The Celts Today

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Episode 24 The Celts Today

The Celtic World

Dr Jennifer Paxton (2018)

Film Review

The pan-Celtic movement dates from the late 19th century like the pan-Slavic movement. At present the Celtic League, a UN accredited non-governmental organization founded in 1961, seeks to re-unite all the Celtic realms under a single Celtic political entity.

In 1904 Cornwall was admitted to the Celtic Congress, which promotes Celtic languages internationally. Galicia was admitted and then ejected in 1936, as no Celtic language is spoken there. However both Galicia and Austaurius are lobbying for autonomy from Spain, owing to their Celtic identity.

Even some residents of Switzerland have sought membership in the Celtic Congress. The Swiss rock group Eluveitie performs songs in reconstructed Gallic.

Active Celtic Languages

  • Isle of Mann (endangered)  – 2% speak Manx, street signs are bilingual, one Manx immersion school and all children eligible to learn Manx in school.
  • Cornwall (endangered but reviving) – 3000 fluent speakers and main language for 557 residents, bilingual street signs since 1990s, bilingual daycare, some BBC Cornwall broadcasts in Cornish.
  • Brittany – 200,000 Breton speakers in 2007, a few immersion schools (though it’s technically illegal for schools to instruct in any language other than French), 200-300 Breton dance circles, a few bilingual signs, Asterix comics translated into Breton*
  • Wales (largest percentage of Celtic speakers) – in 2011 562,000 (19%) spoke Welsh. All students study Welsh until age 14 and 16% go on to medium schools where they receive instruction in Welsh.
  • Ireland – Irish compulsory in all schools and on school leaving certificates, many Irish TV and and radio broadcasts, public services must be equally accessible in English and Irish.
  • Northern Ireland – campaign to promote the Ulster Scots language
  • Scotland – in 2016 only 10,000 or 1.6% learned any Gallic in school, bilingual signs in highlands and islands.

Desire for Autonomy and Independence

Wales – own national assembly since 1990, but the Plaid Cymru part has never enjoyed majority support like the Scottish National Party.

Scotland – its own parliament since 1999.

Cornwall – has a very small autonomy movement which enjoys little support for a devolved parliament like Scotland and Wales.

Brittany – in part due to Charles DeGaulle’s (1958-69) brutal crackdown on Brittany’s separatist movement, fewer than 20% of Breton residents desire independence from France.

According to Paxton, modern DNA studies show that the modern Celts of Ireland, Scotland and Wales didn’t originate in Central Europe as is commonly believed. However a more recent study (2022) published in National Geographic suggests her statement is an oversimplification.

Most recent DNA studies suggest two significant waves of migration to Ireland. The first occurred between 10,000 and 5,200 BC from southern Europe (mainly Spain and Sardinia) and the Middle East. The second occurred around 4,000 BC (and not 500 BC as previously believed) by people people originating from the steppe region of Russia and Ukraine who gradually migrated across Europe to the British Isles. This possibly explains the strong linguistic links between Gaulish and the modern Celtic languages and the strong similarities between Gaulish and Celtic art. See

* Since 1949, Asterix the Gaul comics (about the last Gaulish village to hold out against the Romans have been extremely popular throughout France.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.

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