This book was published after the author produced and presented a television series of the same name for Scottish Television, and many of its flaws and virtues reflect that beginning. I haven’t seen the series (although I might be interested). Roughly country by country the book goes through a broad Celtic history of the British Isles, including Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and even England. It does not give any focus to Brittany, despite the early assertion that Celticness should be defined by language rather than race or other criteria.
While the editing missed a few things (one chapter in particular has an undue number of proofreading and other errors, and far too much emphasis is laid on mna si being an alternate phrase for bean si, or banshee, when any Irish child should have been able to point out that mná (women) is simply the plural in Irish for bean (woman), and thus mná sí would actually be banshees) the broad strokes of the history seemed correct where I knew enough to comment. My real quibble is with the chronology, which skips around a lot, even within given chapters, often making the point in question less clear. Similarly, a point made in one chapter sometimes appears to be contradicted in another.
Still, allowing for this not being a ‘scholarly’ history, I think it’s well worth the read, for bringing Celtic past and present together, as a true cultural heritage and largely ignoring (or at least downplaying) the tourist tat. It also makes a good argument in bringing forward the sea links that were so important in the early parts of this history (which includes some decent discussion of the Viking influence on the Celtic lands, and a return Celtic influence on Scandinavia) when land travel was often more difficult and nearly always slower.
I enjoyed this a lot, and may well follow up on the bibliography, if I can find the books. (I randomly came across this in a second-hand bookshop in Jerusalem.)
- From the Elgin Marbles to An Gal Gréine via William Wallace (sluggerotoole.com)
- Celtic land values (energybulletin.net)
Tags: Alistair Moffat, books, British Isles, Celts, Cornwall, England, history, Ireland, Isle of Man, Literature, postaday2011, Scotland, Scottish Television, Television program, The Sea Kingdoms, Wales