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How the Irish became white There is more than some truth to the country's folklore


March 17, 2021   6 mins

The Welsh writer and historian Norman Davies reflects in his magisterial book The Isles: A History that what sets the Irish apart from the British, and in particular the English, is that they retained their mythology. By this, Davies alludes to the fact that the Irish became Christian gradually and through a process of local adoption, rather than as an external shock, cajoled by foreign missionaries or coerced by their ambitious monarch. When St Patrick converted the Irish — an event celebrated today by millions around the world — it was a remarkably peaceful transition that left the country’s ancient culture alive.

Due to the gradual nature of transformation, the pagan lore of Ireland was recorded by monks who saw their work as a way to preserve and continue the legacy of their own native culture. J. R. R. Tolkien famously created the world of the Lord of the Rings so that the Anglo-Saxons could have their own mythos. The Irish have no need of such creative endeavours, since the tales of Cú Chulainn and Fionn mac Cumhaill have wrapped within them the pathos of Túrin Turambar and Achilles. The Lebor Gabála Érenn, “Book of Invasions,” more than matches The Silmarillion.

These are enduring myths that have been preserved in Irish culture — but what if I told you that the legend and myth are rooted in reality? That the Irish oral tales preserved by monks in the 8th century AD are echoes of events from thousands of years in the past? Far afield from folklore and oral history, the new science of ancient DNA is putting concrete flesh and bones upon the veiled prehistory in which Irish myth is rooted.

The story goes back to the last Ice Age when Ireland was mostly covered in ice and, like Britain, uninhabited. As the ice sheets retreated 10,000 years ago, the island began to be recolonised by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers arriving from the continent, venturing into an empty landscape. These people had migrated out of southern Europe, following the fauna and flora north as the continent warmed up, and were related to people then found in Britain, France and Spain.

They looked strikingly different from today’s Europeans. Genetic analysis indicates that their skin was dark, as was their hair — but their eyes were likely blue. The genetic difference between these people and later Europeans is similar to that between modern Europeans and Chinese. This world of hunter-gatherers persisted for thousands of years, as small bands clung to the western edge of Europe, practising a lifestyle with roots in the deepest Palaeolithic, eating a protein-rich diet of horses, bison, aurochs and red deer.

All this ended with the arrival of farming. A generation ago there were roiling debates among archaeologists as to whether agriculture came to northern Europe through cultural diffusion or migration, a debate similar to that which had raged about whether the Anglo-Saxons had conquered Britain in large numbers. Ancient DNA has now definitively answered this question, and we know that the first farmers in Europe descended from Anatolian migrants who swept in from the Near East. They spread across the continent rapidly around five millennia before Christ, mixing only minimally with the native hunter-gatherers, who were thin on the ground and could offer little resistance; although hunter-gatherer peoples had healthier diets and probably lived longer, farming societies could feed vastly more people and so overwhelmed their neighbours.

These newcomers arrived in Ireland around 4500 BC, many thousands of years after they had established themselves in southern Europe. They brought with them their grains, sheep and cattle, but many of the elements of Irish agricultural life were already in place and had been for over 1,500 years, conditioned by the local ecology and climatic regime. Though the new people mixed with the native hunter-gatherers, their own language and culture came to dominate, while ancient DNA indicates that the hunter-gatherers were very small in number. There were simply many more of the newcomers.

What few Mesolithic hunter-gatherers there were retreated and were absorbed in the advancing human wave of farmers. For many generations the two groups would probably have been easy to distinguish: the newcomers were light-skinned and dark-eyed, while the hunter-gatherers were dark-skinned and light-eyed. Ancient DNA suggests dark-skinned people persisted long after the arrival of farmers in pockets and corners of the island, in more remote and mountainous regions of the country. Who knows if some of the Irish legends of different people and races did not emerge from these contacts?

Curiously, the closest modern people genetically to the Neolithic farmers of Ireland are the Sardinians. But this is not surprising considering that most of the ancestry of the first Irish farmers seems to have derived from the Cardial Culture of Spain (itself the product of a rapid expansion of farmers from the eastern Mediterranean). While the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers were dark-skinned but light-eyed, the farmers likely resembled many modern southern Europeans, with dark hair and eyes, and lighter skin. The contact between two such distinct groups, almost certainly speaking unintelligible languages, physically so different and practising contrasting lifestyles, almost certainly fed into later legends and myths.

The arrival of farmers in Ireland led to a transformation of the material culture. These Neolithic people were responsible for the construction of great stone megaliths, a practice that arose and spread along Europe’s Atlantic shores, seen with Stonehenge in Britain and the Carnac Stones of Brittany. They also built monuments such as the Newgrange passage tomb, one of the most ornate and beautiful pieces of prehistoric stonework in the world. These various stoneworks and tombs that litter the landscape of Ireland have shaped the Irish sense of their past, and loom large in legends of faeries and ancient peoples long lost and faded into the mists of time.

But the time of the Stone Age farmers ended in due course, and in 2500 BC the first of many waves of migrants swept west onto the island. Called the “Beaker Culture“, they were descendants of people who had left modern Germany, and earlier still had their origins on the Eurasian steppe. Genetically, the Beaker People resemble the modern-day inhabitants of the island and physically, too, these newcomers appeared rather like the fair-skinned and often fair-haired modern Irish. Though many of the traits now associated with the Irish, such as lactose tolerance, were not present in full, the roots of the genetic character of the modern people date to this period.

One hypothesis holds that it was the Beaker People who brought the Celtic languages, establishing the cultural patterns that persisted down to the Iron Age and contact with the Romans. If this is true, then the myths that were recorded by the Irish monks in the 7th and 8th centuries AD may date to the period of contact and conflict between the Neolithic tribes and the Beaker Culture. Could it be that the Tuatha De Danann, a mythologic race of supernatural beings mentioned in Irish legend, and vanquished by the ancestors of the Gaels, were actually the builders of the megaliths?

Recently, a group of Irish scientists has cataloged genetic remains from a host of locations across Neolithic Ireland. They discovered that a high-status man buried at Newgrange 5,000 years ago appeared to have been part of an important prehistoric dynasty, and was also the product of incest. The researchers point out that it is often a feature of highly-stratified Neolithic societies that royal families will practise incest, yet it is intriguing that the early historical Irish had legends of incest at the site of Newgrange, a story that must have survived thousands of years until Christianisation and literacy.

The local people in fact called the mound the “Hill of Sin”, and there were legends of incestuous activities between a ruler who built monuments and his sister in order to maintain the cycle of the sun. And so the existence of an individual who is quite inbred, and clearly of elite status, buried 3,000 years before these stories were written down is quite extraordinary.

Is it possible that Irish folklore was able to record an essentially truthful story over so many generations? The mythic legends of Ireland date to the time of Christ, over 2,000 years after the arrival of the Beaker Culture, and their likely conflict with the last of the Stone Age farmers who built the monuments they inherited. Preservation of such ancient motifs seems implausible. But note that Indian mythology preserves elements that are resonant with Greek myth, such as the divine twins — this, despite the two cultures being separated by thousands of years since their last common ancestor, suggesting a story that had been maintained for generation upon generation.

Davies, among other historians, highlights the Irish preservation of their mythic cycle as a matter of curiosity, and perhaps an edifying fact. But the detail and fidelity of the Irish in setting down their oral history may actually benefit future generations, as ancient DNA is telling us in exquisite detail the demographic processes by which the Irish people came to be the way they are. The true book of invasions is being written by unraveling DNA, and the existence of an oral record of the deep past may be essential for future scholars in understanding life in the islands before the Romans brought it into the light of history.


Razib Khan is a geneticist. He has written for The New York Times, India Today and Quillette, and runs two weblogs, Gene Expression and Brown Pundits. His newsletter is Razib Khan’s Unsupervised Learning


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LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago

A lot of historical DNA analysis is quite vague and based on tiny samples, and presumptions based on modern populations make up and quite often politics. Every few years it all gets rewritten based on which genetic markers are used and other datasets.

Only 10 years ago it was claimed that the Anglo-Saxons (& forgotten Jutes) pretty much wiped out the people of (what became) England. Then the idea that the vikings had a large genetic influence too. Then the claim was that we couldn’t tell a lot of difference between the Germanics and Vikings. Then the latest is that the Anglo-Saxons genes make up between 10-40% of the population in the South East of England only – within the established population only. All of these claims were based on the ‘best’ evidence at the time, and each one is overturned every few years.

It’s fascinating stuff, but I take it all with a huge pinch of salt.

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Exactly, well said.

G Worker
G Worker
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

The evidence since the PoBI study of 2010 is that about 30% of distinctive genes among the English are Germanic in origin, and they are arrayed south to north by concentration – but the whole of the English population carries those genes.
In some contrast, there is negligible evidence of any Norman or Viking genetic trace, and nothing of the Romans.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  G Worker

Up to 25% of the Roman Army landing in Britannia in 43AD/796AUC was what we would call ethnically German, and it probably remained so for next three hundred and seventy odd years.

Thus when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes pitched up, there must have been quite large German element already in existence, although by culture and behaviour they were obviously Romans.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

I was wondering what exactly would count as “Roman” genetic trace, knowing a lot of rank-and-file Romans intermarried with non-Romans, eg. freed Greek, Germanic or Celtic slaves, or just daughters of the many “foreign” groups, eg. people from North Africa, who migrated to Rome for economic reasons and (because they had no choice about it then) adopted most of their ways. I realizing I’m basing some of this on the TV series Rome which may not be entirely historically accurate, but in that series, not only does a Roman soldier marry a freed Germanic slave, but also a freed male Greek slave marries a Roman daughter of a nouveau riche family who falls upon misfortune, making such a match the best option for her.

Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago
Reply to  G Worker

That’s interesting, you’d think that the total domination of the Norman’s would have left quite a trace. Perhaps they “kept to their own” so their genes only show up in a small proportion of landed gentry? Fascinating subject.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Mike Boosh

I’ve read previously that they didn’t start to intermingle marriage wise with the English for 200 years+. I find it hard to believe that the powerful Norman males didn’t ‘take advantage’ with their newly aquired slaves, serfs etc. Other research shows massive over representation of ‘dominate / powerful’ men in gene pools like Scottish Clans. We know that in most societies however much the ruling race/group despised the ruled over/owned – even declaring them sub-human, that many of the powerful men were unable to resist.

Given that the Normans were Vikings, but mixed a bit with the Franks, who were Germanic – it could be difficult to genetically seperate these groups. And they were awfully similar to the ruling Viking and Anglo-Saxon-Jutes in England at the time.

Then there’s the other theory that pretty much every 9th Century European who produced offspring (that didn’t go extinct) is an ancestor of every European today.

Kathy Prendergast
KP
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

Maybe “genetic conquest” by mass rape has been exaggerated as a major driver in genetic changes to a population. For one thing, women who are brutally raped in warfare are hardly in the best position to have and raise healthy children, seeing as they are often left with injuries, diseases, social stigma, and no resources from their child’s biological father, much less protection. Such a child, even with a loving and caring mother, would have very poor chances. And in many cultures across time, such children would often be neglected or killed in infancy. Parental pair bonding – even if it takes the form of arranged or even polygamous “marriage” – has always been the norm, because – with the protection and resources of the child’s biological father – it provides the child with the best chance of survival into adulthood. So the norm was likely arranged intermarriages, or women entering into voluntary unions with members of the conquering group, usually for pragmatic reasons. And – as has always been the case – the highest-ranking males, the ones who could provide the most resources and the best protection, would have the most surviving offspring. Low-ranking males trying to “spread their seed” through rape has always been kind of a genetic crapshoot.

Corrie Mooney
CM
Corrie Mooney
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

There is virtually no difference between the Anglo-saxons and the Vikings- especially the Danes. They came from the same place with only 400 years separating.
I for one think the recent revisionism on the Anglo-Saxons has gone too far.

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
2 years ago
Reply to  Corrie Mooney

interesting. in what way?

Will Liddle
WL
Will Liddle
3 years ago

A really good read – thank you!
Although it wasn’t the main thrust of the article – I think it’s worth noting that part of the reason that Ireland has such an acute awareness of its traditions and mythologies is that there was a concerted push to create a public Irish identity through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries through those mythologies (Yeats et al).
When people write about the English not having such culture, it’s more that we don’t have a popular awareness of a consolidated English culture because (Tolkien excepted) there hasn’t been a push to make one. Growing up in the White Horse Vale, where tradition has continually kept a hill carving visible since the Bronze age, and where Saxon mythologies abound in Wayland’s Smithy and Dragon Hill, I don’t see English mythology as somehow absent – it’s just localised. Go to any other part of England and you’ll find the hills abound with tales – they’ve just travelled less far, and wait at the end of the lane.

Last edited 3 years ago by Will Liddle
google
LD
google
3 years ago
Reply to  Will Liddle

Absolutely right. The English /could/ have a mythology – after all, none of it needs to have happened (I’ve enjoyed reading Welsh and Irish mythology, and nearly all of it is quite impossible); but it is simply not permitted for the English since it would be seen as nationalistic or chauvinistic. As I read somewhere recently:
Welsh nationalism: good
Scottish nationalism: better
Irish nationalism: best
English nationalism: bad

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  google

Great points. There’s been no push for English nationalism for a variety of reasons political reason. How would we promote English culture to forge a unique identity? Could we unite around our unique culture, language, political institutions, or perhaps our barely recognised playrights, poets – or maybe football, rugby or cricket.

Spiro Spero
SS
Spiro Spero
3 years ago

I am Irish and a bit of sceptic when it comes to the whole DNA thing. The ultimate conclusion appears to be that in Europe and in these islands esp. we’re all fairly mixed. In any case what do ‘ethnic’ origins mean in real terms. Nor was the issue ever really political. Irish kings of the middle ages had no problem recognizing the ‘overlordship’ of the kings of England (I.e. as biggest ‘chief’ in the neighborhood it was seen as natural). Nor should it be forgotten that when Sinn Féin was founded in 1903, it’s first manifesto advocated dual monarchy (one king, two islands, two crowns). We need not keep focusing on what separates us. The actual divisions between us were/are what can be broadly termed ‘cultural’. While there are undoubtedly some echoes of the pre-Christian memories in Irish mythology, I don’t think that should be taken too far. Many of the themes in Irish lore are local versions of universal themes, e.g. (Helen of Troy / Deirdre of the Sorrows). What Tolkien lamented was the expunging of England’s ‘true’ national story by the ‘reformation’, and its replacement with an ‘alternative’, something the Irish consistently resisted being done to ‘our’ part of the wider story of European Christendom, hence the ‘troubles’ between us.

Several differences are worth noting though. As the author states (i) Christianity was brought (by a v. great Briton) without state or army and so quickly inculturated (ii) the Irish church from an early period adapted itself to the preceding political-social structure, but advocated (successfully) that there be (a distinct) space for church learning and secular learning (iii) Ireland was (and is) much less centralized a society than England, no political system can override ‘the local’ in Ireland (iv) where England and other northern European states believed the Reformation a ‘purification’ of the church, the Irish suspected the opposite, that it was an opportunistic scheme by elements amongst the rich to further expand the power of crown/state to their personal advantage. The attacks upon the Mass and the role of the mother of God, were especially revealing and were clear attacks upon the central doctrine of Christianity: the Incarnation, on the real ‘bodyliness’ of the Christ, the centrality of his sacrifice, the reverence that should be shown to the dead, the (eventual) bodily resurrection of the dead, etc. The Irish word for the Reformation is ‘leasú chreidimh’ (the loosening of the faith), (v) the Irish and the English are both v. much (small ‘c’) conservative people, but Irish people (vi) are perhaps traditionally a bit more ‘content’ with mystery being mystery.

Irish people do not ‘hate’ the people of England or Britain. Both our nations have flaws. We do not however want to live under a British-ruled system, certainly not in its present form, which has been on hyper public display for all in recent times. It’s ironic but looking at from this side of the sea, your church acts like a civil service, but your state acts like a church. Your monarchy BTW is v. admirable, considering the hammering it has been receiving. No offence meant whatsoever, perhaps just somethings to ponder. Peace brothers.

W McClintock
0
W McClintock
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

Re: “Irish people do not ‘hate’ the people of England or Britain. Both our nations have flaws. We do not however want to live under a British-ruled system, certainly not in its present form, which has been on hyper public display for all in recent times”
A search finds that the word “hate” appears nowhere in the article. You seem to be responded to an argument the piece does not make.

Corrie Mooney
Corrie Mooney
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

The Indo-Europeans (the beaker people in this case) were themselves a mix between east European hunter-gatherers and Caucasian hunter-gatherers. Each as different from each other as West Eurasians and East Asians.

Last edited 3 years ago by Corrie Mooney
Corrie Mooney
CM
Corrie Mooney
3 years ago
Reply to  Corrie Mooney

And when I say ‘Caucasian’ I mean from the Caucasus.

JACK Templeton
JT
JACK Templeton
3 years ago
Reply to  Corrie Mooney

You didn’t have to clarify the meaning of that term on this forum. Perhaps a little bit of ‘wokeness’ creeping in here.

Frederick B
Frederick B
3 years ago
Reply to  Corrie Mooney

“as different from each other as West Eurasians and East Asians”. That’s a very big difference indeed, two distinct human sub-species. Were east Europeans and their Caucasian neighbours really so different? Evidence please.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

An excellent post, thank you.

John Lee
JL
John Lee
2 years ago
Reply to  Spiro Spero

“The Irish do not hate the people of England” They just continue to vote for rabidly anti British governments at every election.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

“practising contrasting lifestyles,“

You have to find a different way of expressing this idea. Lifestyle is a very recent concept dreamed up by interior designers selling home improvements. People live lives according to habits, customs, traditions and mostly what is practical, even today.

Last edited 3 years ago by Alison Houston
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

“the newcomers were light-skinned and dark-eyed”

So the invaders of 4,500 BC looked like thousands of Meghan Markels?
What a horrifying thought.

Last edited 3 years ago by Charles Stanhope
Christopher Gage
CG
Christopher Gage
3 years ago

They just wanted privacy.

Jon Mcgill
Jon Mcgill
3 years ago

And to boot, you cannot spell!

Charles Stanhope
CS
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Mcgill

Mea culpa! I spelt the name of the ‘anointed’ one incorrectly.

I do trust it hasn’t done any lasting damage to your health. It can be so traumatising if ones ‘beloved’ is so casually insulted in this way.

Please accept my sincere apologies, but until today I hadn’t really heard of her.

JACK Templeton
JACK Templeton
3 years ago

Have you just returned from Mars ?

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Mcgill

Why all this fussss about spellling. The machine will correct it for you if you want. Surely spelling has lost its cache now it can be done for you so easily?

Saul D
SD
Saul D
3 years ago

Predicting skin tone and eye colour from genetic material of specific individuals dating back thousands of years. Anyone know a link to a good paper explaining how they do it, and expectations of accuracy?

John Lewis
John Lewis
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Could come in handy (or inconvenient) if reparations ever move on from merely being a Democrat talking point.

Corrie Mooney
CM
Corrie Mooney
3 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Read David Reich’s book: Who We are and How We Got Here. It’s excellent.

Phineas Finn
Phineas Finn
3 years ago

Happy St.Patrick’s Day to you all!
Whether you are a Brexiter seeking to recapture an England that never was or a Shinner searching for the 4 Green Fields, the power of the Myth endures.
The Irish poet, Austin Clarke,hints at it below:

The Lost Heifer by Austin Clarke

When the black herds of the rain were grazing,
In the gap of the pure cold wind
And the watery hazes of the hazel
Brought her into my mind,
I thought of the last honey by the water
That no hive can find.

Brightness was drenching through the branches
When she wandered again,
Turning silver out of dark grasses
Where the skylark had lain,
And her voice coming softly over the meadow
Was the mist becoming rain.

Last edited 3 years ago by Phineas Finn
Margie Murphy
Margie Murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  Phineas Finn

Studied it at school.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 years ago
Reply to  Phineas Finn

Why on earth do you think Brexit is about a yearning for an England that never was? It is mostly about re-establishing self-rule, something the Irish ought to know a lot about though current generations have abandoned that ideal.

Peter de Barra
PB
Peter de Barra
3 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

… oddly Ireland, which dreamed of and fought nobly for freedom for centuries, embraced the EU with unprecedentedly open arms and became simply EU PROVINCE 19 – trading sovereignty for promised riches. [ of course, some referendums had to be held twice – until the Correct result demanded by Berlin was delivered ]. Poignant .

Last Jacobin
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Peter de Barra

Isn’t the difference that Ireland chose the EU while England (not UK) imposed rule upon Ireland? Freedom to choose – that’s what the fight was for.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Jos Haynes

Remainers or Anti Brexiters have little left but to resort to casual, conscious insult.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
3 years ago

Fascinating article. More please.

io m
io m
3 years ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

More integration of genetic discoveries and theories in history and social science-related articles, please! It is the future.

G Matthews
G Matthews
3 years ago

Consider, for example, Elizabeth Warren’s claim to be native American. This congenital liar described herself as “American Indian” on her application to the bar in Texas. Her DNA test revealed 1/64 – 1/1,024th native american heritage, which is indicative of one person during the 6th to 10th previous generation. This is because 5 segments of her genome were common to “indigeneous Americans” (see how broad this is already getting) Indeed, lack of availability of reference DNA from North American native populations meant that the 5 segments of the genome were actually compared to SOUTH American native populations for whom some reference DNA material was available, then there is a huge assumption that because North and South American natives originally crossed the Baring strait from Asia 15,000 years ago then their DNA can be substituted for each other as the same source…… Basically it is so flimsy it is basically meaningless and indeed the native American tribes never use DNA as a basis for determing heritage.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

“Genetic analysis indicates their skin was dark….” How dark, as in, Mediterranean olive-complexion dark? Because if their skin was any darker than that, they likely would have suffered from terrible Vitamin D deficiencies, living in that part of the world. It’s pretty much settled science that lighter skin in human populations evolved due to natural selection, as groups of them migrated further north. The ones with the lightest skin had the strongest bones and the best immunity. Like some other physical characteristics, such as height, skin colour doesn’t take all that long to change in a population, if survival demands it.

Last edited 3 years ago by Kathy Prendergast
Arden Babbingbrook
AB
Arden Babbingbrook
3 years ago

Headline is screechingly off-point, to a point. Americans always talked about ‘white Irish’ and ‘black Irish’ — the latter being Irish who looked Mediterranean and the former being the typical northern European, fair-haired, blue-eyed look.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago

Endorsed — from the headline I anticipated some explanation of how the Irish ceased to be depicted as apes in political cartoons.

JACK Templeton
JACK Templeton
3 years ago

You can blame the Spanish Armada plus the weather for the latter.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
3 years ago

Many long bows being drawn here.

One facet of oral history transmission that I would consider the most reliable, would be the recitation of genealogies.

GA Woolley
GA
GA Woolley
3 years ago

‘Could it be that the Tuatha De Danann, a mythologic race of supernatural beings mentioned in Irish legend, and vanquished by the ancestors of the Gaels, were actually the builders of the megaliths?’ No. Well, not if they were mythological and supernatural. My poltergeist has trouble lifting a sheet of paper, let alone a megalith.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Perhaps all this goes at least some way to explaining Roy Keane…
That aside, I recently read a book on Celtic art in which Newgrange features heavily. In artistic terms we have not progressed since the Celts, not at all.

Last edited 3 years ago by Fraser Bailey
Anthony Roe
AR
Anthony Roe
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Progress in the arts is a modernist fantasy for people that need a narrative.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

What about Rome and Greece?

Don’t get carried with this pseudo “Celtic” tosh, even the very word Celt is enough to start a war in some quarters!

New Grange is essentially just a huge mound of earth and stone, an early example of the work of McAlpine’s Fusiliers.

It was enthusiastically rebuilt by the late Professor Michael O’Shea in the 1960’s.

Last edited 3 years ago by Charles Stanhope
Simon Davies
SD
Simon Davies
3 years ago

Proto-Celtic dates back to only about 1200 BC probably, so it would be impossible for the Beaker people who came to the British Isles circa 2500BC to be speak a Celtic tongue. They probably spoke a now extinct Indo-European language. Celtic came later with the Iron Age.

Last edited 3 years ago by Simon Davies
Corrie Mooney
Corrie Mooney
3 years ago
Reply to  Simon Davies

This is what they are now suggesting to be the case: the beaker people (outside Iberia) were early Celts. The Iron Age came at the same time.

eugene power
eugene power
3 years ago

Its thousands of years since I saw an Irish builder in London.
Were they also swept away by a huge migration ?
What is the genetic cause of alcohol tolerance ?

G Worker
G Worker
3 years ago

“They looked strikingly different from today’s Europeans. Genetic analysis indicates that their skin was dark …”

This is a political lie:
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5453665/Was-Cheddar-man-white-all.html

Donal O'Neil
DO
Donal O'Neil
3 years ago

An excellent article, but why head it with an offensive picture of a national stereotype? This might have been acceptable in the “Punch” of the mid-nineteen century but it is reprehensible today. Shame on Unherd – one expects better.

Jonathan West
Jonathan West
3 years ago

Incestuous Irish. No never, surely

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan West

Ptolemaic Egypt was also keen on the idea with, it must said, mixed results.

Margie Murphy
Margie Murphy
3 years ago

Royal families everywhere did it as did Middle Eastern tribes. The British Royal family married out with Diana and finally begat a handsome intelligent prince. And its not Harry.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
3 years ago

Thanks for the post. Most interesting and in the midst of all the hand wringing, mud slinging and other BS a really pleasant interlude to think about how things may have come about. Long ago on a galaxy(OK island) far, far away…

Milan T
Milan T
3 years ago

I raise this jug of Guinness to make a toast to St.Patrick! 
And to add a couple comments, rather to complement the text and to mildly contradict. 

“Mesolithic hunter-gatherers arriving from the continent, venturing into an empty landscape. These people had migrated out of southern Europe..”

MI>>> these people were Vinca I2 people who came to British Isles and lived there alone for 3000 years until newcomers came. Their number dropped from 100% to about 5% today. Some of descendants of these people, who migrated to US are – Chuck Norris, Bill Gates, US president Munro, Dave Crocket, actor Ted Dunston from Cheers! 40% of modern Serbs are their descendants, too (e.g. Novak Djokovic). Yamnaya people (future ‘westerners’) came from Russian steppes and conducted a genocide on Vinca indigenous European people. Survivers escaped to Adriatic rugged coast, Carpathian and as far as Sardinia. 

Those I2 people have built megaliths across the Europe, including Stonehenge. They spoke Vinca’s language which it can be called Serbian because the consonant group (S)RB (=Serb) was already formed. The term ‘Serbs’ here assumes the proto-Slavics, what includes modern Serbs, too. They left hundreds of toponyms and hydronyms on British Isles (recently one English paper called these names – bizarre). ‘Druids’ are also Serbian name.    

“Beaker People who brought the Celtic languages…”

MI>>> It means that Serbian Vinca language is older than language brought by Yamnaya R1b people which mainstream named ‘Indo-European’ (formerly – Indo-Germanishe) from which, according to them, originated almost all European and Indo- languages. The fact is that Proto-Germanic language was influenced by older Serbian language.  

“Genetic analysis indicates that their skin was dark, as was their hair — but their eyes were likely blue”

MI>>> I think that it is wrong. I1 and I2 were white. From whom Scandinavians could got their ‘whiteness’? I1 babies are also blonde and with blue-eyes but later, due to evolution, some change their hair to dark. Newly arrived (e.g. German) were not white but mixing with I1 and I2 they became white. For e.g. Prussians (who are germanised Serbs) are the blondest part of Germans. 

“first farmers in Europe descended from Anatolian migrants who swept in from the Near East continent rapidly around five millennia before Christ, mixing only minimally with the native hunter-gatherers, who were thin on the ground and could offer little resistance…”

MI>>>Actually, when Anatolian (i.e. Caucasian) people came to Europe, Vinca already has cities, trades and agriculture for several thousands of years. Vinca was ancient New York. It is unlikely that these city dwellers were only hunter gatherers. Balkan was very densely populated (during the Ice Age about 95% of European people lived there) and it is incorrect that their population 5000BC were thin. Also, there were not wars in Europe for couple thousands of years and no any group was pushing others. Wars and genocides started when Yamnaya people came to Europe and they did not stop until today.

MI – I usually give, as a present to those who read my comments, one song but to honour St.Patrick there are today two songs from Orthodox Celts – Rocky Road to Dublin…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_e7QbWc5mI

and Green Roses:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meRc3IroSp8

Cheers!
 

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
3 years ago

Fascinating stuff. Seems highly likely that the continuous individual choices for mating, because it would be happening all the time, has hugely more impact on mixing of groups than the dramatic moments handed down as stories. As today the routine choice outside of dramatic moments would be made by the female making herself available as the male is always available. Interesting to consider what was weighed in the balance for those choices in those times. Also fascinating is the apparently completely different types of human compared to the meagre differences today that did interbreed in earlier times like Neanderthal and the likely hugely more intelligent than us elongated skull people now found mummified in different states of cross breeding in Peru and apparently Crimea. Also into all of this is mounting evidence of previous achievements of technology expiring with the cataclysms of about 11,000 years ago that may have existed for vast amounts of time before such event. Maybe throughout that period populations so very different as the Flores people coexisted and others yet to be discovered seeing the Flores were only discovered recently. Hard to appreciate the amount of time involved in all this breeding.

Milan T
Milan T
3 years ago

@Kathy

That is very good observation, Kathy. This period of the world history was heavily falsified. The cornerstone of this falsification was alleged Slavic (i.e. Serbs because Slavics still did not exist at that time) migration to Balkan which no one noticed. There is no one single document/account about this except one falsified documents associated with Porphyrogenite from the 17th cAC. And really, who were ‘Romans’? Now, even wiki writes that a couple of dozens of Roman Emperors were Illyrian and Thracians. Some of these names are Constantine, Diocletian, Jovian, Licinius, Justin, Justinian and many, many other. Actually, there were all Serbs. Illyrian cavalry was the elite, iron fist of the Roman Army. While Serbs gave about 40 Emperors, Greeks did not give any and they themselves were not a part of fighting Roman units. The falsified history says that for e.g. Thracians (‘the biggest nation in the world after Indians’ according to Herodotus) suddenly disappeared in the 7th cAC, so as their language from the face of the earth. In fact, Thracians and Illyrians (and Moesians, Tribals and many other tribes) were different names for Serbs, the indigenous people of Europe. Txs.   

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

Is the the influx of Anatolian immigrants all those centuries ago, the explanation for the existence of the Donegal Turkey Carpet, in the 20th century, do you think?

Sean MacSweeney
SM
Sean MacSweeney
3 years ago

The English mythology was eradicated on the island of Mona by the Romans who slaughtered the druids, luckily for Ireland, the Roman governor had to stop and come back to England to quell a rebellion

Charlie Two
Charlie Two
2 years ago

This article misses the point entirely re Tolkien. He created the world of LotR FROM English mythology not to create one that was absent. He was steeped in English tradition and myths, of which there is a huge amount. As someone posted earlier – Welsh good, Scotch better, Irish best, English bad. that sums up everything associated with England and English traditions – removed from school curricula, subject to constant inaccurate and often racist criticism/ deconstruction, and generally pushed out of the public realm. Entirely disgraceful, but entirely keeping with a zeitgeist emanating from our public schools that Orwell many years ago recognised as self-hating and vehemently anti-English/ British. This dominates academia and curricula.

Jon Mcgill
JM
Jon Mcgill
3 years ago

It seems clear that whatever his complexion, the commentator who gratuitously insulted Ms. Markle is a fool.

Last Jacobin
LJ
Last Jacobin
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Mcgill

Unfortunately, there is often quite a bit of nasty racist ‘banter’ in these comments.

Peter de Barra
Peter de Barra
3 years ago
Reply to  Last Jacobin

… not so — the only implied racialism refers to discrimination against the raped Anglo girls of the Northern gang-rape towns, evidenced by the fact that their tragic plight is ignored. Wrong sort of Victims – protected perps … racialism writ large.

Last edited 3 years ago by Peter de Barra
Margie Murphy
MM
Margie Murphy
3 years ago
Reply to  Jon Mcgill

Markle deserves every brickbat thrown at her.

Jonesy Moon
Jonesy Moon
3 years ago
Reply to  Margie Murphy

yes she’s privileged self indulgent victim who’s estranged her own family and is now influencing her henpecked husband to do the same.