Who were the Celts? The Celts were a group of tribal societies tied by similar language, religion, and culture in Iron Age and Medieval Europe.
Celtic culture began to develop as early as 1200 BC and spread through migration to the British Isles, France, and other parts of Europe.
“Celtic" refers to people descended from one of the current Celtic regions in the western extremities of Europe. Each of these regions has retained much of its indigenous culture and distinctive language throughout the centuries.
Here are the eight Celtic regions as defined by the Northern Arizona Celtic Heritage Society:
Ancient name: Asturias
Asturias lies between the region of Galicia and Cantabria in northern Spain. It is a prehistoric land as the many cave paintings illustrate. The area was inhabited by the Iron-age Celtic tribes who fought off the Romans and the Moors.
Folklore: Verbenas are outdoor dances, always accompanied by bagpipes; the Descent of the Sella is a world-renowned canoe competition).
Food: Fabada is a white bean soup, made from the fabe de granja – a bean only grown in this area.
Symbol: Horreos (grain storage outbuildings); The Cruz de la Victoria, dating to 908 AD, is the model for the cross on the Asturian flag.
Notable people: Severo Ochoa won the 1959 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology, for his discovery (with Arthur Kornberg), of RNA and DNA.
Ancient name: Breizh
Located on the northwest coast of France, Brittany’s Celtic heritage makes it distinct from other French regions. Brittany’s unique culture can be attributed to its long isolation from the rest of France. Breton culture can still be seen today during church festivals and other events when the old costumes with their “coiffes” (hats of lace) – a different hat in each area – can be seen. A quarter of the people still speak Breton, a Celtic language similar to Cornish and Welsh.
Folklore: Brittany has a direct connection to Camelot and Arthurian Week is held in Broceliande every July.
Food: Crepes, oysters, pain mirau is a bread roll, featured annually at the Bread Festival at St. Branda.
Symbol: The ermine. The flag had five black bands representing the former bishoprics of Upper Brittany, four white bands representing the former bishoprics of Lower Brittany, and a field of stylized ermines.
Notable people: Theodore Botrel, Gauguin lived in Pont-Aven
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Ancient name: Kernow
Cornwall is the most westerly county in England.
Folklore: Tintagel (“TIN tajel”) Castle is reputedly the birthplace of King Arthur, Dozmary Pool on Bodmin Moor is closely associated with the sword Excalibur.
Food: A Cornish pasty is meat in a pastry wrapper or shell.
Symbol: St. Piran's flag is a black flag with a white cross and is the banner of Saint Piran, the patron saint of the tin-miners of Cornwall.
Notable people: Daphne du Maurier, William Golding, Kristin Scott Thomas
Located on the northwest coast of Spain, Galicia boasts green hills and a rainy climate reminiscent of the British Isles.
Folklore: One strongly rooted tradition is the belief in the existence of “meigas” (witches). The city of Finisterre was named based on the belief that this area was the end of the world (in Latin, “finis terrae” means “end of the world”).
Food: “Torta de Santiago” is a cake decorated with the Cross of Santiago.
Symbol: The pine tree. Os Pinos (The Pine Trees) is the national hymn.
Notable people: Camilo José Cela, Ramón del Valle Inclán, Julio Iglesias’s father was born here.
Ancient name: Eire
Ireland is comprised of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with 32 counties, 26 in the south and six in the north. On December 6, 1921, the southern counties obtained independence from Great Britain and are known as The Republic of Ireland. The northern counties remained with Britain and are called Northern Ireland.
Folklore: St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland and drove the snakes out of the country; Leprechauns grant wishes; the shamrock symbolizes the Holy Trinity.
Food: Beer, whiskey, black pudding, salmon, dairy products, potatoes
Symbol: The Claddagh represents love (the heart), faith in friendship (the clasped hands) and loyalty (the crown).
Notable people: James Joyce, Jack Dempsey.
Isle of Man
Ancient name: Mannin
The Isle of Man is part of the British Isles but is not part of the United Kingdom. The Manx cat comes from this region.
Folklore: Tales and lore of ghosts and fairies
Symbol: The Trinacria (Three Legs of Man) was first officially used in the 14th century. The source of the legs emblem is attributed to a variety of pagan references to the sun, Sicily’s emblem, Medusa, and the swastika.
Notable people: The BeeGees (Barry, Robin, Maurice, and Andy Gibb)
Ancient name: Alba
Scotland has over 750 islands. Edinburgh is the capital city.
Folklore: Loch Ness Monster, Clootie Well
Food: Haggis, shortbread, whisky
Symbol: Thistle, heather, Scottie dog, bagpipe
Notable people: Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Bruns, Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Graham Bell
Ancient name: Cymru
Wales is the Celtic region that has most successfully retained its native language.
Folklore: King Arthur’s court is said to have been in Caerleon,while Merlin’s birthplace is Carmarthen.
Food: Cockles, laver bread (made from dark seaweed), leek & potato soup
Symbol: Leek, daffodil, red dragon (draig goch)
Notable people: Dylan Thomas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sir Anthony Hopkins.
* Originally published in August 2018. Updated in July 2023.