What shape does Ireland have

The Celts in Ireland

The Celtic immigrants

The first Celts probably came to Ireland from northern France around 600 BC. Not much is known about the origin and size of the immigrant groups, as the Celts did not know any script and therefore left no written evidence. Everything that is known about them is derived from archaeological finds.

The immigrants were organized in tribes and met an indigenous population in Ireland who adhered to the sun cult of the prehistoric megalithic culture. Since the Celts also considered the sun to be the highest deity, the two cultures quickly became mixed up.

In the myths there are also gods that are only known in Ireland. They probably come from the cults of the indigenous people and were later adopted by the Celts in their myths.

The social structure

Celtic society was organized into clans (tribes). Each clan formed a tuath (small kingdom), of which there were about 150 in Celtic Ireland. The king (Ri) was only the representative of the Tuath and the leader in times of war. He was the mediator between the Drui (Druids) and the rest of the people.

The real power was exercised by the nobility, which included landowners, warriors, druids, bards and important craftsmen. Simple artisans and farmers formed the group of the free. Among them were slaves and serfs.

In the case of greater threats, several Tuatha could also be combined to form extended kingdoms. At the head of these larger associations were seven provincial kings (Ri Ruireg).

If the whole country was threatened, all Tuatha could join together. The supreme leader was then the Hochkönig (Ard-Ri). This was always one of the provincial kings who, like the Hochkönig, were elected as required or determined by rotation.

The druids

The most important social group in peacetime were the Drui (druids). They were the mediators between the gods and humans and in their earthly functions they were priests, counselors and judges.

Their training could take up to 20 years, depending on the task. In principle, they only passed on their knowledge orally.

In contrast to other Celtic tribes, the Irish developed a very simple form of writing (Ogahmschrift). But it was only used by the Drui for grave inscriptions or curses.

Drui were basically men. A woman could become a priestess, but she was only active as a fortune teller or seer. There is no reference to female druids who made sacrifices.

The Drui were the sole keepers of knowledge and were responsible for sacrifice, magic, medicine, law, prophecy, clairvoyance, and pedigree. They were not subject to any law and were above any physical or mental flaw.

In all worldly questions concerning the Tuath they spoke before the king, with whom they were on an equal footing. The Drui were the only ones who knew about the healing power and magical use of various plants.

There was a strict legal system, but it was based on private agreements. A public right was unknown. For all wrongdoings in earthly life were paid in the truest sense of the word. Every injustice or harm (including murder) was financially settled.

Anyone who did not meet such obligations or did not obey a druid's judgment lost all rights. Anyone who helped him had to pay his debts. With Christianization, the "Senchus Mor" developed in Ireland, which combined Celtic natural law and Christian-Roman written law.

The family

Men and women were largely equal among the Irish and English Celts. Women could not be married against their will, had the right to property (including on land) and to divorce. They could even become queens, even if this office was mostly performed by men.

Marriages were based on an agreement. There were also trial or annual marriages. Although the husband had to pay the woman's family a certain sum, the amount of which depended on how often the woman had already been married, the woman remained independent as a wife and did not become the property of her husband.

Men had the right to concubines, with whom they usually lived in the form of annual marriages. But that did not diminish the rights of the wife. The concubines had to submit to her.

If the wife did not agree with her husband's behavior, she could request a divorce. Then each partner kept their original property and the gain was shared.

This gender equality seems to have been a peculiarity of the Celts in Ireland and England. In mainland Europe, the Celtic tribes were all patriarchal. It is believed that the Celts in Ireland and England adopted elements of the earlier matriarchal native culture.

Children could only inherit their parents directly. If a child died, their children did not inherit, but the property reverted to the father's family. It was customary to give children to adoptive parents even if the birth parents were still alive.

As a rule, these foster parents were sought in the mother's family. Only in exceptional cases, for example when the child was to be raised to be a Drui, was it also placed outside of his family.

The religious life

The Celts believed that earthly life was only a short section of eternal life. The soul is either born again or goes into another world (a kind of paradise). Christian ideas like devil, hell or sin were unknown.

Today no reliable statements can be made about the sacrificial cult of the Celts. Christian Ireland has done too much of the evidence of "pagan times".

Therefore it is also unclear whether there were human sacrifices in Ireland, as assumed by Greek and Roman authors to the Celts of other regions. If anything, they only existed in connection with matters concerning the king or the tribal area.

The normal sacrifices were animal or plant sacrifices. Bulls, rams and pigs were the most common animals. When a new king was elected, a mare was sacrificed, the meat of which was boiled into a broth in which the new king bathed. Then he ate the meat. Or the sacrificial animal was a bull and several people were put into a trance by the druids after bath and meal in order to "dream up" the new king.

For plant offerings, flowers, twigs, drinks, and ready-made meals were all considered. Variations of such sacrifices can still be found in Ireland to this day.

The Irish Celts also considered the oak the most sacred tree and the highest plant. Since there are not so many oaks in Ireland, mountain ash and hazelnut bushes also play an important role. Wood was always thrown for prophecy.

The four festivals

Four festivals divided the year of the Gaelic tribes:

  • The beginning of winter / New Year's festival Savin (Samain / Samhain) on November 1st. This festival was also an important court day, on which disputes were resolved. It probably stood the test of time as Halloween.
  • The festival for the beginning of spring Imbolg (Imbolc) on February 1st. Here a goddess (brigh) moved into the house and cleaned it. Like other Celtic customs, this festival was taken over into Christianity and has been preserved to this day as the festival of St. Brigit. Along with St Patrick, she is considered one of the most important saints in the Irish Church.
  • The beginning of summer festival B'eltan'e (Beltene / Beltaine) on May 1st was primarily a festival of the Druids. To protect the cattle from disease, they were driven between two large fires. B'elten'e was probably also a fertility festival and dedicated to the fire god Belenos.
  • The summer festival Lughnasad (Lugnasad / Lynasad / Lùnasa) on August 1st was a general folk festival with games, dancing, fairs and cattle markets, races, weddings and banquets chaired by the king. It was considered a festival of peace and prosperity.