Thursday, 19 July 2007

The Celtic Diaspora

Alain Stivell, the renowned musician from Brittany and collector of Celtic music, sang in Breton, Cornish, Gaelic and Cymraeg. He played a variety of Celtic instruments, which included the pipes, the harp, the whistle, the fiddle and the guitar, and he was a great entertainer. He symbolises the common musical and cultural traditions which unite the Celtic nations of Western Europe. I must hasten to mention Galicia and Asturias in Spain, where Celtic culture is still alive. The Celts also spread across Europe as far east as Galatia in modern-day Turkey. They are all our ancestors.

They were a highly civilised people, not woad-covered marauders as they have often been depicted, and were skilled craftsmen and artisans. Their technology was the best of its age. They kept cattle and sheep and drank mead made from barley and honey.

They called themselves the Cymry, and the Cymry of Wales retained the best of their Celtic heritage, along with the people of Dyfnaint (Devon) and Kernow (Cornwall).

They were known as Brythons, differentiated from their Celtic cousins the Goidels, or Gaels, who occupied southern Brittany, and later Ireland, from whence they migrated to Scotland. Yes, the Scots settlers were the Irish, and they took with them their kilts, their pipes and their tartans, and other accoutrements such as the dirk (sgian dhu), the beret and the sporran.

The Cymry in Cumbria became separated from their kinsfolk in the south and west. In Dyfnaint and in Kernow the Cymry were hard-pressed and many of them migrated back to Brittany where they kept alive their language, Breton. Cornish was spoken in Cornwall up until 1777, when it died with Dolly Pentreath, the last speaker.

The three Brythonic languages were identical until fate divided them and they acquired their own distinct characteristics. As noted in the letter published below, there are efforts to revive and use the Cornish language once more. In Ireland, however, the Gaelic language survives in pockets around the country, notably Co.Waterford, Co.Clare and Co. Donegal. The government has not made quite the effort that Wales has done to stimulate the spread of the language.

Now that we are experiencing the upsurge of national consciousness in the Celtic nations of Wales, Cornwall, Scotland and to an extent N. Ireland and Brittany, and particularly as one influences the other through its devolutionary process, it behoves these nations to come together in celebration of their mutual heritage and traditions, and to work together for the benefit of the pan-Celtic federation. This is happening with the first tentative approaches, and meetings, between Alex Salmond, Ieuan Wyn Jones, Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley. There is a growing awareness of their mutual interests and the feeling that their respective nations will benefit from maintaining a united front.

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