The other day I received an email advising me of the line-up for the next Celtic Connections in Glasgow. But who were the Celts – these people who now lend their name to a festival that ‘celebrates Celtic music and its connections to cultures across the globe’?
Hoping for an answer to this question, a few weeks back I watched the BBC 2 series The Celts: Blood, Iron and Sacrifice with Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver. Yes, that was the full title of the series, and, though Roberts and Oliver (as you would expect) presented some serious archaeology, what with all the dramatic reconstructions of blood, iron and sacrifice I was left as confused as I had been at the outset. Were the Celts one people who shared a highly sophisticated culture? Or were they barbarians from the western fringes of Europe as the BBC’s dramatised battle scenes strongly suggested?
Looking for answers to these questions, I visited the British Museum’s current exhibition, Celts: Art and Identity, ‘the first major exhibition to examine the full history of Celtic art and identity’. Not surprisingly this stunning show presented a much clearer account of a story that begins over 2,500 years ago, with the first recorded mention of ‘Celts’. But, the story the curators give us is one in which Celtic identity has been revived and reinvented over the centuries – across the British Isles, Europe and beyond. The exhibition articulates the currently-accepted view that ‘Celtic’ has had many different meanings over 2000 years, identities that have been reinvented time and again, and are cultural not genetic. Continue reading “Celts: Art and Identity”