The Celts: A Very Short Introduction

By Barry Cunliffe | Go to book overview

Chapter 14
Striving for identity

The froth of romanticism that followed the ‘reinvention of the Celts’ at the beginning of the eighteenth century was accompanied by rather more serious attempts to build identities and to create allegiances among the Atlantic communities who soon came to refer to themselves as the ‘Celtic Nations’ of Europe. Three threads can be distinguished all overlapping and interacting – cultural integrity, language, and nationalism.

To create cultural integrity it was necessary to set up institutions to identify and foster regional culture in all its various aspects and to perpetuate the results through regular publications and events. The Welsh were early on the scene with the foundation of the Society of Cymmrodorion in 1751 and the Society of Gwyneddigion in 1771, the latter devoted to the study of Welsh literature. Some years later the ancient tradition of annual bardic meetings, the Eisteddfodau, at which entertainers of various kinds – minstrels, songwriters, harpists, and satirists – came together to compete, was revived. In the middle of the seventeenth century the Eisteddfod was being written off as outdated, but in 1789, with the support of a group of London businessmen calling themselves the London Welsh Society, the idea was revived and the first modern Eisteddfod took place at Bala in north Wales. It was not long after this that Edward Williams created the theatrical pastiche Druidic ceremony – the Maen Gorsedd – which was grafted on to the Eisteddfod in 1819. The first

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