It’s high time we spoke about the Celts and their contribution to society. After all without the Celts, we wouldn’t be who we are today! We wouldn’t have our personalities, our appearances wouldn’t be the same, and our mannerisms would be different. We are who we are because of these Iron Age warriors. Join me in taking a closer look into who our Celtic brethren and sisters were.
The origins of Celts, derived from the Greek word Keltoi meaning Barbarian, is often widely disputed. According to many scholars the Celts hailed from Western and Mid-Europe around 1300BC and over the next few centuries became the most powerful people in central and northern Europe. However, it’s wasn’t really until the 5th Century that the Celts featured in any documented historical account. By this time, the Celts had already migrated across to Spain, France and a number of countries in the Alpine region like Austria and Switzerland. The reason why it took until the 5th century for proper Celtic accounts is another widely debated subject. Some speculate that Celtic Druids who were responsible for the majority of Celtic records didn’t trust potential outside threats to duplicate their work, so they destroyed the majority of their written accounts. There's probably a few tasty beer recipes we lost as a result (sad face)!
The Celts In Ireland
The Celts were the earliest inhabitants of the island of Ireland, who came from central Europe about 500 BC. T
Along with being the primary scribe of the time, these Celtic Druids advised their tribal chiefs on all matters relating to the land. They were considered wise and holy because they spent nearly 20 years in training for their positions and as a result led the tribes in many Celtic customs.
Celtic Customs That Are Still Common Today
The tradition of kissing someone under the mistletoe is actually Celtic! The Celts arrived in Britain and Ireland around 500BC or the beginning in the late Bronze Age but like I mentioned, they had settlements all over central and northern Europe. In Ireland and across Europe, the language they spoke was various forms of Celtic.
Across British Isles the Celts spoke two dialects, Brittonic which was spoken in southern Britain and northern France, and Goidelic which was spoken in Ireland and northern Britain. Modern Welsh, Cornish and Breton are all modern versions of Brittonic. While Scots-Gaelic and of course Irish Gaeilge are the modern-day versions of Goidelic.
When it came to infrastructure, a common misconception is that it was the Romans who built the first road network. But it was actually the Celts who had a pre-Roman network of wooden roads that connected the settlements of various Celtic tribes so that they could engage in trade. Archaeologists discovered that these innovative Celts constructed the roads to mimic the path of the sun. As a matter of the fact, those crafty Romans probably based their own road-building skills on the mighty Celts. Of course, their own druids probably shot themselves in the foot by making no actual written account of these early achievements. Oh, that and the fact these roads were made from wood so very little evidence remains of them since the majority of them have rotted away over the centuries. Luckily there are a few wooden road remains that have been somewhat preserved in bogs in Ireland, England and France.
With all these roads created around Europe, it led to the spread of smelly, dirty unkept Celts right? Actually no, this was another false claim made by the Romans. Roman sources claimed that the Celts were unshaven, dirty and scruffy. Actually the Celts didn’t have a single style so it’s very likely this Roman account is simply painting an entire identity with the same brush. You see the Celts were somewhat more sophisticated than the Romans. They were actually quite ahead of their time when it came to gender equality. Women could have power, own land, and even divorce in Celtic society, which was unheard of in that era. They could even become Druids, who wrote laws that safeguarded all of Celtic society, including the elderly, disabled, and children.
What Did Celts Wear?
What did the Celts wear when it came to apparel? The Celts were great craftspeople and artists. They made many beautiful things, like their clothes. They were very clever with textiles. They used material from wool, hemp, leather, seals, otter, badger, and foxes fur. They dyed their clothes with bright colours made from natural items like berries, plants, and even stale urine. For the wealthy, silk was commonly used. Although silk wasn’t only reserved for the wealthy - tribal flags and banners were made from silk or satin too. The weavers at the time were held in high esteem for their intricate designs, with certain items of clothing taking over a month to make.
Their clothes had intricate patterns and designs on them, like woven baskets or repeated spirals. The Celts made clothing from wool, linen or animal skins.
They also made beautiful metalwork, and also wore jewellery made of gold and silver as well as jewels. In addition to this, they would often wear cloaks around their shoulders as well as tunics, trousers and skirts. like the brooches that are in the museum today. These brooches may have been worn by Celtic women to fasten their clothing together on either side of their shoulders or over their breasts.
Both men and women wore wrap around skirts, tunics or robes throughout the year, with cloaks limited to winter wear. Men wore a skirt-like garment called a léine which has been translated from the Gaelic as “shirt” or “tunic. The women would also wear these léines but as undergarments which were then covered by open-sleeved dresses. These léines were a staple of modern Celtic apparel. Some léines had sleeves or hoods, some wore knee-length or calf-length but the majority were mid-thigh height. Even in battle, the Celtic Charioteers would wear gold léines sometimes. In any Celtic tribe, you would have seen men and women with red or even gold embroidery with laces and fringes stitched in. Like modern-day Celts, ancient Celts dressed in multiple layers to adapt to their ever-changing harsh climate and surroundings. Those who had the pleasure of living or travelling to Ireland can attest to this!!!
To decorate themselves, Celts used brooches which was an ornament fastened to their clothing using a pin. Armlets which were a type of bracelet were also worn. However, the most well-known type of jewellery was the torc. This was a neck collar made of metal or even gold. For the less well-off, the use of feathers in either clothing or in their hair was common touch. Hats are not mentioned often in ancient Celtic accounts, but headbands of cloth or gold are referenced.