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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


"Thoughts of our ancestors and their clans"

IT is a known fact that when we start talking about history we begin by referring to some name, incident or territory thousands of years back. That was not the case in what set me thinking about our ancestral past and the names given to people’s, clans, or the natives of a country or part of a country.

No, what set me thinking was the expression used by a commentator on the Wimbledon tennis championship last year referring to top class English players being of Anglo-Saxon stock, not that there was anything wrong with that, but then who were the Anglo-Saxons. We have often heard the term used in connection with English teams or people.

But let us pause for a moment and try to figure out where the expression came from. While the ancestors of a lot of the people from the land across the Irish sea may have their roots in Saxony or elsewhere on the continent of Europe we still feel that classing them as Anglo-Saxon is very misleading. It also looks funny to me to see two Low-German tribes referred to when we wish to indicate the race-character to be the Celtic capital of Ireland.

We should think the way Celts spread from central Europe. They moved south east to the border of Turkey and into the Balkans, south into what is now France and northern Italy, and west to the shores of the North Sea, and the English Channel. They then moved into parts of Britain and eventually into Ireland. There is no doubt but that it was the coming of the Celts that changed the living standards in Ireland and indeed a lot of what was once known as the British Isles. This is why, we have what we call our Celtic cousins in many places along the west coast of England and Wales with Cornwall still deemed to be as Celtic as we are ourselves. As for Scotland, even to the language and the traditional game of Shinty there is the same Celtic quality as in any part of Ireland. If we are to believe the books on Celtic tradition and folklore we can go ever further and find even more comparisons with parts of England. There is reason to believe that Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Staffordshire, down through Rutland, Wiltshire, Somerset and part of Sussex are as Celtic as Perthshire or North Munster. Then Cheshire, Herefordshire, Devon, Dorset, and Bedfordshire along with some of the Welsh counties are the same as north Wales and Leinster while Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire are on a level with South Wales and Ulster. Maybe it was the descendants of these strong Celtic groups that the Wexford hurlers were playing when they got the name ‘The Yellow Bellies’. This is the reason why ‘Anglo-Celt’ would be a more appropriate name than Anglo-Saxon.

It is hard to find the true period of the Celts origin but it must have been long before Christianity, they were first mentioned under that name about 500 to 600 BC. Later we find Herodotus referring to them as the people who lived ‘beyond the pillars of Hercules’ (Spain) and he also mentions ‘The great river as rising in their country’. This was almost certainly the Danube and would also point to the centre of Europe as being their homeland. Other historians have different views on their way of life. Some mention that they were a friendly people while others state that they were very aggressive and much barbarity is attributed to them on their advances into Greece and other countries which they conquered in their sweeps from their base in Mid-Europe.

The Celts had dominated central and western Europe and had spread their rule into Italy and Greece. For those who remember the scripture’s and think of St. Paul’s ‘Letter to the Gelatines’ we have another connection with the Celts. It was the Celts who founded the Kingdom of Galatia in far away Asia Minor. They had sacked Rome about 390 BC. They had invaded Spain and Portugal and dominated most of the Lowlands at this time. If we think of some of the paintings of Celts by Greek artists and compare them with paintings of the chariot warriors of ancient Ireland we find a similarity that is compelling.

The Celts were adventurers in many ways and brought new ideas to Ireland when they arrived at the end of the Irish bronze age, about the sixth century BC. Their tales of wonderful people and even greater doings soon became part of the Irish folk scene. Later on we had stories of great heroes of our own and stories of wonderful deeds. The wonderful doings of Cu Chulainn, Conchobar mac Nessa, Fionn and the Red Branch Knights, and many more.

Finds of articles from a later age, about 200 BC, such as golden collars, war trumpets, and ornamented sword scabbards are associated with what was known as the La Tene culture go to prove that the Celts is linguistic, and like Greek is a branch of the Indo-European brand of languages.

The Irish language comes from a dialect called the Q-Celtic. The Celts of Gaul and Britain spoke what was called P-Celtic, this would be the ancestor of the Welsh and Breton form of Celtic. It is thought that the Q-Celts came from Spain and that the latest Celtic people to land in this country were P-Celts and came from Britain. The boyhood name of Cu Chulainn was Setantae and is the same as that of a British tribe, the Setantii, who lived on the Lancashire coast. How the opinion is formed that the Q-Celts landed in the south-east comes from the fact that the Belgium ‘Menapii’ appear on Ptolemy’s map of Ireland at Wexford and are later found under the Q-Celtic form of their name as Fir Manach (Fermanagh).

In the intervening years other groups of Celts and other people arrived in Ireland and spread to all parts of the country. These people eventually became completely Celticised sharing a common culture and a common Celtic language. About the beginning of the fourth century AD the tide was beginning to turn regarding the raiding parties coming from England, and it was the Irish who were carrying out raids on the western coast of Britain. Their language was brought into Scotland by the Dal Riata of Antrim. Niall of the Nine Hostages won fame and power by his raids on Britain and it is supposed to have been in one of those raids that a young lad and his two sisters were captured and brought to Ireland. The lad turned out to be St. Patrick who later escaped from captivity, became a priest, and later still brought the true faith to Ireland.

Again, will we ever know the true story of who St. Patrick was or where he was captured. Was it in Normady where he was staying with relatives or at his home in Britain. But then, that is another story that may not be as hard to solve as to who will win the 2004 Wimbledon and will they be Anglo-Saxon.

Source: The Carlow Nationalist c2004

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2001 County Carlow Genealogy IGP