The Celts - did they occupy Ireland - debate in Kilkenny Castle

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Published on Tuesday 27 March 2012 12:05

SOME of Irelands leading academics are to do battle over a question that has vexed historians for centuries: “Did the Celts occupy Ireland - or didn’t they?”

In what promises to be the historical debate of the year, Kilkenny Archaeological Society is attempting to put the age-old question to rest by inviting four leading authorities to discuss the motion in Kilkenny Castle on March 28th.

While it has always been assumed that we are a Celtic nation, modern research has led to differing opinion, with experts from the worlds of archaeology and academia challenging the cosy consensus. Some respected academics are suggesting that the Celts engagement with Ireland was fleeting, unsubstantial and a myth fostered and sustained by political expedience.

Proposing the motion “The Celts did occupy Ireland” will be Professor David Stifter, Professor of Old Irish in Maynooth College and Dr Graham Isaac of NUI Galway. Opposing the motion will be Professor Peter Woodman, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology in UCC and Professor Tadhg O’Keeffe, Head of The School of Archaeology in UCD. It will be chaired by the noted linguist, Dr Proinsias Ó Drisceoil.

The notion that Ireland is a Celtic Nation is one that has gone unchallenged for centuries. “It has been taught to children in schools up and down the country, and taken as read, just as we accept that the sky is blue”, according to Vice-President and Chair of the Programme Committee of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Pat Nolan.

“Clearly there was no invasion in the sense of the Viking intrusions of the late 8th century, or the Norman landings at Wexford in 1169. But still the perception is that the Celts did occupy Ireland albeit at some time remote in history leaving us with the title “Ireland the Celtic Nation”. That the Celts existed was accepted and largely unchallenged for generations.” he said.

Mr Nolan said archaeology thrives on such controversies and the two schools of thought have proceeded in tandem largely independent of each other. “So far no one has attempted to bring the two strands of opinion together to debate the issue based on the twin tracks of linguistic and archaeological evidence. So this debate will be much anticipated!”

He said there is a wide difference between ‘evidence’ and ‘proof’, and it is unlikely that there will ever be a definitive answer accepted by all to this intriguing historical conundrum.

“Archaeology and history itself is a journey where the destination is never fully agreed. The path leading to it is full of twists, turns, debate and controversy as each generation tries to settle on their accepted version of the truth. A solicitor of long experience once proclaimed that “having heard the versions of two clearly honest witnesses given evidence about the same accident – you have to be very worried about history!”

The Debate takes place in Kilkenny Castle (kindly facilitated by OPW) on Wednesday March 28th at 8.00pm.

Tickets are €7.00 and can be booked from Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Rothe House Kilkenny, by telephoning 056 772 2893 or by emailing Advance booking is strongly recommended.

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