Celtic Cousins…

The Western Mail has really caught the history bug. We are in the middle of their Welsh History Month. Today Dr Paul O’Leary of Aber discusses Irish Migration to Wales. Well worth a read – some highlights:

…These newcomers sometimes received a hostile reception from the Welsh and were refused hospitality at inns. This was not an isolated episode.
From the 1820s Irish migrants began to appear in the new and growing industrial settlements of the country.
They encountered a violent response from the outset, as happened at Rhymney in 1826. Over the course of the 19th century there would be as many as 20 anti-Irish riots across the country, in places as far apart as Cardiff and Holyhead.

And in the famine times:

Tens of thousands of these unfortunates arrived at the ports of South Wales after travelling as ballast in the holds of coal ships that returned with a human cargo from Irish ports.
Many of these refugees were themselves diseased and starving, and they endured appalling conditions in these sailing ships.
Journeys took days or even weeks when the weather was bad and some refugees died on board ship or succumbed shortly after landing.
These were harrowing times when fearful migrants encountered an anxious and sometimes hostile population at their destination.
As one commentator at Cardiff put it, the destitute newcomers arrived with nothing more than “pestilence on their backs, famine in their stomachs”.

Things changed however….

James Murphy became the first Roman Catholic Mayor of Newport in 1868, while John Beirne was the first Irish Mayor of Wrexham in 1877.
Cardiff followed with PJ Carey becoming mayor in 1894.

And of course in sport:

..The most prominent of these was the boxer “Peerless” Jim Driscoll (pictured), a sportsman who won fame on both sides of the Atlantic.
He became featherweight champion of Wales in 1901, following this with the British and British Empire featherwight titles.
On the day of his funeral on May 3, 1925, an estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of Cardiff in respectful silence.

…and a pretty happy ending:

But after the 1880s there were none of the bitter, violent and long-lived conflicts that continued to scar the public life of Merseyside and the West of Scotland.
If the Irish endured hostility in mid-19th century Wales, there is some consolation in that conclusion.

, ,

  • Drumlins Rock

    Any guestimate on what proportion of the population is of Irish descent? (including “Ulster Scots” ancestry!)

  • A most interesting read.

    On the subject of so-called “celtic” cousins, there is a lot of nonsense spoken about celts, as if they are part of one large tribe or race.

    Looking at native languages, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Irish has been classified as “Q” Celtic; Welsh as “P” Celtic. If there was a common ancestor of the two languages, it would have been several thousands of years ago (certainly before Christ) and probably spoken across large swathes of Europe.

    There is much more similarity between Irish and Scots Gaelic but that is almost certainly because of Irish colonization of parts of Scotland in the 5th century.

    Precisely what happened to the ancient Briton celts that inhabited what is now England is obscured by lack of historical record but at the time of the Roman Invasion, they spoke a similar language to the celts living in Wales. The ancient Britons were not driven out by the Romans. What happened to their descendants (apart from the Welsh and the Cornish) after the Saxons, Angles and Jutes colonised England is a mystery but they probably mixed.

    The celts of Wales and Ireland would have been near enough to each other, culturally, before Chritianity. Since that time, there has been far more cultural interaction between England and Wales than Ireland and Wales.

    Culturally, the Welsh have been much closer to the English than the Irish for many centuries.

  • Rory Carr

    Some might consider, Seymour Major, that, what you term “cultural interaction between England and Wales ” was little more than the one-way traffic of English cultural colonisation, most obvious in the determined effort to stamp out the Welsh language. There was very little Welsh culture interacting with the English I think you will find and English middle-class attitudes to things Welsh were sufficiently negative to allow Evelyn Waugh to make much mischief with his rather vile and oddly popular characterisation of the Welsh in his first novel, Decline and Fall (1928).

  • Dewi

    /DR – 0.6%

  • Dewi

    Seymour – you might want to do a little studying before posting, “Nonsense” – indeed – it’s a fascinating subject and just maybe a little more complex than you think….

  • Dewi,

    With the greatest respect, I stand my ground.

    I am quite happy to expand on what I have said if anybody wishes to challenge me with some detail.

  • Dewi

    “Looking at native languages, they are as different as chalk and cheese”
    Nope – the same linguistic family – still some common words (colours etc.)
    “The celts of Wales and Ireland would have been near enough to each other, culturally, before Chritianity”
    Strangely enough it was the early Celtic conversion to Christianity that brought us closer together, especially compared to the pagan Saxons”.
    “Precisely what happened to the ancient Briton celts that inhabited what is now England is obscured by lack of historical record but at the time of the Roman Invasion, they spoke a similar language to the celts living in Wales. The ancient Britons were not driven out by the Romans. What happened to their descendants (apart from the Welsh and the Cornish) after the Saxons, Angles and Jutes colonised England is a mystery but they probably mixed.”

    Probably mixed -? Probably mass ethnic cleansing by early Saxons, coupled with fowl borne disease and plague would made South East England fairly celt frei by 450 ad ish. Indeed it’s current opinion that Arthur quit advancing because there were none of us left in the bits of te island he hadn’t won back. The later Saxon advance not quite as brutal although documented and linguistic evidence supports a mass migration fron Dumnonia to Brittany post Saxon conquest..

  • SM I think the Welsh would be in some ways related to the Cornish and Bretons and nothing to do with the Irish [and by extension Scots], who are fairer in appearance. The Romans pushed the celts tto Britain’s westernmost ends, whose descendants are now the Welsh and Cornish.

  • Dewi

    No the Romans didn’t push us anywhere. Apart from (maybe) East Angla the entire Island was Brythonic speaking at time of Roman collapse (with the proviso that Pictish was a Brythonic language which is generally held to be true…)

  • Anti-Irish feeling was endemic in the early 19th century, and for good economic reasons, across Britain and in the United States: for the US dimension, see, as before, Noel Ignatiev: How the Irish became White.

    Lest we (and Dewi … and the Western Mail) forget, the Hiberno-Cymric relationship goes far further back.

    The last time I looked, scholarly opinion was taking the view that Irish immigrants were moving into “Sub-Roman Wales”, perhaps from the fourth century, and well before Constantine III’s continental venture (407-411) brought down the roof of Roman Britain.

    The evidence is the proliferation of Ogham Stones, especially in Pembrokeshire. The Llyn penisula may be named from the Laigin (“the men of Leinster”). The Déssi/Déisi had their own expulsion saga. There seems to be some trace of the Uí Liatháin in both south Wales and Cornwall (those Corkmen get everywhere!). Dyfed had a ruling Irish dynasty into the 7th and 8th centuries, before assimilation. There’s that bilingual tombstone (mid-500s) of the Dyfed leader: “Voteporigis” in Latin, but “Votecorigas” in Ogham (note the p-Celtic and q-Celtic leap).

    Melville Richards did some work on the legacy of Irish words into later Welsh. He suggested that cnwc was borrowed from cnoc, and was particularly to be identified with Dyfed. One particular example on which he hit was the dialect word meidir/moydir [“lane, farm-road”), related to bothar, but both deriving from an earlier term for “cow-going”. There is a corresponding word bounder in Cornish. From this he adduced that the Irish settlers may have introduced different patterns of agriculture, in particular grazing as the previously-wooded land was cleared for a more mixed farming.

  • Dewi

    “Sub Roman Wales” – arn’t English historians masters of the insult. We call the period “Oes y seintiau” – “The age of the saints” – Quite a different perspective…anyway Malcolm tell us about Brychan Brycheiniog!

  • Zachariah Tiffins Foot

    I too was lead to believe that Welsh was linguistically distinct from Irish and other gaelic languages such as Scottish and Manx. Sorry Dewi it was a Welshman, and Welsh speaker, who told me this.

    It’s interesting that you believe that the Welsh and the Gaels share more than an unnatural fondness for sheep.

  • Dewi

    It is distinct not that distant sort of like English and German. The difficulties come in how the languages are written. Oh – another sheep joke….

  • Dewi @ 12:31 pm:

    Ah yes! The sainted Brychan Brycheiniog, a.k.a. Becon, a.k.a. Brocanos, son of Anlach mac Cormac, son of Cormac mac Urb, son of Urb mac Aed, son of Aed Brosc.

    No sheep for Brychan. As the DNB has it:

    As a youth he is said to have been sent as ‘hostage’ to the kingdom of Powys where he violated Banhadlwedd ferch Banadl, the daughter of the king, who subsequently gave birth to Cynog, afterwards St Cynog. Brychan is most famous for his allegedly large progeny by three wives—Eurbrawst, Rhybrawst, and Proestri—numbering twelve sons and twenty-four daughters according to the earliest lists, and both figures increase in later accounts. His daughters are linked to a number of figures of saintly and secular importance, most notably with St David and Cadog and the kings Urien Rheged and Maelgwn Gwynedd.

    Obviously the odour of sanctity smells different in Wales.

  • Reading the comments of this thread, some of them very scholarly (Malcom’s in particular), highlight some interesting historical connections between Ireland but they are rather slight in their influence of the making of Wales.


    “It is distinct not that distant sort of like English and German. The difficulties come in how the languages are written”

    The nearness between Welsh and Irish is slight compared to that between German and English.

    I note your emphasis on “ethnic cleansing” by the Saxons. A lot of that did happen but it was not absolute. England has some celtic heritage (not just archiology). There are are only a handful of celtic words in the English language but celtic words do survive, to a much larger extent, in place names.

    The term “celtic cousins” implies that the Welsh are closer to the Irish than the English. They are certainly not in terms of history and heritage.

    Let us put Language and history to one side. What about living culture?
    Can anybody think of something culturally similar between the Welsh and the Irish today that is uniquely celtic?

  • Dewi

    “Nearness is slight” I’m not a linguist and don’t know if there’s a scale of nearness but It’s probably comparable.

    “Let us put Language and History to one side. What about living culture?”…Hmm an interesting debating tactic, eliminate two of the primary cultural determinants and what’s left? That’s the “What have the Romans done for us” syndrome.

  • Seymour Major @ 11:23 am:

    Good point on the “ethnic cleansing” by the Saxons. As I understand the state of the market, this is a theory passing its sell-by date.

    The evidence, as deployed by the alternative theorists, is the frequency of male Y chromosome gene groups.

    If it can be shown that there is a clear incidence shared between the “English” and the continental source of the Ænglisc [my working code to get a complex argument into this comment box: don’t fret it] invasions, then the invaders did for the “native” males and got on with impregnating the “native” females.

    The even less credible version of that is the invaders brought their females with them, and operated a non-fraternization policy. Since we had a case-study of that (and its total failure) in post-1945 occupied Germany, phooey to any non-fraternization.

    Now comes the crunch.

    UCL research suggested a clear genetic similarity between the Frisian/ north German seaboard and the (assumed) descendants of the Ænglisc. One up to the “ethnic cleansing” theorists.

    However, Stephen Oppenheimer argues it differently:
    ¶ that some three-quarters of the the English gene-pool is directly from the earliest post-glacial settlements;
    ¶ that the UCL research does not discriminate Ænglisc origins from the rest of north European descent;
    ¶ that the remainder of the English gene pool is largely from Scandinavia and North Germanic sources, and may well pre-date the Ænglisc invasions.

    Incidentally, Oppenheimer adds:
    ¶ there is a genetic distinction between the English and the rest;
    ¶ that the Welsh, Irish and Scots are descended from the Basque Country/northern Spain, via the Atlantic sea-routes, and that the Celtic languages arrived later, through a subsequent population movement (which, for example, might neatly fit the legends of Fir Bholg and Tuatha Dé Danann).

    So, “Celtic cousins” indeed. [Though I was shot down on that, aged fifteen, on one of my early excursions into archaeology. The dig was led by “Charlie” Green — best known for his work on Sutton Hoo. I tried to show off by asking whether a skeleton could be identified as “Celtic”. I was forcefully told the correct term was “Mediterranean type”. I bear that scar to this day.]

  • genetics_analyst


    I work as a statistican in a genetics lab. Although the work we do focuses on a particular disease, we have to do a fair bit of analysis of population structure, given that the early genome-wide association studies produced a lot of false positives [see http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v38/n8/abs/ng1847.html, for example].

    None of the analysis is conclusive yet; for example, the quality of both Y chromosome and mitochondrial SNPs (positions on the genome where the coding varies between people) is still fairly poor, even on the most modern chips, and sample sizes are still fairly small. However, our results and those of other researchers suggest:

    – there is clear genetic variation within the British population, with the main axis of variation being north-west to south-east, so the most distantly related populations in Britain are those in Stornoway and Dover.

    – whilst the Welsh and the Scots are genetically different from the English, there is no sudden change at either border, and people from (say) Abergavenny and Hereford or Carlisle and Gretna are more similar to each other than they are to someone from Colchester.

    – the Welsh and the Scots seem to be more similar genetically (i.e., are closer cousins) to the English than to each other, but as far as I’m aware there hasn’t been a large scale study that proves this beyond reasonable doubt. It won’t be long before this is proven though.

    – the Irish are generally genetically distinct from the British, but there is a fairly large amount of overlap due to mixing between the two populations. Even ignoring this mixing, the Irish are the closest relatives of the British, followed by the Dutch, then by the Germans and Norwegians (the British and the French are more distantly related).

    – linguistic differences don’t necessarily reflect genetic differences. For example, the Basques have a very distinct language, but seem to be fairly closely related to the rest of the Spanish population. Population structure in Spain (and Portugal) seems to be mainly determined by the length of time spent under the control of Al-Andalus (or in the case of the Canaries, because of mixing between the Berber population and the Spanish).

    There doesn’t seem to have been any study carried out that shows to what extent the populations in your part of the world have mixed with each other. My conjecture would be tthat there’s been much more mixing than you’d expect, but I’d guess that within the next 5 to 10 years there will be conclusive proof.

    Cavalli-Sforza is an eminent name in this field. More technical work includes Devlin and Roeder’s work on Genomic Control, and the Nature paper above that introduced Eigenstrat. There was a fair amount in the last ASHG meeting about population structure, but nothing that I recall particularly about Britain or Ireland

  • John Ó Néill

    Dewi – the term ‘sub-Roman’ may be unsatisfactory but you can’t pin the blame on historians for it. That sort of terminology derives from material culture studies – basically you’d find archaeology littered with it.

    My issue with Oppenheimer, as an source, is that, while he writes popular science about human prehistory, he wouldn’t be regarded as an authority by actual prehistorians. He makes very deterministic statements about cause and effect based on very loose inferences from the material culture record (just as his genetics trends towards the popular rather than scientific).

  • Dewi

    I can pin blame on sub-Roman,,,,it should just apply to the Pagan Saxon – Frank culture that swept mainland Europe – in Britain the term should be post-Roman ….or as we call it “The Age of the Saints” – fantastic flourishing of celtic civilisation..

  • Dewi

    “None of the analysis is conclusive yet”
    Yep -so come back when you have found something out.

  • Can’t help thinking that Stephen Oppenheimer of Green Templeton College of the University of Oxford and the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine might cock a wry eye at being termed “popular”.

    What he has been doing, and instructively so, is linking the (admittedly still-)developing work on genetics to the (equally-emerging) research on Western trade routes, and relating that to (growing awareness of) linguistics.

  • Dewi

    And the genetics don’t matter really Maclolm – there ain’t a lot of differece between any of us. Linguistic patterns far more relevant to determining population movement etc. anyway – Nos Da!

  • John Ó Néill

    Malcolm – GTC and the School of Tropical Medicine are both, obviously, a focus of medical research, including medical anthropology which would underscore Oppenheimer’s south-east Asian research, or deep time research into early homo sapiens. It still isn’t a particularly useful background to get to grips with post-glacial European prehistory (cf Cavalli-Sforza on demographics and the spread of agriculture) or post-Roman north-western Europe. Most of the precepts he includes are pretty much inherent from nineteenth century romantic histories such as freely mixing genetic and linguistic terminoloy (hence popular science). I doubt peer-reviewers for papers on those periods in archaeology/history journals would flag up a lack of reference to Oppenheimers work as an omission (although they would quickly put a line through the determinist and simplistic linkages of genetic, linguistic and material culture terminology). Not that trans-disciplinary research is somehow bad in itself but it requires a strong collaborative ‘academic’ approach to be well-grounded in the different discplines it speaks to (see Jared Diamond for an obvious exception to this rule). The problem for most academic research is that, despite the best/worst intentions of university press and communications offices, the results ain’t that exciting (and tend to be written up in prose that would make an appliance manual technical writer shudder*).

    *this reply being an excellent example of the type.

  • NoAttachmentToDust


    So, someone shows up who has a clue – genetics analyst – and pisses on your bonfire, and you choose to ignore it because it doesn’t fit with your self-selected cultural identity. I can see why though; if you accept what the research is showing it would undermine your sense of smug superiority. [Please see the commenting rules (in the footer of the site) and please play the ball, not the man – Mods]

  • Dewi

    NoATD – The genetecist actally said:
    “None of the Analysis is conclusive yet”
    I’ve made no claim for any particular genetic differentiation – if there is or isn’t so what? And if there was at one time surely we are all mixed up. Smug maybe but superior?

  • Dewi

    “*this reply being an excellent example of the type.”

    Now thatv was funny!

  • Reader

    Dewi: Linguistic patterns far more relevant to determining population movement etc.
    Nope – linguistic patterns are far more relevant to analysing cultural impact. E.g. – what language do Irish Americans speak? Educated Indians? *Most* Welsh people?
    But as for *population movement*, people always take their balls and MDNA with them when they travel.
    So I’m shocked at the tone and content of your reply to ‘genetic_analyst’. I’m perfectly happy to include both linguistic and biological information in building up a picture of the past, but we really have to pay attention to the fact that they are telling us different parts of the whole picture – they aren’t rivals for your faith.

  • Dewi

    OK Reader – let me phrase a bit more carefully. :
    When looking at population movement in the Post Roman period in Britain I think genetic analysis is, certainly currently, of limited utility. I suspect that pre settlement of the island in the first place there would have been some continental mixture. Linguistic analysis of “borrowings”, certainly from Brythonic to Old English, is a better indicator of patterns of interaction between the peoples (defined culturally not genetically).

    For instance there are far more words of Irish origin in English than of Brythonic / Welsh – which given the history of centuries of interaction (of whatever form) is pretty astonishing.

    Rivals for my faith? What faith is that?

    My tone was brusque, for which I apologise to genetic_analyst I admit but “none of the analysis is conclusive” is correct.

    How on earth did we get onto this subject again?

  • Reader @ 12:15 pm:

    … which I find indisputable.

    The cult of “nationality” is quite a recent addition to our mind-sets. Meanwhile, “acculturation” (a.k.a. “going native”, and an even more recent term) — the adoption and assimilation of an alien culture — is the historic norm.

    Else one is presented with quite complicated mental-gymnastics. For example, let’s take Yeats’s SIxteen Dead Men of 1916. The poem names just two, with two prototypes:
    Pearse (father from London and Birmingham);
    MacDonagh (maternal grandfather an english printer who came to work for the Dublin University Press);
    Lord Edward [Fitzgerald] (mother born and grew up at Goodwood — yes, that one, in Sussex),
    Wolfe Tone (the Tone ancestry was Huguenot refugees).

    Which leaves fourteen more national “martyrs”. Need I continue?

  • Dewi

    I don’t think anyone (not me anyway) is arguing with that Malcolm. Indeed during the decade 1900-10 there were only two countries in the world with net in-migration, the USA and Wales….Indeed about 400,000 people moved to Wales in the 60 years after 1850. So whatever the historical use of genetic analysis which is unclear – surely now it’s defunct.