I haven’t read Sir Simon Jenkins’ book The Celts: A Sceptical History, and to be honest I don’t think I’m likely to. Like Jenkins, I too am half-Welsh and half-English, but I don’t fancy being descended from “sociable sailors”. What’s the old saying about sailors having a girl in every port? I should imagine it’s been the case since man first sat on a log and floated downstream to the next village.
I suspect there have always been four separate branches in the British Isles, but were they all on the Celtic tree? According to Merriam-Webster, the following is a definition of Celt:-
But did the peoples of the four corners of the British Isles regard themselves as Celts? What about the Britons, Picts and so on? I don’t profess to know what they all called themselves originally, but by the time the Normans forced their way into England, I’m sure the other three lands regarded themselves as Welsh, Irish and Scots. The unfortunate English were completely subjugated by a foreign army and sent in a different direction from their three fellows—who, given the similarities/connections in their collective heritage, were all from the same root. A Celtic root? Perhaps not specifically, but the end result was the same. They saw no reason why they should be subjugated by the Norman-English. And quite right too. The English didn’t want to be subjugated either. Never let that be forgotten.
The Normans weren’t satisfied with just England, they wanted everything. The Welsh came off worst first. The Irish, because they were across the sea, were more troublesome. The Scots were downright pugnacious! But they didn’t all three get together to form an effective alliance. You know the sort of thing, united we stand, divided we fall. No easy matter against the aggressive and only too efficient Norman war machine. Or the Romans before that.
So, closer to our own time, I suppose it could be argued that when the American colonists rebelled against the British, they weren’t Americans fighting the British, they were British fighting British. Yet to hear about it these days you’d think they went to bed one night British but overnight appeared as the fully fledged Americans they’d really been all along. Maybe the Pilgrim Fathers landed on American soil and instantly morphed into Americans. They didn’t, they were English. Subsequent colonists were and remained British—until the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776. Then they could rightly call themselves Americans…but that doesn’t alter the fact that the night before, when they’d gone to bed, they were still officially British. The same people exactly, they simply changed their identity.
Does that mean the four nations of Britain went to bed one night as Celts (and Britons et al?) and woke up the next morning as the English, Welsh, Irish and Scots? Heaven knows.
I don’t know how far back Jenkins wants to go in order to lump us all together as Celts who actually called themselves Celts, but it’s one heck of a long way, and even then did they think of themselves as one people? The Celts? I doubt it, but I don’t know. I can’t think the Saxons came over and became Celts the moment they stepped ashore. They came over and mixed with the people already in England and became Anglo Saxons. Those in Wales didn’t become Anglo Saxons, they remained Welsh. And the same logic applied to Ireland and Scotland. And they all three had their separate heritage, languages and characteristics (albeit with very distant links). The English were no different, except they ceased to view themselves as being the same as the other three because they’d been invaded violently and taken over. This is just my viewpoint, which isn’t guaranteed to be correct, of course. 🙄
And if we all were really Celts (and proud of it!) did we really once look like the illustration below? They don’t look like sociable sailors to me. And they’d be a bit chilly in the depths of winter. Ben Nevis, Snowdon, Scafell Pike or Carrauntoohil in January with just a leather belt? 😮 No thank you.
The above comments have been prompted by this article from the Times Literary Supplement, in which Professor Patrick Sims-Williams—Professor of Welsh and Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth University—has savaged the Jenkins book.
Now, given that the professor finds such fault with all the incorrect information about our history that is rammed down our unfortunate throats from the moment we go to school, perhaps he will turn his attention to the Tudor rubbish that is the bane of the truth. The Tudors were awful, a Horrible History in their own right (it’s about the only thing they did have a right to!) I’d like the Tudors to have been driven back where they came from (France and Brittany where their odious first king is concerned because he hadn’t seen Wales since childhood).
So please, Professor Sims-Williams, having disposed of Jenkins’ book, rid us next of our unwanted overload of Tudor lies and myths!