The Celts Paperback – 10 Feb 1989
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About the Author
Novelist, broadcaster and freelance journalist Frank Delaney was born in the south of Ireland in 1942. His radio programmes have included ‘Bookshelf’ and the language series ‘Word of Mouth’ on Radio 4. He regularly appears on TV, having made arts and history documentaries for the BBC, including ‘The Celts’, and features in the ‘Book Show’ on Sky News.
Top customer reviews
Delaney takes the traditional view that Ireland, unaffected by the steamroller of the Roman Empire, preserved Celtic culture intact till the early medeival period when the first monks, themselves drawn from the same aristocratic families which had once supplied recruits to the Druids, wrote down, with minimal editing, the oral legends and sagas, hero tales and accounts of Gods and miracles.
It has become fashionable in some circles to sneer at the idea of an authentic Celtic Ireland. This is because recent genetic research has revealed that the vast majority of the ancestral Irish arrived in the Mesolithic, coming up the Atlantic coast from Spain as the ice retreated. Only a small proportion of the modern population can trace in their DNA the influence of Iron Age incomers from Europe. The same is true of course of the British mainland, whose Welsh, Scots and pre-Saxon English populations, demonstrably "Celtic" in culture at the time of the Roman invasion, had nonetheless only a fraction of Celtic "blood". Please do not let this matter deter you from reading this book, for it is, by and large, irrelevant to Delaney's text. Delaney himself, while acknowledging the theories prevalent at the time, holds back from espousing any mass migration. Delaney is interested in the story of Celtic culture, and here his writing is packed with rich imagery and insight.
He starts by outlining what is known of the origins of Celtic culture - quite a lot, actually - at the time of writing. He moves on from this, vivid enough in itself, to his main theme; the pattern and flavour of Celtic culture and religion, and how the traces which survived in rural Ireland till very recently illuminate what might otherwise be dry texts. Anyone with any experience of the Ireland of the mid twentieth century will recognise his picture, and will understand how clearly he traces influences which have survived fifteen hundred years of monotheistic religion. Readers without this background may find some of his tone overwrought; read on, he knows what he is talking about and his view of Celtic culture is both coherent and consistent with much of what modern research reveals.
On Celtic art and literature, Delaney is poetical. He approaches the subject from the perspective of archaeologist, culutural historian and enthusiast all rolled into one. The illustrations bear out his passion for this stuff; plenty of big full colour photos show why people get worked up over Celtic craftsmanship. The retelling of core tales from the Irish sagas illuminates the continuing interest in Celtic oral literature - he is also very good on the way Irish Iron Age rreligion morphed into a peculiarly Celtic brand of christianity.
I could go on, and this review is already too long. Read it and find out for yourself.
The first thing that struck me though is why he didn't write more about the Iceni Tribe and the amazing Snettisham Hoard, in view of the fact that this book was published after it's discovery. That fact alone is pretty disappointing.
Also, I haven't read more than a few pages, but of the pages I did, I noticed he asks us to treat what the Romans wrote about the Celts 'with suspicion' as they were invaders etc. This was immediately after an account of 'wife sharing' among Celtic tribes. Wife sharing in ancient tribes was not uncommon and I have read about this 'solution' to a shortage of females as being part of the way of life in mountainous China, among other places. Child birth was very dangerous and took the lives of many women. The solution was to share a wife among a load of brothers and even the father.
I'll update this review when I finish the book. I am particularly interested to read about the illuminations in Celtic bibles.
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