Scriú tú, Sasana, Part 2: The Celts and their attempts to Stay Celtic

If you haven’t read the first part, read it here.

The Pan-Celtic Flag: A flag far too awesome looking to be ever used seriously.

So, where we last left off the Celts, once the only culture worth knowing between Portugal and Poland, had been all-but-wiped-out by the “Cake or Death” policy of the Romans. In this metaphor, cake is civilisation, aqueducts, sanitation, roads, irrigation, and all the like and death is…probably a lot more self-explanatory. The only enclave of our iron-mongering and largely red-headed heroes is the British Isles, although the fall of Rome allowed a few to return to France to found the kingdom of the Little Britain, which is now known as Brittany. Even in Britain things are looking precarious because some of the most mineral-rich and populous areas  – the Midlands, Yorkshire, most of the South Coast and Lothian in Scotland – have been taken over by mercenaries from Denmark and Saxony because, you know, Germans are too good at history. (The Danes, otherwise known as Angles, would go on to unify most of these into a country you might have heard of).  The Celts, for all their ability, were doomed to failure. Which makes it all the more remarkable that, to varying extents, they didn’t.

dragons

The Red Dragon Fighting the White was to become a symbol of Welsh resistance to the English. But only one gets bragging rights for having been on a flag.

Let’s start with the Welsh. They were probably the biggest winners in Roman times, because they were the least resistant to Roman rule. By the time the Romans pulled out (no sniggering, please), they owned most of Britain and were speaking a dialect called Vulgar Latin. Back then they were called Cymru or Cambria, and that translates as “Land of the people who live here” – an insight into how creative the Dark Ages really were. They had ore mines, they had men, and even when the Saxons cut down their lands to Wales Proper and Cornwall, there was a general consensus that You Do Not Want To Mess With These Guys. Mercian king Offa spent years constructing a wall across the border in an attempt to stop Welsh raiders, and…well, have you ever been to a castle in the Midlands? Chances are William the Conqueror commissioned it to avoid Welsh invasion. Problem is, when there’s something that dangerous that close to your heartlands, you’re going to need more than a wall and some mott-and-baileys.  The English invaded under Edward “Hammer of the Scots” the First (that’s Edward “That English Wanker” to the Welsh and Scots, more on him later) and from 1282 onwards, Welsh nationalism took a turn for the worse, even after the Welsh Tudors almost single-handedly end the War of the Roses. As a Celtic survivalist, I give them 4/10.

galicia_national_tartan02

I’m personally a fan of any Spanish department with its own national tartan.

Ah, Galicia. I’m not sure if I’ve even mentioned you yet, but you really put the Fringe into Celtic Fringe. Originally inhabited by Celts but then taken over by German “Barbarians” in the Dark Ages like…well, like most places, Galicia was settled by Britons fleeing from consistent Saxon and Jute oppression. But independence didn’t last long – as soon as Iberia’s invaders turned Catholic there wasn’t huge resistance to the Visigoth guys with the swords and the cool church designs. But that’s not to say that you fade away at all, Galicia. No, you remain a distinct regional force for a long time within the kingdoms – Asturias, Castille, Spain – that you’re a part of – hell, you’re even a major player in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and there are still communities of Galicians in the New World where the Spanish Empire left its mark. Although that’s inexplicably also true of Wales. And while you may get overshadowed by the Basque and Catalonian equivalents, you’re also following that new Celtic tradition of seeking independence. Overall, that’s probably another 4/10.

Brittany – that British/Welsh enclave in France – had better luck. French history is usually just a few hundred pages of “I came. I saw. I conquered. I got bored. I went to war with England” (Sorry, French Nerds – Je suis venu. J’ai vu. J’ai vaincu, etc) but Brittany stayed independent until 1488, actually surviving the middle ages before succumbing to French rule. Let me put that in context for you – Charlemagne of France, who I shall go into detail about later because he’s almost mythically good at warfare, the man who created France AND Germany AND Italy from his conquests, couldn’t take Brittany. Alas, they just happened to be in the way when one of the world’s greatest renaissance powers (there’s a reason we use the French word for it) was getting into the swing of things, and Brittany’s their slightly-too-British ways did not please the French Kings – Brittany gets about 6/10.

irish converted

Oh, right, and you also converted the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. That kind of became a bug thing for them.

Ireland – now you’re a country I feel sorry for. A chaotic transition to the feudal system saw you broken into tiny kingdoms whose constant infighting made it impossible to unify. You were beaten up by Vikings – not even the raiding kind, the kind who found cities like Dublin and Cork on your coast and stay for hundreds of years – and as soon as that quiets down England decide they want an Emerald Isle in their crown. Some of the greatest kings and queens of England have been horrible to you – even the Celtic ones like the Welsh Henry VIII and the Scottish James I. And Cromwell…I don’t even want to get into Cromwell.  That guy sold you as slaves, for god’s sake. But despite all that, you powered through – even when you were completely occupied you maintained a sense of nationalism, even during the potato famine, when your main crop and diet staple almost died out. I admit, Northern Ireland did go a bit pro-UK, but they were literally shipping Protestant, pro-Unionist Scots over to settle it and create government-friendly Irish communities. And yes, maybe that nationalism did make the 20th century chaotic and unsafe for you. But it’s OK, Ireland. The Troubles are (largely) over. You’re a republic now, and an independent one that’s even re-created and modernised your ancient Celtic language, and for that you get  8/10.

If you’ve been paying attention, there’s one nation I’ve neglected to mention so far. One nation thats Celtic roots and nationalism are still very much alive today. One nation that, instead of merely resisting the English, actually took control over them after years of conflict. Meet the Kingdom of Alba, or Pictland, or Caledonia. As we knew them – the Kingdom of Scotland.

2169658589_3bed8106bf

This definitely what national identity looks like. Also, that freaking hat.

Scotland is exceptional – I don’t mean good in particular, I mean full of exceptions to the rule. It’s about as Celtic as you can get – made up of Picts and Gaels from Scotland, Scots from Ireland , Britons from Wales and…look, naming conventions are confusing, right? It’s the only place in Britain where the Saxons settled and were forced to swear allegiance to a Celtic lord, and it’s the biggest Celtic Nation of the lot (yes, I haven’t mentioned the Isle of Man, but I tried the Wikipedia article and if I have to read about cats with no tails one more time…). Like Wales and Brittany and Ireland it was invaded by a bigger neighbour but this time, the Celtic underdogs won. When it was William Wallace against Edward “Stop…Hammertime” the First, Wallace won. I’m not saying Braveheart is the pinnacle of historical accuracy, but the events it covers really happened and some nifty alliances with France made the two of them a genuine threat to England and its two greatest rivals ever since. But the real legacy of Scotland…that’s the United Kingdom. In a cruelly ironic twist (from Edward “The Hammer is my penis” the First’s POV, that is), the English-Scottish State was not created by English Kings winning the Scottish crown by war, but by a Scottish King winning the English Crown by peaceful succession. When the United Kingdom was officially created in 1707, a Scottish Queen was still on the throne. And yes, that Union may be threatened by the country that created it (looking at you, Alex Salmond), but that’s surely a testament to Scottish nationalism, Celtic survivalism and definitely proof that when it comes to surviving as Celts, the Scottish get a resounding 10/10.

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