Introducing her lecture on the story and the mystery of the Celts, Dr Alice Roberts asked the audience to put their hands up if they thought they were Celts themselves.
After three quarters of the audience put their hands up, Alice smiled.
’I’ll ask you again at the end. I think I may end up disappointing some of you.’
However, after one and a half hours of an illuminating, fascinating and highly informative lecture on the historical and cultural evidence of the notion of the term ’Celtic’, which included evidence from various archaeological digs and examples of what is considered ancient Celtic artwork, no one was complaining.
A well known and familiar face, Alice Roberts is famous as a TV presenter who has a background in medicine, anthropology, anatomy and archaeology and is able to explain the most complex of subjects clearly and legibly. Which is why she was able to tell the audience at the opening night of Celtfest 2017 on Tuesday, that no one in the audience may actually be able to claim they are of Celtic stock.
’One of the really interesting things when you look at the Greek and the Roman literature is that no one refers to anyone from the British isles as being Celtic,’ said Alice, speaking before the lecture.
’Which makes this a bit tricky! How do you deal with that? Did the people in ancient Britain, including the Isle of Man, think of themselves as Celts? Did they use the word Celts?
’What we do know is that the people were speaking Celtic languages, and we do know that those languages go back a long way.
’The languages that we are hearing in the Isle of Man, and in Scotland, in Ireland and in Wales are echoes of ancient languages. There is something with real depth of antiquity to it in terms of languages. The rest of it is more difficult.’
During the talk, she painted a picture of constantly shifting populations, where people, language and culture moved throughout Western Europe with, as she put it, ripples from each community merging with each other.
Alice sees the existence of indigenous languages, such as Manx Gaelic, as the clearest indication of a link between ancient and modern cultures that emerged from Europe around 2000 years ago.
’The Isle of Man is very much in the centre of what we think of as the modern Celtic nations. Really those nations are defined by the languages. The fact that people speak Celtic languages here or in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and in Brittany shows there is a commonality that goes back through those languages.
’But what does that mean in terms of identity? Can we trace connections through modern and ancient Celtic identity?
’One the one hand you could be a complete Celto-sceptic and say well there is no connection between what you think of as modern Celts and the ancient Celts whoever they were.
’But on the other hand it is about constructing identity, and it’s about culture, and that union of culture and identity is interesting and meaningful. It creates meaning in people’s lives. You can’t just come along and go "Oh it doesn’t mean anything."
’It’s about looking for identity. It’s looking to construct identity in the present, and you always do that by looking back into the past.’
Alice said she tends to find island cultures fascinating, and admits to falling for the unique charms of the Isle of Man during her first visit here, when she was filming an early show of the popular BBC series ’Coast’.
’I think the island is interesting,’ she said.
’You tend to get species going off in weird and interesting directions, doing their own thing. There is definitely an element of that in the Isle of Man
’The first time I was here was in 2005, filming the first series of Coast, and I did quite fall in love with the place.
’I’m trying to think of other reasons to come back with the family and tour around properly, because it seems like a magical place that I would like to spend a bit more time here, definitely.’
Alice Roberts was appearing as part of Celtfest, supported by Culture Vannin, the Steam Packet, Conistor Bank and the Isle of Man Arts Council.
by Mike Wade