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on 25 January 2017
Beautifully written! This is about as poetic as contemporary nonfiction gets.
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on 29 August 2010
The sea was the link that brought together the Celtic peoples living in the western stretches of Europe.

The Irish Sea provided a watery highway not only for the Celts but also the Vikings. The Vikings and Celts reached North America long before Columbus and one can only wonder how history might have changed had the earliest incursions by this Norse-Celtic breed resulted in the kind of colonization that occurred in Iceland.

Unfortunately, this work gives little insight into a fascinating story but reads like a television script which has been clumsily joined together.

To call it "The History of Celtic Britain and Ireland" is wildly inaccurate, to say the least. It reads more like a collection of items related to the history of the Celts and Vikings and has no focus. The best I can say is that it is good for dipping into from time to time rather than a straight read through.

Paragraphs jump from one subject to another and subjects disappear as quickly as they arise.

In the middle of historical accounts we have "interviews" with living people, such as a boat builder in Ireland, or a mini-biography of Rob Roy or a description of the cemetery at Dalmore on the Isle of Lewis. This might work on television where it is essential to bombard the audience with anecdotes and pictures to keep it switched on but it has no place in what aims to be a serious work.

I have two main criticisms of this work. One is that the author does not convince us that there is still a strong Celtic influence in England (other than Cornwall*). Some references to place names and traditions like well-dressing are not enough to substantiate this view.

Secondly, he is rather sentimental about the Celts and gives the impression that there was and is some kind of unity among them. This is not the case at all. Welsh archers fought alongside the English against the Scots at Falkirk and Bannockburn and with the Anglo-Normans in Ireland. The Scots under Edward Bruce invaded Ireland and Scottish settlers colonized Ulster. Irish pirates attacked Wales and Scotland and St Patrick himself is believed to have been a fellow Celt who was kidnapped and enslaved.

While Scotland and Ireland have always been linked by migration, language and culture, Scotland and Wales have had little in common.

*If we assume that Cornwall is actually part of England, something many Cornish people do not.
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on 20 December 2010
Described as "lovingly [tracing] the remnants of a once-powerful people through language, ancient place names, farms, fortresses, harbours, and most of all, through their connection to the sea" the main value of this book is to remind us that this United Kingdom was united mainly through force of arms, firstly by the Germanic tribes who invaded these shores from the 5th century AD, and then more efficiently and ruthlessly by the Normans after 1066. In the face of such outright hostility and oppression it is something of a miracle that any trace of Celtic-ness does survive, as the author assures us it does. The book takes the form of a rather rambling journey from Scotland to Cornwall, taking in parts of England, Wales and Ireland on the way, in search of these remnants of the Celtic past.

The chief fault is that, although there is a bibliography of some pertinence to the subject matter, there are no citations or references anywhere within the text. Thus we just have to take the author's word for some of the more obscure events, personalities or anecdotes which fill the book, as when he tells us on page 229 that Duncan Ban McIntyre ( whom I have never heard of, but would like to know more about) was "one of the greatest Gaelic poets who ever lived". However, this quite substantial book is written in such a way as to hold the attention of the interested reader. There are a number of grammatical errors, probably due to careless proof-reading, and a few obscenities -albeit in quotation marks, which lower the tone of what could have been a more scholarly presentation.
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on 13 September 2014
i was irritated by the lack of serious research-only books were used, no journal papers. lack of accuracy re Greeks and Phoenician trade. no mention at all of the crucial Veneti. dashed backwards and forwards in time most confusingly. the title was a misnomer, perhaps 'folklore history of celtic Britain would be more accurate. That said, it is an author's right to write the story he/she wishes.
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on 19 March 2009
I was given this book as a Christmas present, and being a frequent visitor to the Hebrides, was hoping for a factual, concise history of western Britain. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The title of the book is rather misleading as the phrase "The History Of..." implies - to me at least - a certain attempt at objectivity and the application of proper historical method. But this is not really a history book, so much as an ethnographic study of Celtic national identity, from the point of view of someone who loves all things Celtic and blames the English for their demise. I was quite amused to read, in his closing notes on page 280, that the author was not attempting to prove Celtic culture was better than English culture, as that was the overriding tone of the previous 279 pages.

Apart from that, the book is too disjointed and reads as a sequence of anecdotes. While the anecdotes are well related, interesting and often amusing, the conclusions the author arrives at are conjectural, unconvincing to say the least, and don't really push his argument forward. There's far too much personal opinion, backed up with superlatives and too much emphasis on Scottish history, especially lowland history which has little relevance to the argument. He wastes an entire chapter trying to connect Border Reiving to some sort of residual Celtic horse-culture, which is far from convincing. In this chapter, as with others, he makes little attempt to evaluate alternative hypotheses, other than with throw-away phrases like `it is far more likely...'.

I don't want to appear too critical of this book, as it was a good read in large parts, and formed a fascinating insight into Celtic mindset, if not the culture, but as a body of work I wasn't really convinced. I can imagine this book would appeal to people who are looking to have existing opinions reinforced.
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on 29 March 2005
This book explores the similarities of the Celtic peoples and especially their differences with the English. It is a book that would not be written by someone who'd lived within the heart of the Celtic Fringe but as a border Scot, Moffatt's journey of discovery is profound. The book is especially good if you have an interest and knowledge of celtic history already, as it attempts to overturn accepted Anglo-saxon history by highlighting events that have been left out of the establishment view.
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on 21 February 2011
I would have to agree with the more negative reviewers here. While I enjoyed parts of this book, there is a lot of nonsense in it too. His observations about a Gaelic poem are completely off the wall, because he suggests that the Celtic languages are in some way inherently onomatopaeic and close to nature in some mystical way. The opposite side of this belief in the poetic mistiness of the Celtic tongues is the argument (which he also makes) that they don't handle modern vocabulary well. He seems to be suggesting that this is again a natural and intrinsic quality, not just the result of the way they have been marginalised by more powerful languages. This kind of argument can be used to damage these languages because people who have a general lack of interest in their survival can sigh and say "Well, they are really beautiful ... great for poetry, but you couldn't run an office through Irish/Gaelic/Welsh." Which of course is absolutely untrue. There is also a claim here that the word moccasin comes from the Scottish Gaelic "mo chosan", which means my feet or legs. This is clearly rubbish. Why wouldn't they call them movrogans? (Mo bhrogan, my shoes) Why would you name them after your feet, rather than your shoes? And in any case, there's already a perfectly good Amerindian etymology for this word.
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on 26 July 2011
Mr Moffat sets out to tell the history of the celtic peoples of Britain and Ireland and unfortunately decides to wholly ignore Britanny. Man and Cornwall are afforded as much space as Wales, the only one of his "Sea Kingdoms" with a significant extant celtic culture, and whilst much is made of the celtic traditions still celebrated in Cornwall, Mr Moffat fails to look across the very sea that he claims links celtic lands and cultures, and thereby undermines his entire enterprise. The link between Mr Moffat's "kingdoms" is the English language, not the sea.

The book is less a history, it is more a collection of engaging, informative, and erudite vignettes and anecdotes with sometimes strong and sometimes tenuous links to a celtic past and common celtic identity. The author's trip to the seat of Somerled's Lordship of the Isles is one particularly evocative sketch, and it is in the attempt to grasp the fleeting past of peoples whose deeds are more remembered in the writings of others that he is at his best. The leap of imagination needed to link the chronicle of St Brendan with the first Europeans to reach North America is not huge, and the exhortation to read between the lines of written history and supposed myth is intriguing and refreshing. This alone makes the book worth reading.

Unfortunately the ludicrous swingeing statement "The English look down on the Welsh" because of i.a. something Ann Robinson once said on TV gives the book an ugly sectarian aspect. Mr Moffat is a Scot, who recognises and aptly describes the airbrushing of Scottish history during the romantic period, but is still under the shadow of Ossian and Walter Scott, and cannot shake off traditional prejudices as much as he purports to.

Ultimately the focus is too "Scots-Irish", there is too much attention paid to the dead and ailing parts of the celtic fringe, and nowhere near enough to the survivors in Wales and Brittany, perhaps evidence of the historian's tendency to veer away from those still alive to tell their own stories.
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on 13 May 2006
In this book Moffat attempts to tell the history of Celtic Britain and Ireland from the perspective of a sea-faring folk. In so doing he unfortunately misses the chance to create a compelling or authoritative narrative. The book is repetitive, the chronology frequently garbled and more than once I had no real idea where in space or time Moffat was (and this although I have quite a good working knowledge of history). His arguments are seldom conclusive or conducive to the point he is trying to make (if any).

In the end, the book left me with a feeling of frustration as much more could have been made out of the 'sea-side' approach to the Celts. As it is, the book is little more than a waste of time with some nice anecdotes.
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on 26 July 2013
indepth reading regarding the way of the celts from around the british isles a good read if you are interested in celtic history
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