A lot of links in this one - largely to Wikipedia as a good first stop for general information but not necessarily my only source of learning, just convenient.
I've been enjoying the recent Caedmon posts (part I, II, III)over at the ever-interesting Idiotic Hat. That lead to me commenting as much on this interlude post. The response I got referring to Celts intrigued me. I wasn't just thinking of the English when suggesting that the Anglo-Saxon period (generally that from the end of the Roman occupation of Britain around AD400 until the Norman Conquest in 1066) set the defining characteristics of the British. And just how separate are the Celts anyway?
The trouble with defining British, English or any other defining national characteristic is that we're really a mongrel horde. Even if we only consider the period from the Roman invasion (the AD dates), there is a mass of immigration, conquest, occupation, inter-marriage. The Romans were really a motley of absorbed foreign legions, promoted locals and a few long-distance postings. They seemed to mix with the various local groups in England.
On Roman departure, there are arrivals & movements of Angles, Saxons, Celts, Norse (roughly grouping the Scandinavians). Then the Normans (a sort of French-Viking mix) and, much later, French and German influences. Not to mention modern immigration.
So exactly which makes British? All of them, I suppose. A development of behaviours, culture, language which all go to making what we consider our national characteristics. Things stolen and
absorbed from many sources. It's why I love the English language so, the idiosyncrasies that lend it power of expression. And much the same with our culture.
So what of the Celts? Well, the modern idea of the Celt as the warrior type, distinct in culture is largely a modern myth. As are many of our views of ourselves as nations - colourful creations of lineage and cultural tradition to foster certain sense of identity. And yet the truth is so much more exciting, I think.