Most of the family ancestors from the British Isles are descendants of the Celts and Pre-Celtic populations. The reality that no records exist for these pre-historic folks need not prevent us from doing a little historical fiction. Besides, this provides an opportunity to go back to the Summer 2012 trip to the isles. I also need to interject that not all of the family ancestors were of purely Celtic stock. There were significant non-Celtic additions with the arrival of the Normans in 1066. Back to the beginnings.
As the ice retreated from the British Isles around 12,000 BC, a few thousand hunter-gatherers arrived and geneticists have determined that some 80% of modern inhabitants of the isles carry these genetics. Therefore, given that since both sides have numerous ancestors from the isles it is likely that we are also descendents of these early adapters to island life. I kind of like this idea since these “primitives” were contemporaries of the painters of Lascaux in the Dordogne region in France. We have had the privilege of seeing the original cave masterpieces on earlier trips to the region.
Around 9500 BC rising seas cut off Ireland from Britain which in turn was separated from the continent and the French around 6500 BC. Prior to the 4000 BC agricultural revolution in the isles, it is estimated that that Britain had 100,000 and Ireland 40,000 souls. This population had grown to a total of 2 million prior to the arrival of Celts. The Celts impose “political” control and merge with the pre-Celtic populations. What is astounding is organization and determination of these pre-Celtic populations of whom we have no written records and only inscriptions that can be interpreted in almost any number of ways.
The most impressive collection of surviving monuments include structures in the valley of the River Boyne lies New Grange. Archeologists have concluded that the structure is designed to give the souls of the departed an exit strategy . For 15 minutes the sun light penetrates to the inner chamber at the winter solstice. It is believed that the souls were at that point beamed up.
Neolithic monuments like these, as well as Stonehenge, populate the countryside. In some locations the stones have been repurposed for farmer’s wall but an incredible number survive. Perhaps size does matter.
The Celtic arrivals create their own structures. The most impressive to us was the Dun Aengus fortification on Aran Island. Dating back to around 800 BC, the 11 acres of stonework is impressive. So is the view from the edge located 300 feet above the sea. Peggy loves to prod me into looking over cliffs and climbing towers.
Aran Island is reached by boat. People still farm this island with no native dirt. What they grow is grown from dirt that is the product of composting seaweed and sand. Tough life.
Celtic was society structured around family clans with a plethora of not so mighty rulers. In Ireland this pig pile of competing big shots could enjoy their rivalry unmolested by the outside. The Romans never bothered the Celts in Ireland. Different story in Britain. The Roman invasions of the 1st Century led to the eventual incorporation of Celtic society of Romanized Britons into the empire for around four hundred years. Roman expansion ended where the island narrows near the border with modern Scotland. At this time the Scots were still in the process of migrating from Ireland to Scotland and land north of Hadrian’s Wall was dominated by the Picts. Not much is known about them except through the jaundiced writings of the Romans. Graffiti from a Roman fort on the wall sums up the situation, “If the Picts don’t get you, the weather will.”
Being on the edge of Europe had its advantages as the Roman era was closing in the British Isles. The Irish were beyond the reach of the Anglo-Saxon invaders who were giving King Arthur such a time. These Germans pushed the Celts to the western edge of the island, Wales and Cornwall. Many of the Britons bailed and moved in such numbers that a peninsula in France is named after them, Brittany. These mythic days are memorialized in countless tales and in Glastonbury where Arthur and Guinevere are buried. At least that is what the sign says.
Meanwhile in Ireland, Patrick it is getting a license to preach the Gospel from the Irish High King on a hill in the Boyne Valley.
Irish missionaries were busy at this time converting the Angles, Saxon and Jutes. They were successful and Monastic communities were established on both islands. Unfortunately for the Monks, many of these locations provided easy access for the Vikings who were soon on the scene.
Next we will be back to the Vikings and their cousins, the Normans.