Wha's like us?
Damn few and they're a' deid!
It only takes a quote like the one above, written by the great Scottish writer and historian Sir Walter Scott, or a few book titles like How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill, and The Mark of the Scots, by Duncan Bruce, or perhaps even a few blockbuster movies like Braveheart and Rob Roy, to give folks the impression that the Celtic world holds itself in pretty high esteem.
Truth is, the amalgamation of races and cultures that have combined to form what many think of as being “Celtic” have had their share of ups and downs, as have many cultures across the face of the earth, and across time.
However, it is also true that much of the Renaissance period in European history was helped along by elements of Roman, Alpine Celtic, and Biblical traditions and histories that were kept alive in Ireland during the so-called Dark Ages. Manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, the Annals of the Four Masters, and other meticulous Celtic works still provide fodder for historical musing.
It is also true that many improvements to mankind’s lot have come from Scottish innovators, not to mention that 70% of all U.S. presidents have had Scottish bloodlines, two-thirds of all Canadian prime ministers have had the same, and even 25% of all English prime ministers have surprisingly had some Scottish background. There is an endless list available of Scottish contributions to the world of invention, finance and government. In fact, it is not a stretch to say that the Scots and their Irish counterparts have been instrumental in spreading the idea of personal freedom around the globe. Both carry the reputation of being willing to die for that freedom, and God knows many did.
It is not our purpose here to rehash the accomplishments outlined particularly in the first two books mentioned. They provide enough delightful reading, already. However, it would be helpful, at a higher level, to recount some basics of Celtic history.
It must first be said that Celtic “tribes” were often organized more by culture and perhaps language than by bloodlines. Some believe the first Celts to be descendant of the Tribes of Israel, more specifically from the lost tribe of Dan, and it is true that many ancient places in Ireland, Scotland and even Scandinavian countries have names rooted in the words Dan, Don or Dun, including Denmark, or “Dan Merk” - a merk being a measurement of land; thus “Dan’s land”.
On old maps of Ireland, drawn by the famous map maker, Ptolemy, we find “Dan Sower” (Dan’s Resting Place) and “Dan Sobairse” (Dan’s habitation).
Also, one translation for the famous Tuatha De Dannan tribe of ancient Irish history is “Tribe of Dan.” There are other translations, of course, just as there are many other misty explanations of the origins of the Celts, themselves.
One Irish form of the name Donald is, in fact, the name Daniel. The expansive Scottish/Irish clan of McDonald/McDonnell, the Irish clan of O’Donnell, as well as the McDaniel, McDonough, and even the Donohue families could well have their origins ultimately in the name Daniel/Donald more commonly known as Domhnaill in Gaelic. Without a doubt, the Domhnaill name was used in the ancient histories of Ireland and Scotland long before one family officially became Clan Donald.
There seems to be at least a modicum of proof that the name Dan is prominent in the ancient histories of these northern lands, in both place names and surnames.
Some of the earliest writings describing the Celtic people consist of notes recorded by Josephus, an historian from A.D. 70, who writes in his “Antiquities of the Jews” that –
“...wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates until now (A.D. 70) and are an immense multitude...”
This author is speaking of the two lost tribes of the original twelve Israelite tribes. These were the tribes of Dan and Benjamin, and he locates them in Asia and Europe, as of A.D. 70.
The Hebrews are referred to, in the Bible, as the Heberites, in Numbers 25:45, being descended from Heber, he being the great, great, grandson of Noah. In Spain, at the time of the Celtic presence there, we find the Iberians, and also, the islands between Ireland and Scotland – those first settled by the descendants of Tuatha De Dannan, and the ancestors of Clan Donald and other clans – are today called the Hebrides (pronounced by some as Heber – dees).
There are other ancient documents that proclaim the same origins for the general population of Scotland and Ireland. Among those are Andrew Wyntown’s Chronykil of Scotland, from 1400 A.D. which was predated by at least three ancient Irish compilations alluding to this origin - The Chronicles of Eri, The Annals of the Four Masters, and The Annals of Clonmacnoise.
April 6th has been set aside as “National Tartan Day” in America, by the U.S. Congress. It is recognized annually by the president, and by Scots from all over the world.
The following is some text taken from U.S. Senate Resolution Number 155:
“Whereas April 6 has a special significance to all Americans, and especially to those Americans of Scottish descent, because the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence was signed on April 6, 1320, and the American Declaration of Independence was modeled on that inspirational document . . .”
There are many thoughts and actual phrases of the 1320 Arbroath Declaration which were used in the Declaration of Independence of the United States, so highly thought of was this venerable document. In this very ancient Scottish declaration the belief that the Scots descended from the Israelites is recounted to, of all people, the Pope.
This theory of the origin of the Scots, and therefore the Celts, as being traced back to the Israelites is written about in many modern works and may be indisputable, in the face of all the evidence.
There are two more common threads to be considered. One is the Irish harp, which is said to be patterned after the harp of the Biblical David. This theory is supported by much tradition and by archeological evidence. Another thread is the “Stone of Destiny,” over which many an Irish, Scottish and English king or queen has been crowned, and which is said, in legend, to be the actual stone used as a pillow by Jacob in the Biblical story of his dream, and to have been brought to Ireland by Scota, daughter of the Pharaoh Cingrus.
Scota’s name is one source given for the word Scotland. The other, typically given, is Scotti, the Celtic word for ancient Irish raiders or voyagers. I think it is possible that the Scotti got their name from being voyagers, just like Scota and her people were, and later their Scotti name was transferred to Scotland when these Irish Celts made their way into the Herbrides and coastal areas of Scotland and their Scotti land became Scotland.
Thus we see it is possible that Scotland was named indirectly for Scota and the Hebrides were named for Heber - two names dating back to Biblical times and to the Middle East, also the original home of the bagpipes!
On a trip to Europe, in 2003, I found the wonderful Swiss National Museum in Zurich, Switzerland, whose early historical displays were dedicated almost exclusively to the Celts, due to a cache of Celtic artifacts found nearby.
In doing some follow-up research, I was to find that the Celts populated much of the Alpine region of Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and France, including establishing three cities that I had visited – Munich, Milan, and Zurich.
In Zurich the use of the word Helvetica on store fronts signs was very prominent. This word was an early name of Celtic people. Not far from Zurich, one of the largest caches of ancient Celtic artwork, weapons and day-to-day objects was found, and much of it makes up the Celtic displays at the Zurich museum. The very ancient Celtic artifacts in the Zurich museum show some of the same artistic patterns of relics from later Ireland and Scotland. Rope knotted brooch pins, and the famous Celtic knot are two prime examples.
The Celts were eventually driven out of the Alps by Julius Caesar, who, by his own count, had exterminated 1,125,000 Celts. The Romans eventually chased the Celts all the way to Great Britain, where Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep them contained in the Scottish Highlands.
As the legends go, the Celts left the Alpine region for Spain and then traveled on to Ireland, and eventually Scotland. In Spain there is an area known as Galacia, where forms of Celtic music and language can still be found.
In the early 1900s, the area surrounding what is now Krakow or Cracow, Poland, was in the hands of Austria as a “crownland” and was being called Galicia. It wasn’t until 1914-18, and World War I, that the land of Galicia was split up again between Poland and the Ukraine.
The name Galicia comes from the original Celtic or Gaelic settlers of this land – the Galatians of the Bible, the Gauls of Western Europe, the Gaelic Celts of the Alps that had sacked Rome more than once – the same Gaels or Celts that settled Ireland, Scotland, Wales and possibly even parts of Brittany and Scandinavia.
The earliest intense concentration of Celtic and Gaelic culture in Great Britain can be said to have first been located in Ireland and Wales, with each area using a slightly different version of the Gaelic language. From Ireland, the Celts moved into Scotland to mix with the Picts, who may well have been a branch tribe of Celts.
Most of Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales was subjected to many raids by Scandinavian raiders known to history as the Vikings. Other Scandinavians mixed with the Celts, arriving as traders, rather than raiders. In addition, there was a heavy influence in lowland Scotland from the Anglo-Saxons and Normans.
What we would think of as the old Celtic countries are actually a considerable mix of ancient tribes, many still having links to the untamed tribes of Europe, and most likely to have some association with, or origin from what might be considered the earliest Celtic clans.
In Scotland and Ireland, the Celts, as an amalgamated race of people, remained principally Catholic until the Reformation. A number in Scotland eventually turned to the Presbyterian religion, spreading into Ulster.
Many conflicts developed over the centuries both in Scotland and Ireland between religious and political factions. When a deep study is made of these conflicts, it can often be determined that the common folk were subject to incredible horrors while unwittingly advancing the fortunes of the rich and powerful.
It will never be our intention to take sides, or necessarily place blame, but rather only to attempt to sort out the historical record, with many stories to come.
From both Ireland and Scotland, and for that matter Wales, people with some sort of Celtic heritage, if not blood, made their way to new lands, from Canada (with a strong settlement in Nova Scotia), to the United States and the Caribbean, and to New Zealand and Australia.
How accurate the origin stories of the Celtic race are, it is at least accurate to say that they once populated much of Europe, they attacked Rome at its height of power, they left behind small settlements in Spain and near Poland that remained in recent times, they settled then principally in Ireland spreading into Scotland, they left from both Scotland and Ireland to find a new life in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere, and that their culture is still alive.
Those of us who are Celtic, or wish to be Celtic, are weaved together in a Celtic knot of history, music, language, and culture presented here on our I Love Scotland website.