Celtic pastimes as a form of expressing the national identity of the Irish

Katarzyna Olejniczak-Gołembowska (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

The last two decades have witnessed a heated discussion among archaeologists, historians and anthropologists concerning Celtic past and identity. This academic debate on the meaning of Celticness was started in 1996 by the paper 'Ancient Celts and Modern Ethnicity' in which the authors - J.V.S. Megaw & M.R. Megaw - criticise the so called Celt-scepticism of some scholars (Chapman, Hill, and Merriman). Different views on this matter could be read in the British magazine Antiquity and also on the Internet. Although there are still scholars who believe that the peoples who inhabited the British Isles in the Iron Age were Ancient Celts, most of the archaeologists find this theory rather obsolete. They put emphasis on the fact that the expression Celtic identity started to be used in the beginning of the 18 th century, as a response to the foundation of British State with England in its centre. This is when people of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, in the opposition to the omnipresent Anglicisation, created a new, common identity. The aim of this paper is not to discuss whether one can use the expression 'Ancient Celts' with regard to British Isles, but rather to concentrate on people who have been calling themselves Celts in the last centuries. Since it would need more time to cover all three nations the main focus will be put on the Irish.

Undoubtedly a crucial period in fostering of Irish identity was the Gaelic Revival of the 19 th century. Irish language, which had died out by that time but for remote rural areas was regaining its position in Emerald Island. Young poets and writers, whether creating in Irish or English, were showing their interest in Gaelic tradition and folklore. Moreover, in the year 1884 the Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in order to preserve and promote native Irish games, in particular hurling, Gaelic football and women's camogie. The paper introduces the main characteristics of these Celtic sports as well as of some other games and sports typical or even unique for Ireland, such as road bowls or Irish handball. It also brings up the problem of soccer and the negative attitude of Gaelic Athletic Association to this game as being too English.

For the topic of Celtic pastimes would not have been fully covered have we not mentioned Celtic dance and music, part of the paper will be devoted to this issue. A short history of development of Celtic dances and music will be delivered as well as the forms of English suppression of this element of Irish culture. The author will try to show that dance and music constitute a crucial feature of Irish identity.

The paper explores the topic of Celtic pastimes and Irish identity not only in Emerald Island but also among Irish Diaspora around the world. It also presents examples of Anglo-Irish literary works where the subjects of Celtic pastimes and Irish national identity are mentioned.