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The Kelts in Britain

  • Iorwerth C. Peate (a1)

Sir John Rhŷs, whose name is justly honoured by all students of the history of Britain, is nevertheless indirectly responsible for much vague conjecture concerning the Keltic problem by English archaeologists. I write ‘English’ advisedly, for Irish archaeologists—with a profound knowledge of Keltic philology—have definitely refuted the theories propounded by Rhys and maintained in various modified forms by subsequent archaeologists in England. In Wales, the other Keltic country concerned, archaeology unfortunately remained up to recent times the happy hunting-ground of antiquaries whose knowledge of both archaeology and philology was very restricted. Her professional archaeologists, in more recent years, have been hampered by an ignorance of the philological problem and have therefore naturally subscribed to the point of view of the modern English school of thought. On the other hand, some Welsh philologists, often with little or no knowledge of the archaeological evidence, have ridiculed the theories advanced by Rhŷs and the later English writers on the subject. My present purpose is to submit to the readers of ANTIQUITY a case for relinquishing entirely the generally accepted attitude of modern English archaeology towards the Keltic problem.

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1 But it should be noted that in 1925 Dr R. E. M. Wheeler, then Director of the National Museum of Wales, wisely refused to commit himself on the subject (Prehistoric and Roman Wales, pp. 67). ProfessorGordon, V Childe’s admirable summary (in The Bronze Age, pp. 242 et seq.) should also be noted.

2 See, for instance, The Welsh People, chapter 1.

3 In his Welsh preface At Y Kymry.

4 The p and q classification in philology is well established. Labio-velar qu becomes p, e.g., Gaulish penna—, Welsh penn ‘head’ but Irish cenn; Gaulish pempe—, Welsh pump ‘five’ but Irish còic (cf. Latin quinque); Gaulish —epo—, Welsh ebol ‘colt’ but Irish ech ‘horse’ (cf. Latin equus). See, for instance, Georges, Dottin, La langue gauloise, p. 98.

5 Vol. II (Hallstatt), p. 76 and note.

6 Antiq. Journ., 2, 27.

7 Later on however (Antiq. Journ. 2, 207) Crawford, in the light of new evidence from Ireland, is ‘prepared … to look for another name to distinguish (the) invasion’.

8 The Bronze Age and the Celtic World, chapter 8.

9 pp. 151, 161.

10 A prominent anthropologist, Professor F.G. Parsons, D.SC., in a lecture for the Royal Anthropological Institute in 1930 (see Early Man, p. 72) provides an outstanding example of the uncritical way in which the theory has been accepted. Parsons writes : ‘Two waves of Celts are recognized. Firstly, the Goidels, Gaels, or “Q–Celts”, (who) quickly passed or were driven from England into Ireland, the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Man, where their language, abounding in K and Q sounds, (!) is still heard. Secondly, the Brythons, Britons, and “P–Celts” who used a p or b where the Goidels used a k. These people, who called themselves Cymry, spoke a language akin (!) to modern Welsh’.

11 Quoted in Antiq. Journ. 2, p. 205.

12 Phases of Irish History, p. 46.

13 SirMorris-Jones, J., Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture, p. 12.

14 op. cit., p. 27.

15 Introduction to the Survey of English Place-Names, p. 32.

16 In a letter to the writer, December 1931.

17 Antiq. Journ., II, 205–6.

18 The Archaeology of Ireland, p. 133.

19 In a recently published work (Tara : a Pagan Sanctuary of Ancient Ireland, p. 90), Macalister writes : ‘Archaeological evidence dates (the Keltic occupation of Ireland) about 400–350 B.C., but the old historians would have us believe that it took place about 1300 years earlier’. A view similar to that of the ‘old historians’ was expressed in 1921 by Loth, M.J. (Revue Celtique, 1921, p. 288) who referred to the first Keltic invasion of the isle of Britain ‘au commencement du deuxième millénaire avant notre ère’. It may be remarked for the guidance of those archaeologists who regard this pronouncement seriously that it is entirely discounted by the great majority of Keltic philologists.

20 Auf welchem Wege kamen die Goidelen vom Kontinent nach Irland?

21 Trans. Hon. Soc. Cymmrodorion, 1895–6.

22 Arch. Comb., 1930, p. 200.

23 cf. for example Rice Holmes, T. (Ancient Britain, p. 446): ‘It is hard to believe that they would not have directed their immigration towards Britain, the nearer country’. See also Coffey, G., ‘Archaeological evidence for the intercourse of Gaul with Ireland before the first century’ in Proc. Roy. Irish Acad. Sect, c, 28, 96106, and Zimmer in Sitzungsberichte der Königlich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1909.

24 op. cit. p. 32.

25 Des noms de nombre irlandais au Pays de Galles. Oslo, 1925.

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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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