the issue in that we now also need to understand the influence of Roman Religion, which, in turn gives some indication as to the influence of Roman religion on the Celts. With the Romans came literacy which empowered the written word and as a result these inscriptions began to appear. Sacred spots in the landscape included rivers and springs, which seemed to have great importance in the Celtic religion.

Sacred lakes and rivers were often associated with Goddesses; many of the rivers of Europe are given grammatically female names. For example, Coventina, Goddess of wells and springs, a water-nymph reclining on a leaf, her shrine contained a well or basin that contained donated coins, Sequina at the source of the River Seine near the Swiss Alps and flowing through Paris and into the English Channel, Boann the goddess of the River Boyne are just some examples of this ritual. (Chadwick, 1971:31) Historical accounts of the Druids as a spiritual and sophisticated class are prominently associated with Western Europe.

While archaeological evidence has been revealed relating to the religious beliefs of the Druids, “not one single artefact or image has been unearthed that can undoubtedly be connected with the ancient Druids.” (Hutton, 2009:73) It is widely believed that the Druids had specific sites for religious practise and worship and they named these locations ‘Nemeton’ (sacred place amongst the Oaks) which is related to the Gaelic words for ‘holy and ‘place’.

Some of our information comes from such sources as Pliny the Elder who writes about Druids and their worship of mistletoe and Oaks, besides discerning that the name ‘Druid’ is a derivative from “oak”, it was Pliny the Elder, in his “Naturalis Historia” (XVI, 95), who associates the Druids with mistletoe and oak groves: “The Druids…hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows provided it is an oak. They choose the oak to form groves, and they do not perform any religious rites without its foliage…” We find further reference to this in, “Ut dedisse Persis videri possit.” This might possibly mean, “That Persia might almost seem to have communicated it direct to Britain.”

Ajasson enumerates the following superstitions of ancient Britain, as bearing probable marks of an Oriental origin: the worship of the stars, lakes, forests, and rivers; the ceremonials used in cutting the plants Samiolus, Selago, and mistletoe, and the virtues attributed to the adder’s egg.” We therefore conclude that the sacredness of Oaks, from which roots blossoms and nourishes the mistletoe as an example of gifts from the gods and worshipped as such.

We also find great importance was given to bog lands and lakes which implied that natural water was extremely important to them. They often placed objects of religious significance into the water perhaps by way of returning a gift for the gifts given by water. (Other sacred elements were the Sky, the Sun – the wheel in the sky – and Lighting and Thunder). ‘Danu’ was an important God of water and the fertility it brings about. It is clear then that moisture and fertility went hand in hand and the Gods, such as Danu (The Danube), one of the more important Celtic Goddess’ was ‘Sequena’ (fast flowing one) and she was a Goddess of healing and water and often depicted standing in a boat.

The depth and dedication of the spirituality of the Continental Celts is evident by shrines and monuments constructed in devotion to the gods. It is significant that the Bronze Age worshipper’s concept of stone circles was one of the few traditions which continued into the Iron Age and it is not yet known the true purpose of Stone Circles. These stone circles have been found all over Western Europe; ‘Archaeologists suggest they could be some form of religious expression but there is no real evidence to prove or disprove this theory.

Gaulish and Brythonic Celts conducted numerous rituals in adoration of the sun or sky gods, tombs were built to face the sun and allow its light, at specific times, to enter, conceivably to remove the souls of the interred and take them to the next realm of existence. Such rituals can be traced back to Roman influences. Across Western Europe the Celts referred to sun Gods based on the Roman ‘Sol’, In Brittany he manifests himself as ‘Sul’. Nanto Suelta (Nantosuelta) in Gaulish religions she is a Goddess of Nature, the earth and fire. Her name means the ‘sun worn valley’. ‘The Reel dance has its roots in circular dancing sun ways to bless the sun. Poseidonius the Stoic, referring to the Celts, said, “At their feasts the servant carries around the wine from right to left. Thus they worship their gods turning to the right” The calendar was clearly influenced by Romans in that; although it was written in Gaulish it used the Roman alphabet. Romans had kept calendars and the Coligny Calendar is based on a Roman prototype, the ‘Lunisolar’ calendar was based on both the Moon and the Sun.

The months would go by the movements of the Moon but every two and half years they would put in an extra month and this would keep it on track. It seems, according to the calendar, that the first month was called ‘Samonios’ (Summer End) and if we are to interpret this correctly then we may conclude that the Solar year began in Halloween (October 31st to November 1st) which ties in well with Caesar’s idea that when the Celts celebrated time they celebrated the ‘dark’ before the ‘light’ (night before day – a festival began at sundown of a given day and end at sundown of the following day).

It follows then that if the day began with the dark half it is fair to conclude that the year began with the dark half beginning at Halloween. These influences on Celtic culture are the consequence of Roman inspiration. This evidence shows that the Continental Celts of Western Europe had religious minds drawn to contemplation of earth and its varied life. The Celts looked for ‘other worlds’ either beneath the earth or beyond the horizon, where the sun goes.

They were clearly devoted to religious ideas and further believed in the mortality of the soul. Archaeologists have demonstrated that objects buried with the dead imply that death was not the end of man. The inner soul may have been perceived as a living entity that survived physical death, burial or burning. ‘Sometimes this inner self was associated with the breath, whence, the Latin ‘anima’ meaning the soul, from the route an-, to breathe.’

Myth, legend and folklore proves to us that the ‘soul’ or spirit could take various forms and there is abundant testimony within these stories that beyond this world there is another, it’s entranceways to be found in water, forests, in the sky and the abodes of faeries and mystical creatures. Heaven, for them is a place of youth and beauty, of great treasures and called after the Roman mythological Elysium or Elysian Fields, the final resting place of the souls of the heroic and the virtuous, still honoured in France, a place of Celtic roots, with Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Avenue of the Elysian Fields, in Paris. The preoccupation of the Celtic mind with deities of scenery, water expanses, forests, mountains and skies demonstrates the impress of nature on ‘mother-earth’ and her offspring more than that of the heavens. While modern religious thought places tremendous value on the benefits of the next world and how we must live to achieve this; for the Continental Celts, the evidence demonstrates the belief that the beauties of the next world can not be appreciated if the splendours of this world are not venerated.

Two Saint Patricks.

Will The Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up?

On analysis of the available evidence, surviving documentation and archaeological inscriptions, it can be seen that Ireland had two contemporaneous evangelists advocating Catholic philosophy but both coming from entirely different standpoints. Both missions were conducted in an apparently Christian conscious Ireland by the early 5th century CE. It is also clear that these missionaries proclaiming equal faith, first Palladius (as advocate of Pope Celestine), then Patrick (as advocate of God), had some impact on their own co-existing communities. With the rise of Catholic historical documentation, monastic propaganda reduced the efforts of Palladius’ ‘failed’ mission and, for no reason other than expediency, merged all credit for Christian conversion exclusively to Patrick, whose ‘successful’ mission was better serving the purposes of the advocations of Catholicism.

By the 5th century CE Pelagianism (and paganism) were proliferating in Western Europe and Ireland to such effect that Roman Catholicism, led by Pope Celestine I (Celestine the Deacon) (422-432 CE), himself a Roman and zealous for orthodoxy, sent Palladius as a Bishop to Ireland in 431. The chronicle of the contemporary St. Prosper of Aquitaine presents two important entries relating to Palladius. Under the date of 429 it has, “Agricola, a Pelagian, son of Severianus, a Pelagian bishop, corrupted the churches of Britain by the insinuation of his doctrine; but at the insistence of the Deacon Palladius (ad actionem Palladii Diaconi), Celestine sends Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre as his representative to root out heresy and direct the Britons to the Catholic Faith”. Again under the date of 431, in the consulship of Bassus and Antiocus: “Palladius was consecrated by Pope Celestine and sent to the Scots believing in Christ, as their first bishop” (Ad Scotum in Christum credentes ordinatur a Papa Celestino Palladius et primus episcopus mittitur).

It is clear then that by ordaining a bishop for the Irish (Scotis), whilst he laboured to keep the Roman Island (Britain) Catholic, he made also the barbarous Island (Ireland) Christian. The words of the second entry to the chronicle, “to the Scots believing in Christ” can only have the meaning that when the chronicle was being written in 447, the Irish had become a Christian people. Another relevant source to the authenticity of Palladius’ papal authority is The Seventh Century Life Of St. Patrick by Muircu Maccumachthenus in the “Book of Armagh” which expressly styles Palladius “Archidiaconus Papæ Coelestini urbis Romæ Episcopi”, repeated in several of the other lives of St. Patrick.

The conversion of Ireland was very significant to Celestine because, according to the writings of St Jerome (c.347-420), an Illyrian Christian priest and apologist , we suspect that Pelagius himself was of Goidelic-Celtic origin, q-Celt, (perhaps Irish), “He tells us that he was descended from the Scots (Irish) de vicinia Britannorum, and that he was “reared on Scotch porridge.” This simple fact feasibly meant that if Celestine could conquer the homeland of Pelagius, ‘the seat of his realm’, this may discredit his philosophy. Palladius soon abandoned the mission and was quickly replaced by an ostensibly self-appointed evangelist calling himself Bishop Patricius. In his ‘Confessio’ he elaborates in some detail as to the success of his mission (he attributes this success to God) when he writes, “’it is not you who speaks but the Spirit of your Father speaking in you.’ (Confessio Vs 20) This proved an ideal declaration of divine faith and his successful work was endorsed by his Roman contemporaries. The efforts of his predecessor, whose contribution to Irish Christianity was minimal, were inexplicably obliterated.

Christian inscriptions in Irish began about the middle of the 5th Century CE and are primarily located in the south-eastern side of the country. They show that Christian teaching must have been accepted among the native Irish, of this region, prior to the arrival of both missionaries. ‘The chiefs of the pre-Patrician saints include St. Ailbe in Co. Tipperary, St. Ibar of Wexford, St. Declan of Waterford, …..the controversy between Cashel, as the premier home of the Christian church and Armagh as the latter implies that it is possible two evangelists were at work in the country. Palladius to the South and Patrick to the North, “it is exactly the sort of controversy that was inevitable if these Southern Churches looked back to an independent origin and an earlier date than that of the apostle of Ireland, whose later glory had obscured their own”.

With St. Patrick came flourishing literacy and the subsequent documentation of reality, by his cohorts, was inexorably biased in favor of the message advocated their apostle. The primary strategy of Patrick was to introduce an episcopal church which indicates that he had some papal influences. In the ‘Catalogue Of The Order Of The Saints’ for the period 432-543 it is clearly stated that there were founders of churches who worshipped Christ and followed one leader, Patrick, and this clearly implies that in his lifetime he was undoubtedly held in high reverence by his contemporaries and immediate generations to follow. This loyalty manifested itself in propaganda that all but eliminated the presence and influence of Palladius. Interestingly, these passages also indicate that the Roman Church tradition was firmly in place, “one tonsure, one celebration of mass, one Easter” It is fair to conclude from this that Patrick’s mission had deep long lasting impact and was far more significant than that of Palladius.

While academics often give credit to both these men for the introduction of Christianity the more common view is that Patrick was indeed the true Apostle of Christ regardless of papal appointment or not. There is still good reason to debate the timeline of Palladius and Patrick, with ‘possibility’ being a significant part of the deliberations. By considering the surviving documentation, The Chronicles Of Prosper Of Aquitaine, The Annals Of The Irish Churches and Patrick’s own writings, it can be seen that the papal commission of Palladius coincided with the mission of Patrick though only the latter reaps commendation.

To track the short timeline of Palladius’ mission we turn to the ‘Chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine’, “Ad Scottos in Christum credentes ordinatus a papa Caelestina Palladius primus episcopus mittitur”, Palladius was sent to Ireland by Pope Celestine as the first bishop to the Irish who believe in Christ in 431 AD. In 434 Prosper again wrote regarding Palladius, that Pope Celestine ‘having ordained a bishop for the Irish, while he labours to keep the Roman island [Britain] Catholic, has also made the barbarian island [Ireland] Christian’ in his Contra Collatorem. These two passages place Palladius in Ireland evangelising to the Irish from 431 onwards. In Ireland, church Annals record Palladius’ arrival. The Annals of Ulster show Palladius, having been approved by Pope Celestine, is sent to Ireland in the consulship of Aetius and Valerius in 431 while the Annals of the Four Masters say that Palladius landed in the county of Leinster in 430. With these pieces of evidence added to the writings of Prosper it verifies that Palladius was in Ireland fulfilling his papal commission in the early 430’s.

In order to establish Saint Patrick’s time in Ireland, the surviving sources are principally recorded internally by the Irish church Annals. The Annals of the Four Masters also go on to record that Patrick arrived in 432 and proceeded to baptize and bless the Irish. The Annals of Ulster confirm that Patrick reached Ireland in 432 the ninth year of the reign of Theodosius Mino. These church writings firmly place Patrick arriving in Ireland and converting the people at the same time as Palladius.

To corroborate this we can garner some facts from Patrick’s own writings in his Letter to Coroticus demanding the release of enslaved, by Tyrannus, Irish Christians and his later life biographical Confessio both of which survive in the Book Of Armagh.

According to RPC Hanson, there are two men who could have gone by the name Tyrannus, the son of a man called Cuned from North Wales who had a child possibly named Coroticus or the King of Dumbarton on the coast of Scotland. Either of these still place Patrick in Ireland writing this communication in the first half of the fifth century. In his Epistola, Patrick mentioned “…with many thousand solidi, to redeem baptized captives…” This solidi was a gold coin reintroduced by Constantine the Great in 312 and remained in circulation throughout the supremacy of the Roman Empire. The fact is that the coins were last minted in 411 so circulation had diminished. The further into the fifth century, the less likely it is that Patrick would refer to the coin in his letter. Passages of Saint Patrick Confessio have an eschatological tone and it is obvious from this that his mission was based around the fall of Rome which occurred in 410. R.P.C. Hanson states that this tone places Patrick in Ireland in the early half of the fifth century. The information gathered from the surviving evidence of the Confession of Saint Patrick and his Letter to Coroticus points to him writing these letters from Ireland in the first half of the fifth century. The same time that Palladius was converting the Irish to Christianity.

Palladius mission in Ireland is clearly recorded internally by the Annals of the Irish churches and externally by the chronicles of Prosper of Aquitaine. These sources place Palladius converting the Irish to Christianity from 431 onwards. There is reliance on deductive reasoning in determining a timeframe for Patrick’s mission based on his own writings. The answers gathered from those deductions point to the first half of the fifth century and corroborate Patrick’s mission with the recorded dates of the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Ulster. By not getting immersed in the theories of Patrician scholars and remaining within the confinement of surviving evidence, it is provable that the mission of Palladius to convert the Irish to Christianity must have been at the same period of time as that of Saint Patrick.

With Thanks To:

Dr. Liam Irwin.

Golden Age Of Irish Art.

Golden Age Of Irish Art.

This paper is a short exploration of ‘The golden age of Irish art’ (c.650 – 950 CE) with consideration to the art style of the period, its various elements and its origins in antiquity. “The early eight century saw the perfection of Irish art.” The Romans had left Ireland two centuries past but had left behind a highly creative ‘La Tene’ pastiche relying heavily on Greek models that would never entirely vanish from insular Irish art.

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, early medieval Ireland, like other regions of north-west Europe, saw a dramatic development of independent kingdoms; “The ideology which underpinned these kingdoms was constructed from a mixture of native traditions and systems of knowledge from the Mediterranean world acquired through Christianity.”

The ‘golden age’ was a time when Religious Monasteries were flourishing across Ireland. These monastic settlements, combined with Romanesque techniques, influenced the aesthetic beauty of artistic architecture and design defining their impact as an imperative part of cultural life. This influence is immediately obvious even in self-adornment, “The pennacular brooch – a form adopted earlier from the Romans – became the high status garment par excellence.”

Art was very much existent in the minds and hearts of these primeval people and it manifested itself in illuminated manuscripts, metalwork and stone sculpture. Ireland was saturated in examples of the artistic achievements of this culture. Buildings and high crosses, precious jewellery, ornaments and adornments, manuscripts with intricate and sophisticated detail using materials and tools which were, by modern standards, primitive yet, in the hands of nascent man fashioned such complex work that it remains a perplexity as to how such exceptional creation was achieved.

Fine metalwork, manuscript painting and sculpture by the mid-8th Century had come to a level of excellence demonstrable with the appearance of certain pieces such as the Tara Brooch which reveals that Irish artists were inspired and imaginatively fertile; “The form of this brooch is in fact one of the finest representatives of shapes composed with a complete coherence – an ‘endless knot’ – of geometrical ratio.”

The artisan feat of elaborate decorations of circular arcs, straight lines and geometric patterns remains to defy explanation or definition but implies a long term development in craftsmanship dating back into antiquity. It further infers that this complex form of design was prevalent across Irish artistry; “That form shares the principles of design which were employed regularly in the creation of early high crosses of Ireland, and the magnificent illuminations in early insular gospels manuscripts.”

A further example of this artistic expertise can be seen in the design complexities of both the Derrynaflan Paten; “The Paten is an extremely complex structure consisting of many separately manufactured components” and The Ardagh Chalices. These are examples of a range of elaborate techniques of ornamentation based on imported inspiration yet customised to a developing Irish distinctiveness; “The elaboration of the filigree, the stamped ornaments of the side of the paten, the glass settings, and the knitted mesh of its rim and the organisation of the ornament place the paten clearly within the same aesthetic as the Ardagh Chalice.” The Derrynaflan and Ardagh silver chalices are strikingly similar.

Both are complicated in their design and construction and, “What is obvious about these chalices is the essentially Irish character of their manufacture and design.” These chalices are evidence of the fading Romanesque influence to make way for a unique developing Irishness in artistic pursuits; “The native metal working traditions enjoyed a new vogue, but in a modified form.” The commissioning of extravagant sacred objects such as the chalices from Derrynaflan and Ardagh demonstrates not only a desire for artistic splendour but an unparalleled ability to achieve it.

Some of the best examples of early Christian fine art were the Irish illuminated manuscripts dating from the mid 6th Century CE. These beautifully illustrated books were produced by scribes and artist monks in the scriptoriums of abbeys and monasteries all over Ireland. The monks made little money and no acknowledgement from their work but the Church had no hesitation in heaping money on the works of art themselves; “materials in regular use were gold dust, foil or leaf, silver and other precious metals and expensive natural colour pigments.” The accomplishment of Manuscript painting as an art form remains enigmatic.

The Book of Kells (Leabhar Cheanannais) brings together the traditions of animal ornamentation, interlacing and scrollwork combined with both decorative text and narrative scenes. It was created by Celtic monks and is a masterwork of calligraphy and epitomises the pinnacle of insular illumination. “The manuscript itself contains a clue indicating that those who produced it held Saint Columba in the highest veneration.” The curious feature about the Book Of Kells is that it is written with a unique ‘Irish’ hand defined as ‘half uncial, derived from Roman cursive, an advanced and uniquely developed form; ‘the Irish Hand attained a perfection and beauty which still dazzles the eye.’ The full, rotund form of the half-uncial was typically used in the transcription of Latin tracts notably, in the earliest known Irish manuscript, the Cathach, and, magisterially, in the Book of Kells. From this we can see why the ‘Golden Age of Irish Art’ was a carefully nurtured era of artistic perfection and excellence.

This concept is further enforced by The Book of Armagh, a near complete copy of the New Testament, with its sophisticated and elegant pen and ink illustrations; The text is written in two columns in a fine pointed insular minuscule’ and though it lacks the artistic enthusiasm of the Book of Kells it remains an exquisite masterpiece of Irish medieval art. “(It) shows the other side of artistic activity from the exuberance of Kells.”

Throughout the 8th Century the most affluent and honourable members of society adorned themselves with precious metals befitting their status. The Ballinderry Brooch (c.600 CE) and The Tara Brooch (c.700 CE) were both ambitious pieces of their time and worthy specimens of the magnificence of the art form of early medieval jewellery making. Clearly the advancing design complexities combined with fading Romanesque influences replaced with Anglo Saxon inspiration had occurred over the century between the two pieces. The development of craftsmanship is clearly visible.

The Ballinderry Brooch was an efficient and primarily functional pennacular piece which had an incomplete circular clasp at the top and was used as a clothes fastener. Its highly ornate design implies its use by the elite of medieval society. The Ballinderry Brooch clearly marks the beginning of a process that would culminate, over a Century, with the creation of The Tara Brooch.

The progressive artistic golden age was fuelled by new tastes and desires, “New types of objects had come into fashion; pennacular brooches decorated with spiral scrolls and enamels; hand-pins, sometimes enamelled or decorated with millefiori.” The Tara Brooch, found near the River Boyne in County Meath is consistent with the progressing Irish design; “Like many early high crosses and Gospel illuminated pages, the ‘Tara’ Brooch has a form consisting of circular arcs and straight lines.” Both these pieces yet again show Ireland’s artistic individuality emerging and developing to an advanced and idiosyncratically Irish stage.

Celtic High Crosses are a form of functional free standing sculpture which were mostly constructed on sites of religious significance. These crosses fall into two different groups, firstly there are crosses decorated with circular patterns and the second group being those decorated with Biblical scenes. It is still uncertain as to whether these crosses were painted but it is most likely that they were. With the addition of colour many of the designs on the crosses would have greater clarity.

The ‘High (Celtic) Crosses’ demonstrate a high point in Irish sculpture and the oldest, estimated 9th Century, are located at Ahenny in Co. Tipperary. The North and South crosses are carved with intricate geometrical Celtic designs and also Biblical scenes on the base. Scholar of early Irish art Franoise Henry, inspired at Ahenny, introduced her publication on Irish High Crosses with a chapter on ‘General Features’, where she offered an unchallenged description of the form of the monuments; “These high crosses are self-contained monuments, articulated into various elements: a large, somewhat cubic or pyramidal base, a separate block of stone indented with a deep rectangular hollow at the top, into which the stem of the cross can fit securely. The cross itself has a nearly square or rectangular section. The shaft tapers slightly towards the top. The stone ring which often connects the arms is usually in open-work, but in some cases it has been left as a sort of solid wheel. It is not necessarily always present, but occurs often enough to be considered as a characteristic feature of the Irish crosses.” Her writings clearly indicate that, although High Crosses are found across Europe, the Irish High cross is both distinctive and unique.

This paper through exploration of the output of ‘The Golden Age Of Irish Art’ has shown that the early eight century artisans accomplished the perfection of Irish art. By looking at an evolving innovative artistic culture in Ireland, with its origins in antiquity, traced through its metalwork craftsmanship, manuscript artistry, jewellery making and sculpture we can see that Ireland was not lacking in individuality and was feasibly a more cutting-edge artistic culture than other European countries.

References.

1. Ryan, Michael, Irish Archaeology Illustrated, Town House Dublin, (2006) P.150.

2. Picts And Prehistory: Cultural Resource Management In Early Medieval Scotland. Stephen T. Driscoll. World Archaeology, Vol. 30, No. 1, The Past In The Past: The Reuse Of Ancient Monuments (Jun., 1998), P.142. Taylor & Francis, Ltd.

3. Form Of The Tara Brooch. Robert D. Stevick. The Journal Of The Royal Society Of Antiquaries Of Ireland, Vol. 128 (1998), P.5

4. The Menagerie Of The Derrynaflan Paten. Ryan, M. Irish Arts Review Yearbook, Vol. 11 (1995), P.84

5. Ryan M., ‘Some Aspects Of Sequence And Style In The Metalwork Of Eighth-And Ninth Century Ireland’ In M Ryan (Ed.) Ireland And Insular Art AD 500-1200, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin 1987, P.68.

6. Early Irish Chalices. Michael Ryan. Irish Arts Review (1984-1987), Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), P21.

7. Medieval Artists (C.1100-1400) Www.Visual-Arts-Cork/History-Of-Art/Medieval-Artists.Htm Accessed: 25.03.2010

8. Paul Meyvaert, The Book Of Kells And Iona, The Art Bulletin, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1989), College Art Association. P6.

9. Leen, Brendan, Four Centuries Of Printing In The Irish Character Http://Www.Spd.Dcu.Ie/Main/Index.Shtml Accessed 28.03.2011

10. Bruce M. Metzger, The Early Versions Of The New Testament, Oxford University Press, 1977, P.305.

11. Irish High Crosses Www.Megalithicireland.Com/Highcrosses Accessed 28.03.2011

12. Irish High Crosses: Some Evidence From The Plainer Examples Dorothy Kelly: The Journal Of The Royal Society Of Antiquaries Of Ireland, Vol. 116 (1986), P.51

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