Outposts of Celtica
History and Heroes of the Celtic World
by J.P. MacLean.
The surviving Celtic world of today, though vibrant and engaging in itself, is only a remnant
of the culture that once dominated most of Europe and parts of Asia. From the Anatolian plains
in present day Turkey to the Highlands of Scotland, the tribal
reigned supreme across this
vast expanse for over four hundred years.
The cities that the Celts founded and once called their own, include Ankara in Turkey, Belgrade
in Serbia and Milan in Italy.
Heroes of the Celtic world include Brennus who once held Rome to ransom, Queen Boudicca who
in defence of her tribe decimated London, and William Wallace (Braveheart) who defeated an
Anglo army twice the size of his spirited battalion.
During the Dark Age of Europe, the monasteries of Celtica were a beacon of light and a source
of knowledge and learning in a world that seemed to be in regression.
This book explores pieces of Celtic history from its birthplace in central Europe, to the
surviving outposts in western Europe and on into the Americas — to such places as the Patagonia
region of Argentina and the Cape Breton region of eastern Canada — outposts that still resist
absorption into the larger generic culture of the modern world.
Outposts of Celtica
The Celtic World of Albion
- An excerpt from Chapter 2.
Circa AD 400, Ireland was firmly Celtic
and would remain so for centuries to
come. There would be various kingdoms within Ireland that would rise and fall,
various tribes that would dominate vast lands across the island and there would
be tribal excursions into Britannia where Irish Celtic communities would arise.
There were periods in time when excursions into Britannia were not so friendly,
when the Irish would raid and plunder Britannia and the maritime lands of Europe
not unlike the Norse raids into Ireland in later years. There were periods in
time when trade and commerce with other tribes and other lands including those
of Rome were not uncommon.
Although there is much history surrounding the lands that would become known as
Ireland, the history was within the confine of a Celtic world. The Romans would
never hold any sway in Ireland, though they believed they could. The dominant
influences that would eventually lead to cultural change in Ireland were the
growth and expansion of the Anglo-Saxons and Normans and – just as significantly
– the evolution of the Christian church in Ireland led by the inspired
missionaries who would see the conversion of most of the population.
Historical accounts of the pre-Roman Celtic world in Northern Ireland and the
west highlands and islands of Scotland are cloudy because much of the
documentation that does exist was written centuries after the times of the
actual occurrences referenced. Coupled with this issue is the frequent situation
that in existing documentation, there is a seamless blend of truth and legend
making it difficult to ascertain one from the other. There were some external
references to the lands of Hibernia by Greek and Roman historians. Later the
Christian missionaries would record history. There was always a bias however
that reflected the desire or objectives of the authors; so early history remains
An important and interesting source that provides a pseudo-historical view of
Ireland is various medieval writings and manuscripts that together form four
distinct periods or cycles of Irish history and mythology. The most of these
manuscripts were penned in the 11th and 12th century AD, but much of the writing
dates back as early as the sixth century. The manuscripts are compiled under
four main – albeit loosely followed – themes: the Mythological Cycle which
references early pre-Christian history, the Ulster Cycle that references the
time of the beginning of the Christian era, the Fenian Cycle which concerns
itself with heroes from around the third century AD and the Historical Cycle
(also known as Cycle of the Kings) which outlines the hierarchy of Kings of
Ireland dating back to the fifth century BC.
Some scholars believe the documents are of historical significance; others feel
they are of little relevance historically. Most have extracted some truth from
the mythology and fiction as there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the
references to many of the tribes, kings, battles and places of importance, are
of some relevance. Just as important as their historical reference value, is
that they provide a taste of the cultural world of the time period in which they
The Greek historian Ptolemy produced a map referencing Ireland circa AD 100
detailing the resident tribes of the time. The map is one of few early external
historical references providing some detail as to the homes of various tribes in
the region. Interestingly, the Cruithin in the north, who also resided in
Scotland, were considered to be a Pictish tribe by some historians. Their
appearance as a noted tribe in Ireland would indicate that assimilation of the
various tribal entities had commenced most likely at a much earlier period in
Ptolomy's Map of Ireland Circa 100AD and Interpretation
Cult of the Sun
- An excerpt from Chapter 3.
There is evidence dating back to 1200 BC in northern and central Europe that
there was an organized priesthood associated with worship of the sun. Many
artifacts found in differing locations across these areas have motifs clearly
pointing to reverence directed at solar worship. These artifacts include long
conical golden hats decorated with wheels and concentric circles, which many
historians believe alluded to the sun.
The best preserved of these artifacts
includes a 37 inch golden cone that had been uncovered in Bavaria and is
entirely engraved with row after row of varying image patterns most likely in
reference to variations of the sun.
Other items include the Trundholm sun
chariot found in Denmark. The disk being carried in this chariot is gilded on
one side only, the right-hand side (relative to the horse). This has been
interpreted as an indication of a belief that the sun is drawn across the
heavens from east to west during the day, presenting its bright side to the
Earth and returns from west to east during the night, when the dark side is
being presented to the Earth.
Also related to the sun and older than these artifacts are some of the passage
tombs found throughout the British Isles and western Europe. In Ireland, dating
back to circa 3200 BC, are megalithic passage tombs such as those in the eastern
county of Meath located at
as well as
other sites. These magnificent edifices were called passage tombs because it was
believed that here the souls of the dead would pass from this world to the next;
the deceased, sometimes cremated and sometimes not, were placed in these tombs
for what was planned to be an eternity.
is fascinating about these tombs – in addition to their megalithic size and
intricate design – is their astronomical alignment in relation to the sun.
In the case of the Newgrange passage tomb, the main passage and
chamber are illuminated by the
sunrise. A shaft of sunlight
shines through the roof box over the entrance and pierces through the passage to
light up the interior chamber. This dramatic event lasts for about 17 minutes at
dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December only.
The passage tomb at Dowth (which is also known through Irish mythology as the
Fairy Mound of Darkness) is of similar size to the tomb at Newgrange, but rather
than alignment to the winter solstice sunrise, this tomb is aligned to the
winter solstice sunset
In the megalithic cairns located at Loughcrew, Cairn T was constructed to align
with the spring and fall equinox
. A beam of light illuminates the back stone of
the chamber inside the Cairn, at sunrise on the spring and autumn equinoxes. The
sunlight is shaped by the stones of the entrance and passageway and with the
light finding its way to the back stone while moving from left to right
illuminating a number of solar symbols.
Clearly, the builders of such edifices had a comprehensive knowledge of
astronomy as well as grounded abilities in engineering that would have allowed
the construction of such megaliths. It is possible and probable that the ancestors of the
Celtic people of Europe were in large part descendants of these Neolithic
indigenous races of people. It is also probable that through the cultural
evolution that eventually produced the Celtic tribes and their Druid wise men,
this ancient knowledge of ritual and rite and science and engineering were, at
least in part, carried forward.
Boyne Valley Private Day Tour
Immerse yourself in the rich heritage and culture of the Boyne Valley with our full-day private tours.
Visit Newgrange World Heritage site, explore the Hill of Slane, where Saint Patrick famously lit the Paschal fire.
Discover the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of power for the High Kings of Ireland.