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Home Druid CELTS



(Note from Daven:  This document I found on AOL once again.  LOL  I think it’s interesting and gives some good references on the life and culture of the Celtic peoples.  It’s part history, part anthropology, part archeology.  Enjoy it.)


Among the ancient European peoples were the warlike Celts muscular, red-haired wanderers who probably came from the distant steppes beyond the Caspian Sea. By 500 BC they were living in northeastern France, southwestern Germany, and Bohemia. The Celts, who were also called Gauls, continued to migrate in all directions.

About 400 BC Celtic tribes crossed the Swiss Alps into northern Italy. After capturing the fertile Po Valley region, they laid siege to Rome (see Roman Empire). At the same time other groups of Celts pushed down into France and Spain, eastward to Asia Minor, and westward to the British Isles. To what is now France they gave the ancient name of Gaul.

In Asia Minor they founded the kingdom of Galatia. St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the New Testament is addressed to the descendants of these Celts. In Britain, Celtic warriors overran and conquered the islands.

Celtic Life and Religion

The Celts were organized loosely in tribes. Each tribe had a chief, nobles, freemen, and slaves. Usually it lived in a fortified village, often built on a hilltop, with fields and pastures outside. The tribes often fought each other. If one tribe conquered several others, its chief took the title of king.

The Celts brought many new skills to the peoples they conquered. They knew how to smelt iron and forge it into useful implements. They decorated their helmets, shields, and arms with artistic metalwork and enameling. The Celts were also adept in such practical matters as curing hams, keeping bees, and making wooden barrels.

Celtic priests were called druids, and their religion, druidism. Little is known of the druids because their rites were never written down. Apparently their gods were similar to those of other early peoples. The druids of Gaul were both judges and priests who sacrificed criminals to their gods. The druids of Britain were chiefly religious teachers.

Only men of good family could become druids. Membership was highly prized because druids did not have to fight or pay taxes. The druids taught that the soul was immortal, passing after death from one person to another. They deemed the mistletoe sacred, especially if grown on an oak tree. The oak was also sacred, and druids often held their rites in an Oak Forest. Wise in the lore of plants, animals, and stars, the druids were also magicians and astrologers. Many ancient stone monuments were once thought to have been built by druids, but scientists now date them from pre-Celtic times.

Celtic Decline

The Celtic domination of Western Europe lasted only a few centuries. In time the Romans made Italy, Gaul, and much of Britain into Roman provinces. The Carthaginians overpowered the Celts in Spain, and German tribes drove the Celts out of the Rhine Valley. Following the Roman conquest, the Anglo-Saxon invasion wiped out most traces of Celtic culture in England. Only on the fringe of Europe did the Celts manage to keep their distinctive traits and languages in Brittany, the Isle of Man, Wales, Ireland, and the Scottish Highlands. There, traces of Celtic culture still survive in folklore and in the Breton, Manx, Welsh, Erse, and Gaelic languages.

The name Celtic Renaissance was given to a revival of interest in Celtic languages, literatures, and history, which began in the late 1800s. The revival was especially strong in Ireland, where it led to the writing of plays with Irish-Celtic themes. Erse, or Irish Gaelic, is now an official language of Ireland. (See also Ireland; Irish Literature.)

Northern Ireland is sometimes called Ulster because it includes six of the nine counties that made up the early Celtic kingdom, or province, of Ulster. The cultural links of most of the people of Northern Ireland with Scotland and England are quite strong, although some have closer familial ties with the Republic of Ireland. About two thirds of the people of Northern Ireland are descended from Scottish and English settlers who came to Ulster mainly in the 17th century, and most of them are Protestants. The remainder of the population are Irish in origin and are mainly Roman Catholics. Locally grown flax and an abundant supply of fresh water stimulated the development of the famous Irish linen industry in Ulster in the 18th century. Much of the flax is now imported, and the linen industry has been surpassed by the cotton and synthetic fiber industries.

Government and History

Northern Ireland, as part of the United Kingdom, is represented by 12 members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons in Westminster. The Northern Ireland government is at Stormont, near Belfast. It is directed and controlled by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, a national government cabinet post as outlined in the Northern Ireland Act of 1974. The national government’s concern has been principally with law and order, political and constitutional affairs, and security policy. The 26 local government districts are subdivided into 526 wards. General elections at the local government level take place every four years.

In ancient times the Celtic Kingdom of Ulster included Donegal, Cavan, and Monaghan, in addition to the present six counties. Celtic Ulster had its chief fortress or center of rule, Navan Fort, at Emain Macha near Armagh. The power of the religious leaders of the Celts, known as druids, was diminished after Christianity was introduced in the 5th century by St. Patrick. The first appearance of the Norsemen, or Vikings, on the Irish coast is recorded in 795. They established settlements and controlled trade and commerce for about two centuries, until 1014. The last effort to establish Norse domination was by Magnus III, king of Norway, who was slain in 1103 during a raid on the Ulster coast.

In the 11th and 12th centuries the reform movement in the Roman Catholic church was extended into Ireland. Pope Adrian IV granted Ireland to King Henry II of England on the condition that he bring order to the Irish church and state. Henry II arrived in Ireland in 1171, placing Ireland in a position of subordination.

The lords of Ulster long challenged British rule. In 1607 scores of Celtic chieftains fled from Northern Ireland forever. This “flight of the earls” marked the end of ancient Celtic Ulster. Britain declared the earls guilty of treason and seized their great estates. James I sent Scottish and English colonists to settle “plantations” on the seized land. Presbyterian and Episcopal churches appeared in a country that had been wholly Roman Catholic. A general uprising in Ulster by the Catholics against the Protestants occurred in 1641, and thousands of colonists were murdered or forced to flee. Irish confederate armies could offer little resistance to the English forces led by Oliver Cromwell. By 1652 Irish resistance had ended and power remained with the Protestants.

In the 19th century the southern Irish began a movement for Home Rule. Ulster “Unionists” clung to the union with Great Britain. In 1920 the Government of Ireland Act created Northern Ireland out of the six predominantly Protestant counties of Ulster. The other three counties joined the Irish Free State (now the Republic of Ireland). Fierce dissension arose in Ulster between the Catholic minority and the Protestant Unionists. The southern Irish almost brought on civil war by demanding Fermanagh and Tyrone counties and several border towns. In 1925 the dispute was settled in favor of Northern Ireland.

Apart from languages spoken by some immigrants, the native language is English. Although Standard English is taught in the schools, there are many local dialects and accents. People from different regions sometimes have difficulty understanding one another. The influence of television and radio, however, has spread Standard English words and pronunciation around the country. In some cities, particularly London, there are groups of Welsh people who maintain the use of the Welsh language. In Cornwall the old Cornish language a Celtic language similar to Welsh has been revived after about 200 years of virtual extinction and is taught in some schools. But the language is rarely used in everyday life.


Although the original English-speaking people came from northern Germany, the present-day English are a mixture of racial types. The original Celtic inhabitants either intermarried with the Anglo-Saxon invaders or sought refuge in the mountains of Wales or in Cornwall. Even today some Cornish people do not consider themselves English. Further invasions by the Norse and the Danes, and later by the Normans, added to the north European racial characteristics of the English, and there are many living in the east and north of the country in particular who have fair hair and blue or gray eyes. Darker types are also found the result of Celtic or other earlier racial influences. Apart from languages spoken by some immigrants, the native language is English. Although Standard English is taught in the schools, there are many local dialects and accents. People from different regions sometimes have difficulty understanding one another. The influence of television and radio, however, has spread Standard English words and pronunciation around the country. In some cities, particularly London, there are groups of Welsh people who maintain the use of the Welsh language. In Cornwall the old Cornish language a Celtic language similar to Welsh has been revived after about 200 years of virtual extinction and is taught in some schools. But the language is rarely used in everyday life.


Long ages ago the British Isles formed a peninsula of continental Europe, and the English Channel was a broad plain. People and animals from southern Europe traveled across this plain and made their home in the dense forests that then covered Britain. The people belonged to the earliest stage of civilization, the Old Stone Age. They moved over the damp green woodland, stone ax in hand, hunting mammoths, horses, and reindeer. They lived in caves, had no domestic animals, and took no care of their dead.

Over an immense stretch of time the land subsided, and Ireland was separated from Britain. Later the sea flowed into the narrow Strait of Dover and made Britain also an island. New waves of colonists crossed over from the east. The people advanced slowly to the New Stone Age. In this period they mined flints for their weapons and polished them to give a sharp cutting edge. They laid away their dead in long or round chambers called barrows and heaped over them mounds of earth and stone. The remains found in these barrows reveal that these people tamed horses, sheep, goats, cattle, dogs, and pigs and grew wheat and barley and, later, flax to make linen.

Later, sea merchants from countries bordering the Mediterranean discovered the islands in the northern seas. The Phoenicians, who traded with people in many lands, came again and again to buy tin, which lay close to the surface in Cornwall. The native people learned how to smelt tin with copper to make bronze tools and weapons. With this knowledge the long Stone Age ended and the Bronze Age began. The people of Britain erected avenues and circles of huge granite slabs, like those at Stonehenge. These were probably temples.

Celtic Domination

Some five or six centuries before the birth of Christ, a tall fair people called Celts came across the channel in small boats. The Goidels, or Gaels (who are still found in Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland), formed the first great migration. Then came the Brythons, or Britons (still found in Wales and Cornwall), who gave their name to the island of Britain. The Celts knew how to smelt iron and were skilled in arts and crafts. They became the ruling class, and the native folk adopted the Celtic language and the Celts’ Druid religion.

Roman Rule

Julius Caesar raided Britain in 55 BC and again in 54 BC. Nearly 90 years later Rome undertook the conquest of the island in earnest. In AD 43 Emperor Claudius gathered a force of about 40,000 to invade the island. All the area that is now England was soon subdued and added to the Roman Empire as the province Britannia.

A widowed Icenian queen, golden-haired Boudicca, led a great uprising against the Romans in AD 60, but her barbarian horde was no match for the Roman soldiers. The people of Scotland were harder to subdue. Emperor Hadrian decided conquering them was not worth the trouble, so he had a wall built 73 1/2 miles (118 kilometers) long across the narrow neck of the island to keep them out. South of this wall the Romans built more than 50 cities and connected them with military roads. Some of these roads, such as the famous Watling Street, serve as the foundations for modern highways.

The cities contained Roman baths and open-air theaters; temples to Jupiter, Mars, and Minerva; and houses with colonnaded terraces, mosaic floors, and hot-air furnaces. Upper-class Britons in the towns spoke Latin and wore the Roman toga. Commerce and industry prospered, protected by Roman law. Later, when Rome became Christian, Roman missionaries spread Christian teachings in Britain.

In AD 410 the Goths swept down on Rome, and no more Roman legions came to protect Britannia. The Britons, left to themselves, were unable to form a government. Local chieftains warred with one another. Barbarians from Scotland and pirates from Ireland ravaged the land. In vain a Briton wrote for aid to a Roman consul, saying: “The barbarians drive us to the sea; the sea throws us back on the barbarians.”

Anglo-Saxon Invasions

Soon a more dangerous enemy appeared. Across the North Sea came bands of pirates in long black ships. They were the Teutonic peoples Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from the region of modern Denmark. They found the island easy to invade. In the south and west a low coast thrusts out toward the continent. From the coast navigable rivers lead inland across a rolling plain. The land itself, covered with green the year round, seemed miraculous. Centuries later people learned that the British Isles, so far north, owe their mild climate to the warm Gulf Stream.

The invaders plundered city after city and drove the Britons ever farther westward. Farmers and herdsmen followed in the wake of the warriors. The newcomers were pagans, worshipers of Odin and Thor, and had no use for Roman cities or Roman law. They cleared the forests for farmland and built longhouses grouped around the large log hall of their chief, which was decorated with carving and paint and hung with shining armor.

By AD 600 the ruin of Rome’s Britannia was complete. The original Celtic stock survived only in the mountains of Wales and in Cornwall. Except in these areas Christianity and the Celtic language died. Britain came to be called Angle-land (later England) after the Angles, and the people spoke Anglo-Saxon (see English Language).

The Celtic group of languages, once spoken over a large territory, today is used only in the British Isles and northwestern France. The number of speakers is small. Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic are Celtic languages. Welsh, spoken in Wales, and Breton, a language of Brittany in northwestern France, form another branch of Celtic.


Ireland is rich in its heritage of legendary stories that reach back to its ancient past more than 2,000 years ago. It is rich, too, in the realism and vitality of contemporary Irish writing that bridges the political divisions of the country. The dual nature of Irish literature is further reflected in its two distinct tongues Gaelic and English.

The dominant language of Irish literature today is English, and the Irish writers who use it are sometimes referred to as Anglo-Irish. But Irish literature, whether it speaks in Gaelic or English, is rooted deeply in the history and tradition that is uniquely Irish.

The First Written Literature

The earliest Irish literature was preserved orally by the Gaelic poets and storytellers. In the 5th century the Roman alphabet, which was adaptable to Gaelic, was introduced by missionaries. Over the centuries the monks began writing down many of the old tales, as well as new religious and secular works. One of the earliest masterpieces of Irish literature was ‘The Book of the Dun Cow’, a retelling of the Ulster cycle written in the 12th century.

In the centuries that followed, Gaelic literature declined under the English conquest of Ireland. The literary tradition passed from the filid (poets) to the minstrels, and then to the common people. Most of the poetry, ballads, histories, and legends were preserved orally, while the manuscripts of the great old stories lay almost forgotten in the monasteries.

The 17th and 18th Centuries

There were few memorable Gaelic authors in the 17th and 18th centuriesMichael O’Clery (1575-1643), who feared that the ancient records of Ireland might be lost, became the chief author of a history called ‘The Annals of the Four Masters’. Geoffrey Keating (1569-1644) wrote a masterpiece of Gaelic prose in his delightful history ‘Foundation of Knowledge in Ireland’. The songs of the blind poet Turlogh Carolan (1670-1738) still survive.

There was little incentive to write in Gaelic, for fewer Irish people were speaking it or reading it. The great Irish-born writers of this period were Anglo-Irish. Considered English, because of their language and culture, were such writers as Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Richard Steele, and Jonathan Swift.

As the 19th century began, a small band of Irish authors who wrote in English found their inspiration and their themes in their homeland. Perhaps the foremost of these was Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849). An Irish landlord’s daughter, she wrote with insight and humor about troublesome landlords in her realistic novel, ‘Castle Rackrent’. William Carleton (1794-1869) wrote movingly about his peasant background in ‘Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry’. Thomas Moore (1779-1852), who set English words to Irish airs, sang about the political wrongs done to Ireland and so won English sympathy for its cause.

One aspect of the revived nationalism was reflected in a renewed interest in Gaelic. Charlotte Brooke (1740-93) was in the forefront with her ‘Reliques of Irish Poetry’, a translation from Gaelic into English. Then scholars learned how to read the ancient Irish manuscripts that had been almost forgotten in the monasteries and began translating the old heroic tales. They provided inspiration for Samuel Ferguson (1810-86) in ‘Deirdre’s Lament for the Sons of Usnech’ and ‘Tales of the Western Gael’. James Clarence Mangan (1803-49), considered one of Ireland’s finest poets, also used such themes.

In mid-century, however, these literary stirrings diminished after the potato blight of 1845, 1846, and 1847 devastated all Ireland. Standish O’Grady (1846-1928) helped keep national literature alive with his exultant celebrations of Irish history and legend in ‘History of Ireland’ and ‘Cuchulain and His Contemporaries’. The best-known writers born in Ireland in the same era George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) wrote for an audience beyond their native land,

The Gaelic Revival

The potato famine brought starvation, grinding poverty, and a mass emigration of Irish to other lands. Despite this disaster, the literary revival of the Gaelic language endured.

In 1842 the patriotic organization known as Young Ireland, led by Thomas Osborne Davis (1814-45), had founded the Nation. The patriotic verses written by Davis, such as “A Nation Once Again” and “The Battle of Fontenoy,” were an inspiration for the 20th-century Sinn Fein (“we ourselves”) nationalist movement. Among the other Irish writers published by the Nation were Thomas D’Arcy McGee (1825-68), a poet and patriot who later emigrated to Canada, where he became one of the principal Fathers of Confederation; Richard D’Alton Williams (1821?-62), a writer of ballads and humorous pieces, who emigrated to the United States in 1851; and Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1826?-96), the mother of Oscar Wilde, who wrote poems under the pen name “Speranza.”

Another literary publication of the period was the Dublin University Magazine. Its contributors included Jeremiah Joseph Callanan (1795-1829), who wrote free adaptations of Gaelic verse.

In 1893 the Gaelic League was founded to revive the Irish language and culture and to encourage authors to write in Gaelic. The organization was headed by Douglas Hyde (1860-1949), a poet and scholar who became the first president of the Irish Free State. Hyde’s goal of making Gaelic a living language was exemplified in his ‘Beside the Fire’, 15 Gaelic tales with the English translation on facing pages. The translations used an English dialect, spoken in Ireland, that had strong echoes of Gaelic idioms and sentence construction.

Modern Gaelic literature includes the short stories of Padraic O Conaire (1883-1928), whose work was alive with the color and character of the people of his native homeland, western Ireland. Two autobiographies that have been translated into English are ‘The Islandman’, by Tomas O Crohan, and ‘Twenty Years A-growing’, by Maurice O’Sullivan.

Another outstanding 20th-century Gaelic writer was Brian O’Nolan (1911-66), a man of great talent and an outrageous sense of humor, who had a liking for pen names. As Flann O’Brien and Myles na gCopaleen he wrote brilliant columns for the Irish Times from 1944 to 1966 and published some satirical novels, including ‘At Swim-Two Birds’, one of the great comic novels of the century, and ‘The Poor Mouth: a Bad Story About the Hard Life’.

The 19th-century Gaelic revival was not a widespread movement, largely because it was overshadowed by the political struggles of the period and by the overwhelming need for land reform as a result of the famine. The revival did lay the groundwork, however, for an Irish literary renaissance. By the end of the century a flourishing new literary movement was centered on the spirit of Irish nationalism and the persistent interest in Gaelic culture.

The Irish Literary Renaissance

The pivotal figure in the Irish literary renaissance was William Butler Yeats (1865-1939). He promoted the movement into a vigorous literary force, not only in Ireland, but in all English-speaking countries. A poet and dramatist, he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1923 (see Yeats).

Although he wrote in English, Yeats was steeped in a love of Gaelic tradition and folklore. ‘The Celtic Twilight’, his sketches of Irish storytellers and their tales, did much to create the image of what Irish writing and writers could and should be like. He also retold the ancient cycle tales in his long narrative poem ‘The Wanderings of Oisin’ and in his plays ‘Deirdre’ and ‘On Baile’s Strand’, a masterpiece based on the Cuchulain legends.

In 1897 Yeats, who dreamed of creating an Irish national theater, had a memorable meeting with two other playwrights Lady Isabella Augusta Gregory (1852-1932) and Edward Martyn (1859-1923). With an associate, the novelist George Moore (1852-1933), they helped found the Abbey Theatre, which opened in Dublin in 1904.

Sean O’Casey (1880-1964), however, presented his powerful dramas of protest against the background of the slums. In ‘The Shadow of a Gunman’, ‘Juno and the Paycock’, and ‘The Plough and the Stars’, O’Casey painted a brilliant and sensitive picture of Irish life and courage.

The Abbey Theatre made an indelible mark on Irish drama, and its influence can still be seen on such modern playwrights as Brendan Behan (1923-1964) and the gallows humor that marks his plays, ‘The Quare Fellow’ and ‘The Hostage’.

While Yeats cast a giant shadow over Irish poetry, there were other poets of note. Under the pen name of “AE,” George William Russell (1867-1935) made a major contribution not only in his ‘Collected Poems’ but also in the love of the Celtic culture he inculcated in younger writers. One of his proteges was Padraic Colum (1881-1972), who made a lasting mark on Irish literature with ‘The Wild Earth’. James Stephens (1882-1950), another protege, wrote a classic prose fantasy, ‘The Crock of Gold’. Contemporary women writers spoke out with new honesty about their place in Irish society. A popular example was ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew You’, by Edna O’Brien (born 1936).

In ‘A Journey to the Seven Streams’, Benedict Kiely (born 1919) wrote an exuberant fantasy of a summer holiday that affirmed his joy in the continuity of life. But his mood changed in his later long story ‘Proxopera’ (1977) in which he bitterly attacked terrorism in Northern Ireland.

The short-story form has always been one of the strengths of Irish writers. Mary Lavin (born 1912) demonstrated this in her collections ‘A Single Lady’ and ‘Selected Stories’. Her writing often focused on the struggle for personal freedom as a universal need. Patrick Kavanagh (1904-66) proved himself one of Ireland’s finest lyric poets with the clear, singing imagery of ‘Come Dance with Kitty Stobling’. Thomas Kinsella (born 1928) sang sadly of the spiritual state of Ireland today in ‘Nightwalker’ and lashed out with satiric bitterness at the Ulster crisis in ‘Butcher’s Dozen’. Brendan Kennelly (born 1936) created poetry of a stark and brilliant clarity in his 1977 poem cycle, ‘Islandman’. Irish literature continues to speak for Ireland, particularly in its autobiographies. In ‘Borstal Boy’ Brendan Behan described his experiences in a reformatory and in the Irish Republican Army. Francis Stuart (born 1902) contributed a powerful autobiographical novel, ‘Black List, Section H’. James Plunkett (born 1920) recaptured the world of his youth in ‘Farewell Companions’.

SCOTLAND. The northern part of the island of Great Britain is Scotland. Rugged uplands separate it from England to the south. Within this border country the Scots fought many wars to keep their independence. In 1707 Scotland joined with England, and the entire island became a single kingdom, Great Britain. The Scots, however, remain a distinct people, and they have a long history different from that of England.

Scotland is a land of romance. It contains ruins of many ancient castles and abbeys, and there is a haunting beauty in its windswept mountains, long deep valleys, and ribbon lakes. It attracts many tourists, particularly from the United States and England. Scotland is a poor country, however, a land in which it is difficult to make a living. Perhaps that is why it has bred such a vigorous people.

The coast of Scotland is deeply pierced by inlets from the sea. The larger inlets are called firths. Long, narrow inlets are called sea lochs (lakes). On the rugged west coast the sea lochs are framed by great cliffs and resemble the fjords of Norway.

Numerous islands line the coast. In the north are two large groups, the Orkney Islands and the Shetland Islands. Close to the west coast are the Hebrides group, Arran, and Bute.

The Highlanders are of Celtic descent, and about 90,000 of them still speak Gaelic, an ancient Celtic language (see Celts). The Lowlanders are much like the people of northern England. They speak English, but their Scots dialect is distinct. The Scots have a reputation for being thrifty, cautious, and careful of detail. They are far from being all alike, however. Scotland is a country in which individualism flourishes.

Life in the Highlands

On the northwest coast and on the islands there are tenant farmers called crofters. The crofts (small farms) are usually on or near the coast. Houses are built of stone gathered from the hillsides. They are roofed with corrugated iron or a thatch of reeds and heather. Peat cut from the moors furnishes fuel for cooking and heating.

On these crofts barely enough food can be produced for the farm families. They therefore dislike waste and have earned reputations for being extremely frugal. They are good farmers, but rugged ground, poor soil, and excessive rain restrict crops to oats, potatoes, and barley. They add to the family food supply by fishing in lakes and streams if inland or in the sea if near the coast. They raise sheep on the hills and pasture a few cattle in the glens. In other parts of the Highlands, large sheep or beef cattle farms predominate.

In August the tourist season begins in the Highlands. People from the Lowlands and from England flock there to fish for salmon and trout or to hunt deer and grouse. The crofters then work in hotels or serve as guides, boatmen, or gillies (hunters’ attendants).

The Highlands are sparsely populated. For centuries many of the young people have been leaving the crofts to find work in the industrial Lowlands or to immigrate to other countries.

Gatherings of the Clans

In early days the rugged land led to the separation of the Highlanders into small groups called clans. A chief ruled each clan. All the people of a clan had the same surname, which often began with Mac such as MacDonald, MacKinnon, MacLean, or MacLeod. The clansmen wore kilts (short, pleated skirts) which are suitable for climbing the rough hills, and blankets for cloaks. Each clan had its own colorful pattern called a tartan for weaving cloth. (These tartans are now commonly called plaids, and they are marketed throughout the world.) Today the kilt is not a crofter’s dress but a national costume, proudly worn for special occasions.

The gatherings of the clans draw many visitors, especially to Inverness, which is called the capital of the Highlands. At these gatherings athletes wearing kilts compete in such ancient Highland sports as throwing the hammer and tossing the caber, a long, heavy pole. Bagpipers and Highland dancers add color and interest to the gatherings.


It has been argued that Scottish culture is merely a regional variation of the dominant British culture, but the Scottish culture has elements of independence. Edinburgh’s international festival of music and drama has been a major event since 1947, though Scotland’s own contribution to the festival has been modest. Scottish writers have had the choice of three languages: Scottish Gaelic; Lallans, or Lowland Scots; and English. The 20th-century poets Sorley Maclean and George Campbell Hay led a Gaelic revival, but a Lallans revival that developed after World War I has faded. After World War II a new generation of Scottish poets was called the Lallans MaKars (makers). The most notable Scottish poets who wrote in Lallans and English were Robert Fergusson (1750-74) and Robert Burns (1759-96). The history of Scotland begins in the 1st century AD, when the Romans invaded Britain. The Romans added southern Britain to their empire as the province Britannia. They were unable, however, to subdue the fierce tribes in the north. To keep these barbarians from invading Britannia, Emperor Hadrian had a massive wall built across the island from sea to sea. The Romans called the land north of the wall Caledonia, and they called the people Picts from the Latin piclus, meaning “painted” because they painted their bodies. Parts of Hadrian’s Wall still stand on the Scottish border.

In the 5th century Celtic immigrants from Ireland, called Scots, settled north of the Clyde. The Scots were already Christians when they left Ireland. In the next century St. Columba converted the king of the Picts to Christianity. In the 9th century Kenneth MacAlpine, king of the Scots, added the Pictish kingdom to his own. In about the 10th century the land came to be known as Scotland.

After the Normans conquered England in 1066, many Anglo-Saxons from England settled in the Lowlands. Here the Scots gradually took on English ways. Feudalism was established, and the chiefs of the clans became nobles. Towns grew, trade increased, and Scotland prospered.

War of independence.

In 1290 Margaret, heiress to the throne, died. Thirteen claimants contested the Crown. Edward I of England claimed the right to bestow it and made John de Baliol king. When Edward asked John for help against the French, however, John entered into an alliance with France. For 260 years Scotland held to this so-called “auld alliance” with England’s enemy.

Edward crossed the border in 1296, took John de Baliol prisoner, and proclaimed himself king of Scotland. To symbolize the union he carried off the ancient Stone of Scone, on which Scottish kings had long been crowned, and placed it in Westminster Abbey where it still lies beneath the coronation chair.

The Scots rose again. Led by William Wallace, they routed the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297 and pursued them across the border. The next year Edward returned and inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Scots at Falkirk. Wallace was later captured, and the English hung his head from London Bridge. (See also Wallace.)

The Scots’ spirit was still unbroken, and they soon found another great champion in Robert Bruce. The last great battle in the war for independence was fought in 1314 at Bannockburn near Stirling Castle. There Bruce inflicted a disastrous defeat on superior English forces led by Edward II. In 1328 Edward III formally recognized Scotland’s independence.

In the later Middle Ages Scotland suffered from weak kings and powerful nobles. For two centuries there was a constant struggle between the Crown and the barons. Border clashes also continued. James IV of Scotland married Margaret, daughter of Henry VII of England, in 1503. This marriage led to the union of the Crowns of both countries in 1603. When Henry VIII went to war with France, however, James IV invaded England. He fell, “riddled with arrows,” at Flodden Field in the last great border battle (1513). James V died brokenhearted after his army had been slaughtered at Solway Moss (1542). The throne went to his infant daughter Mary Stuart.

Reformation and its Consequences.

Meanwhile the Protestant Reformation had swept across Europe and into England. Scotland was still a Roman Catholic country. Its young queen, Mary Stuart, was in France when John Knox returned home to Scotland from Geneva, Switzerland. Knox was a follower of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Reformation. With fiery eloquence he spread Calvin’s Protestant doctrine. When Mary returned, Knox and others drove her out of Scotland, and she fled to England. Queen Elizabeth I made her a prisoner and finally had her executed. In 1560 Scotland’s parliament adopted a confession of faith drawn up by Knox and established the Church of Scotland on a Presbyterian basis. (See also Calvin; Knox; Mary, Queen of Scots.)

Mary Stuart’s son, James VI, was brought up as a Presbyterian. When Queen Elizabeth of England died in 1603, James inherited the throne of England. In England he was called James I. The two nations were thus united under a single king, but Scotland remained a separate state with its own parliament and government. There was no free trade between England and Scotland, and Scots were excluded from the profitable commerce with England’s growing empire.

England tried repeatedly to impose the Anglicans’ Episcopal form of worship and church government on the Scottish kirk. The Scots took up arms against Charles I. . When civil war broke out in England, they aided the Puritans against the king. After Oliver Cromwell executed Charles I, however, the Scots welcomed Charles’s son as Charles II. Cromwell then marched into Scotland and imposed his rule. When Charles II was restored to the throne, persecution of Presbyterians continued.

Finally, after James II had been driven from the throne, Presbyterianism was firmly established as Scotland’s national church. The Highlanders long remained loyal to the exiled Stuarts. In 1715 they attempted to restore the house of Stuart to the throne; James Stuart, known as the Old Pretender, was proclaimed James III. In 1745 they supported his son, Charles Edward, known as the Young Pretender. The youth became famous in Scottish song and story as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Union with England.

The age-old rivalry between Scotland and England ended abruptly in 1707 when the parliaments of both nations agreed to the Act of Union. This act merged the parliaments of the two nations and established the Kingdom of Great Britain.

Scotland now had free trade with England and the colonies. As Britain’s empire expanded the Scots played a great part in its development. They also shared in the inventions that brought about the Industrial Revolution and in the wealth that flowed into Britain from it.

The end of the 18th century was Scotland’s most creative period. David Hume won world fame in philosophy and history, Adam Smith in political economy, and Robert Burns in poetry. In the next generation Sir Walter Scott made the land and history of Scotland known throughout the world.

The history of modern Scotland is inseparable from that of England. Scotland, however, has its own special problems, and a movement has grown up to establish some sort of home rule. The Scottish National party, which favors the setting up of a legislature for purely Scottish affairs, won increasing popular support during the 1960s but a majority of Scots vote for the Labour (Socialist) party.

WALES. One of the countries that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Wales has retained a character of its own the result of the Celtic culture of its people and its mountain environment. Although much of Wales is still a land of picturesque mountains and valleys, the existence of large coal fields in the south of the country brought industry and urbanization.

The inhabitants of Wales number about 2.7 million. During the centuries the population had a strong influx of people from other parts of the British Isles. The Welsh have nevertheless maintained the old Celtic language, which is descended from that of the ancient Britons. Welsh, or Cymraeg, is spoken by 19 percent of the population, compared with some 50 percent in 1900. The decline is largely from the adoption of English as the everyday language of most Welsh people. Almost all Welsh speakers also speak English. Serious efforts have been made to preserve the Welsh language. It is now recognized as equal with English for legal and administrative affairs in Wales. The capital city is Cardiff, with 280,000 inhabitants (see Cardiff). Other large cities are Swansea and Newport.

The educational system is similar to that of England. In some primary and secondary schools Welsh is the main language of instruction. The University of Wales has colleges in five cities.

Writing in Welsh began in the 6th century with the poems of Aneirin and Taliesin. The best-known product of early Welsh literature is the Mabinogion, a collection of tales from the 11th to the 13th century. The 14th and 15th centuries were a rich period for Welsh poetry. By the 16th century the first prose writing had appeared. Translations of the Bible and religious writings in particular helped to keep the Welsh language alive during the following centuries. The greatest poets of this period were Huw Morus and Goronwy Owen. In the 20th century there was not only poetry but essays, short stories, and a few novels. Among modern poets were Robert Parry, Thomas Gwyn Jones, and Dylan Thomas (see Thomas, Dylan).

The Welsh not only love poetry but are also keen singers. Choral singing is a popular activity, with Welsh folk songs and hymns as favorites. Every year there is a national poetry and singing competition called the Eisteddfod in which individuals and choirs from all over Wales participate.

The Welsh are predominantly Protestants. Most belong to the Presbyterian Church of Wales.

Government and History

The Welsh elect members to the British Parliament, which meets in London. A Welsh Office, headed by a secretary of state for Wales, handles Welsh affairs. Wales is a principality, and the symbolic title prince of Wales is traditionally bestowed on the heir to the British throne

The history of Wales begins with the Roman occupation and subsequent conversion to Christianity in the 4th century. The Anglo-Saxon invasion led to the gradual retreat of the Britons to the west, where the mountains of Wales acted as a refuge. By the 9th century a Welsh state emerged under such princes as Rhodri the Great and Hywel Dda. The Normans invaded Wales in the 11th century and built a number of castles to assist control of the country.

Such leaders as Owain Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd resisted the attempts of the English kings in the 12th and 13th centuries to subdue Wales completely. Edward I of England, however, succeeded in conquering Wales and named his son prince of Wales in 1301. In 1401 Owen Glendower led a successful revolt against the English, which resulted in the temporary independence of Wales with Glendower as its prince. By 1410 the English had reasserted control, and in 1536 Wales was united with England. By the 1800s industrialization in Wales had increased rapidly. The history of Wales has been closely linked to that of England.

THOMAS, Dylan (1914-53). The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was only 39 years old when he died. He had written poems that some critics considered the best of his time. He had become equally famous as a boisterous, heavy-drinking man who seemed determined to die young. His style of writing and his way of life made people think of him as a romantic poet like Byron and Keats. His life, like theirs, was dramatic.

Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, Wales, on Oct. 27, 1914. His father was a schoolteacher. His mother came from a Welsh farming family. His first name, Dylan, means “tide” in Welsh. All his formal education was received at Swansea Grammar School. At 16 he quit school and worked as a reporter and writer.

Thomas’ first published poem appeared in a magazine when he was 17. In 1932 he won a poetry prize and went to London to collect it and to meet other writers. His wit and love of company won him many friends. From that time on he moved back and forth between London and Laugharne, a South Wales port. He wrote poetry in sessions of hard work between drinking bouts. His first book, called ’18 Poems’, was published in 1934 when he was 20. Many critics received it enthusiastically, though the general public did not like it. In 1936 he married Caitlin Macnamara. They had two sons and one daughter.

In 1938 Thomas won the Oscar Blumenthal prize awarded by Poetry magazine. His work began to attract wider attention in the United States. In addition to poetry, Thomas wrote radio scripts, film scenarios, short stories, autobiographical sketches, and two plays. He made the first of three poetry-reading tours of the United States in 1950. Thomas read his own poems in a booming Welsh voice that was very effective on the stage. He looked like an untidy, overgrown boy, short and stout, with a snub nose and tousled brown hair. He died in New York City on Nov. 9, 1953, and was buried at Laugharne.

Although only 90 of his poems had been published, Thomas gained a reputation as one of the best of the younger poets writing in the English language. Thomas’ poetry is personal. His work, sometimes so packed with images as to seem obscure at first reading, is primarily concerned with the cycle of birth and death. His principal works are: ‘The World I Breathe’, published in 1939; ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog’ (1940); ‘New Poems’ (1942); ‘Selected Writings’ (1946); ‘In Country Sleep’ (1952); ‘Collected Poems’ (1953); ‘The Doctor and the Devil’ (1953); a drama entitled ‘Under Milk Wood’ (1954); ‘Quite Early One Morning’ (1954); and ‘Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories’ (1955).


The mistletoe was known for centuries before the advent of Christianity. In some parts of Europe the midsummer gathering of mistletoe is still accompanied by burning bonfires, a remnant of sacrificial ceremonies performed by the ancient priests, or Druids. Because of its odd way of life the mistletoe gained a prominent part in German and Norse mythology, and in Celtic religion it was believed to have magic powers as well as medicinal properties, particularly when it grew on an oak, which was considered to be a sacred tree. The mistletoe was said to bring happiness, safety, and good fortune as long as it did not touch the ground. Later the custom developed of kissing under the mistletoe.

Mabinogion, collection of ancient Welsh bardic tales, particularly the collection of 12th-century knightly romances translated by Lady Charlotte Guest

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