Celtic Culture & heritage

The Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul sculpture

I was touched as I have seldom been by a work of Art. The face looking down at me was not at all the ‘noble countenance’ one reads about but, on the contrary, a face so ordinary that its wearer would not have stood out if he had walked our own streets: unkempt hair, low forehead, slightly snub nose and a Celtic moustache of the type that has for some time been back in fashion.  The mouth is half open and the features are frozen in an expression less of pain than of painful bewilderment.

- Gerhard Herm from his work “The Celts”, on his viewing the Dying Gaul at the Roma Capitale

The consensus on the origins of the “Dying Gaul” is that it is a marble copy of an original bronze sculpture commissioned by the King of Pergamum to mark the defeat of Celtic Galatia.  The Greek bonzes are thought to have possibly been brought to Rome in the reign of Nero where a marble copy was made and it is this copy that was unearthed in the 1620’s during an excavation at the Villa Ludovisi. By 1736 it was on permanent exhibition at Rome’s Capitoline Museum where it has remained except between 1797 and 1816 when it was at the Louvre after Napoleon stole it and took it to Paris.

Interview with John Callow on his new book ‘Embracing the Darkness - A Cultural History of Witchcraft’

John Callow

John Callow is a writer and historian, specialising in Seventeenth Century politics and popular culture. He is the author of 'The Making of James II', 'Witchcraft and Magic in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Europe', 'King in Exile' and 'James II -The Triumph and the Tragedy'. His new book ‘Embracing the Darkness. A Cultural History of Witchcraft’ has just been published by I.B. Tauris.

John is of Manx descent and alongside his books he is the author of the articles on 'The Limits of Indemnity: Sovereignty and Retribution at the Trial of William Christian (Illiam Dhone)' (Seventeenth Century, vol.XV. no.2), ‘Thomas Fairfax as Lord of Man’ (in England’s Fortress – New Perspectives on Thomas, 3rd Lord Fairfax) and a study of ‘Lieutenant John Hathorne & Garrison Government on the Isle of Man, 1651-60 (Isle of Man Studies Vol.XIV).

The Droskyn Clock, Perranporth - marking Cornish time and not that of England

A giant clifftop sundial telling Cornish time took place as the major millenium project for Perranzabuloe. The Parish Council planned to construct a circle of standing stones; each marked with an hour.

Stuart Thorn from Perranporth designed the 20 foot stainless steel gnomon to cast shadows onto the standing stones.

The stones are aligned so they show the Cornish time rather than Greenwich Mean Time. When the sun is at its highest point, the North pointing gnomon will cast a shadow directly North onto the midday stone; in London it would happen approximately 12 minutes earlier.

Mr Thorn felt he wanted people to be aware of their whereabouts and placed a granite lectern above the site to explain to the North of the Sundial is thought to be the landing place of St.Piran. and up into the sand dunes the sites of St. Piran's Oratory, the Lost Church and St. Piran's Cross.

Owain Glyndŵr

Owain Glyndŵr (c.1349-c.1416) was the leader of a Welsh revolt against English rule between 1400 and 1409. Years of attempts to subordinate the Welsh to the English crown and harsh rule had created a climate ripe for popular revolt.  Owain Glyndŵr was well placed to lead this rebellion. He was charismatic and directly descended from Welsh aristocracy and royalty.

Owain Glyndŵr's dispute with his neighbour Lord Grey of Ruthin, a close ally of Henry IV, sparked the revolt. After Owain Glyndŵr’s attack on Ruthin and other towns in north Wales Henry led an army into Wales and Glyndŵr’s lands were confiscated.  Owain Glyndŵr and his forces embarked on a successful campaign of guerrilla warfare which developed into conventional battles. As he started to score ever more impressive victories Owain Glyndŵr’s fame spread throughout Wales. He drew increasing support from the Welsh eager to throw off the yoke of English rule.

The Thistle - Scotlands Proud Floral Emblem

Scottish thistle

The purple thistle has been Scotland's national emblem for centuries. Amongst the identifiable symbols of things associated with Scotland the thistle probably ranks alongside tartan. Heather is also thought of as a symbol of Scotland and wearing a sprig of heather is believed to bring good luck. However, the thistle is used by all kinds of organisations across Scotland as an emblem. It has also been seen as a royal symbol since James III used it on silver coins in 1470. James III (10 July 1451 – 11 June 1488) was proclaimed King of Scotland at the age of 8, following the death of his father James II. He was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn in Stirlingshire on 11 June 1488. Common throughout the highlands, islands and lowlands of Scotland, the thistle has earned a special place in the heart of Scottish people.

The Manx General Strike 1918

Manx Nationalist Party Mec Vannin have announced that next year - 2018, they will commemorate the centenary of the Manx General Strike which took place in July 1918. The successful strike was a remarkable event in the history of the Isle of Man. It is excellent news and absolutely appropriate that Mec Vannin are giving this the recognition it deserves. As a result we have decided to publish again an article previously written on the Manx General Strike.

Laxey Mines

In 1918 the Isle of Man was rocked by a General Strike that predated the British General Strike by eight years. It resulted in the annual July 5th Tynwald Day ceremony being postponed. This was a major blow to what is said to be the oldest continuous parliament in the world. The strikers went on to win their demands and this is the story of the events that led to the strike. This important event in the Island’s history was never taught when I was at school, which was symptomatic of the absence of Manx history from the school curriculum and particularly anything relating to organised labour.

The Druids - The Intelligentsia of the Celtic World

Oak tree

In most people’s minds the image of a Druid, if they have an image at all, is a vague notion of Merlin the Magician, or a shadowy sinister practitioner of human sacrifice, perhaps an oddly dressed New Age Hippy.  But that image is far from the truth and the real story of the Druids is so much more than that.

You may ask yourself why you should care. What does it matter? It matters because the Druids were the caretakers of Celtic culture. They suffered at the hands of the Romans who were rightly intimidated by the depth of the knowledge and wisdom passed down from generation to generation in the Oral tradition of Druidic teaching. Later the conversion of the Celtic peoples to Christianity lead to the gradual erosion of the remaining vestiges of the Druidical order. The histories show that the Christian missionaries were adept at synthesising Druidical beliefs and practices with those of the Christian religion. These new beliefs were made to seem like extensions of the existing Celtic beliefs and practices rather than what they really were - a completely novel and foreign religion.

Druids were the repository of the immensity of Celtic culture, the culture that held sway over most of Western Europe before the Romans. Had it not been for the Celtic religious ban on committing the wisdom and learning of the Druids to the written word, it would be the legacy of the Celts, rather than that of Greeks, that would be hailed today as the basis of western civilization. The Druids deserve to have their story told and those of us who believe in a Celtic identity owe it to their memory and enduring spirit to attempt an understanding of  their role in our legacy whether Breton, Scot , Manx, Irish, Welsh or Cornish.

The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 by Cecil Woodham-Smith

Famine Memorial Dublin

The horror of what is casually referred to as the "Potato Famine" is meticulously chronicled in the superb and immensely readable "The Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849", by Cecil Woodham-Smith. The first paragraph sets the tone:

At the beginning of 1845, the state of Ireland was as it had been for nearly seven hundred years, a source of grave anxiety to England. Ireland had first been invaded in 1169; it was now 1845 yet she had been neither assimilated nor subdued. The country had been invaded not once but several times, the land had been conquered and redistributed over and over again, the population had been brought to the verge of extinction – after Cromwell's conquest and settlement only some half million Irish survived - yet an Irish nation still existed, separate, numerous and hostile.

Horses in Celtic Mythology


Amongst Celtic peoples the horse has always been highly venerated and seen as a prized possession. Horses were viewed as status symbols, treated with great respect, treasured and well cared for. There was a great bond between Celts and their horses. The esteem in which they were held is not surprising when the impact of the animal on everyday life, survival and battle are considered. The Celts were known as very skilled cavalry fighters and charioteers. The Romans used mercenaries from Gaul because they were known to have these skills. The importance of chariots in battle is recounted in Irish medieval literature that draws on much older ancient folklore. Such stories are told in the Ulster Cycle featuring the legendary Irish warrior Cú Chulainn, son of the god Lugh associated with the pre-Christian Celtic pantheon of the Tuatha Dé Danann.

Snaefell Mining Disaster 1897, Isle of Man

Snaefell Mine in 1870

Snaefell (Manx: Sniaull) is the highest mountain on the Isle of Man (Mannin), at 2,037 feet (621 m) above sea level. To the east the magnificent Laxey Valley sweeps down towards the coastal village of Laxey (Manx: Laksaa) where it meets the Irish Sea. Walking upwards along the track from Laxey, past the tiny settlement of Agneash, a gradual climb takes you alongside the river that flows along the floor of the valley. On a fine day the views are spectacular. As you approach Snaefell you eventually reach the remains of the old Snaefell Mine that lie in the shadow of the mountain. Just above the site nestling behind a group of pine trees there is a beautiful little waterfall. A peaceful and tranquil place to sit and take in the scenery. Nevertheless, there is an air of sadness here, often commented upon even by those without a knowledge of the events that took place at the Snaefell Mine on 10th of May 1897. As if a memory of the tragedy that happened here over a century ago is held within the clasp of the surrounding hills.


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