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Subject: Re: Irish History List?
From: Neil McEwan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Neil McEwan <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 4 Apr 1999 04:56:14 -0300

text/plain (118 lines)

At 08:29 AM 4/4/99 PDT, Gil Hardwick wrote:

>>     And look where the Celtic cultures are now, as a result.  For a small
>> people, to "merge" is to disappear.  But then, we're starting from
>> premises, you and I: I don't believe that such a thing as an overall
>> "Celtic" culture exists to begin with; I think that that word is used to
>> hide the reality of the endangered cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales
>> etc., as
>> if to say "you needn't worry about the future as long as Riverdance is
>> still selling out in New York".
>Ah Neil, I thought better of you than this. It is this outlook which is

   It is not self-pitying to note that the "Celtic" cultures have gone into
a catastrophic state of decline during this century: and only recognition
of this fact can actually stop the decline.  "Self-pity" is pretending (for
example) that the English are set on crushing "Celtic" culture at all costs.

>You refer to the "endangered cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales etc."
>without bothering to acknowledge either their histories or their place in
the >global reality.

   And what does "the global reality" mean today?  Mass-marketing of "Celtic"
commodities to an internationally dispersed community of rootless consumers?
And never mind about the old folks with their memory of a fifteen-hundred-
year-old oral tradition, that's not sexy enough for the new age, is it?

>You also appear to view Celts as restricted to particular places, and so
>regard them as a "small people".

   They are small peoples, in fact they are *tiny* peoples.  Scotland is a
tiny country and in that country, 1% of the people speak Gaelic.  They mean
nothing to the world at large and that is just as it should be: the space
they have been allotted for the exercise of their cultural traditions is
space enough, and moreover that space is not just a "particular place":
in the real Celtic traditions "a particular place" like Skye or Donegal
or Inverness County is a foundation for the culture itself: it is unique
and irreplaceable.  Sacramento and Canberra are not adequate substitutes.

>Celts are not a "small people". They cover the planet.

   Those are not "Celts".  Those are the distant, anglicized descendants of
the Celtic peoples.  They are culturally almost indistinguishable from their
neighbours who are English by descent -- they have only a surname and perhaps
the odd Enya CD to set them apart.

>What I meant by intermarriage is that away from Ireland, Scotland, Wales
etc >they don't bother so much with limiting themselves to such
artificially >contrived boundaries, but proceed to mix back among
themselves and so
>stablise their circumstances and re-invigorate their characteristic
>attributes. That is what they always did before the boundaries were imposed.

   What this happy-clappy talk conceals is the fact that without a boundary
*there is no culture*.  An implication of knowing what belongs to your culture
is knowing what does not belong.  And ignoring what does belong in favour of
what does not leads you into a different culture altogether.  Your point of
view sums up pretty succinctly why the concept of "Celtic" is so dangerous:
it is not rooted in any particular place or tradition indigeneous to that
place, so it can afford to despise all the traditions at once: it can promote
itself as being progressive and forward-looking because it is not remotely
tied down to anything that would distinguish it from anything else, and
so we can get all groovy in projecting our wishes onto it.

>Further, it is only very recently that we have been able to prevent people
>from being beaten up in Australia for not speaking English, but we'll get
>there. There are more and more native Gaelic speakers living here now and
>making contact with us, so the renewal of the language here is
>only a matter of time.

   Australia will never have a genuine Gaelic-speaking community but even
leaving that aside, why should you care either way?  You mentioned
"artificially contrived boundaries" -- why isn't the linguistic component
of identity just one of those artificial contrivances too?  If the culture
is not necessarily bound to the land, why should it be bound to anything
else, including language?  Have the courage of your own convictions.

>What does concern me is that those relatively few still left in Ireland,
>Scotland, Wales etc, are prone to seeing themselves as the sole survivors.

    *They are*.  Apart from them all you have are a small fringe of
enthusiasts and, beyond that, the vast world of comfortably anglicized
and commodified "Celtica", which is a fake.  And when I say "fake" I
include your fifth-generation Australians who try to feel traumatized
about the Irish Famine.

>I have been unable to obtain a grip on that yet; perhaps it has something
to >do with your ongoing strife with the English administration still
>dominating your part of the planet, where we have been well able to
influence >and change the political scene here quite radically, and free
ourselves of that sort of stress.

    The English administration, if they actually cared about such matters
to begin with, could find no better way to eradicate the Celtic cultures
altogether than to adopt your viewpoint on this issue and apply it


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