CELTS AND IRISH MYTHOLOGY

Celtic mythology developed in Ireland was plentiful and nearly luxurious. The sources of a great number of legends such as the Holy Grail are lying there. Even traditional tales, where all kind of fantastic beings and objects appear, are located there. The main merit of the Celts was that all these sagas and cycles went beyond their isle and travelled around Europe during centuries. Once the stories were assimilated and transformed in that continent, they inspired many of the chivalry novels centuries later. However, Celtic epic describes us much more than a mere fantasy because myths are mixed with historical events, which makes us confuse the thin line between myth and reality. It also coincides in many aspects with other myths and cosmogony appeared in other societies and cultures. All this offers us very suggestive clues.


16.04.2009
Text: JAUME CLUET
Pictures: JOSEP Mª ROSELLÓ

The ancient Irish literature, as we know it today, divides the mythological Irish History into four main cycles: the Mythological or Invasion Cycle, the Ulster or Conahar McNessa (phonetically Connor) Cycle, the Ossian or Finn McCumhall (Fenian) Cycle and the Historical or King’s Cycle (referred to the last kings of Ireland). This presentation is going to be basically about the first cycle.

It must be stood out that only in the King’s Cycle there is a conductive thread consistent with the historical criterion, which is similar to a story in such terms, because the Milesians represent the archetype of the Celtic race in Irish legends. It is supposed that all the subsequent families regent in the modern Ireland were descendants of this Celtic race. We know that the Celts were an Indo-European people with an obscure origin. The historical facts that are more worthy to believe take us to central Europe and the Black Sea Plains as possible primitive settlements after a remote departure from far-off eastern lands.

The Celts brought a poetic tradition that sang not only heroic deeds but also historical facts, customs and laws, most of them written in verse. Their literature has been useful to enrich European culture in the first years of the Christian era. This process, however (1), has been developing in later centuries although in a weak way. The oldest Celtic literature that we know appears poetically and dates from the sixth century. However, this poetry refers to previous periods because of the events told and the clothes and weapons mentioned as well as other objects. It is likely that were the bards, very prestigious poets in the court, who orally passed this literature down from generation to generation. This way of oral transmission in verse and not in prose let that the content of what was wanted to be explained suffered less changes. So, it is possible that we are in front of a much more primitive literature than what it apparently seems.

Go to chapter:  Next