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SC2018 Celts and Celtic Civilization: Origins, Literature and Identity (morning)

Ended 7 Apr 2021

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Full course description

Course Overview

In our identity-obsessed 21st century, the term ‘Celtic’ encompasses a plethora of meanings. This course supplies a framework to unpack this loaded-term. The course will address languages, literatures, and archaeological artefacts from territories where this term was originally applied to population groups; as well as regions where Celtic languages still survive. It offers an overview of the Celtic peoples, from earliest mentions in accounts of Greco-Roman authors (c. 500 BC), to their enduring linguistic and cultural legacy on the Atlantic fringes of Europe. It will explore mythological tales from the medieval manuscripts of Britain and Ireland, and will guide the participant through diverse literary materials from the period. These varied sources which have been preserved for posterity will enhance participants’ knowledge of this engaging topic, although no prior knowledge about the Celtic world is necessary. It will explore historical, archaeological, and linguistic evidence surrounding the label ‘Celtic’, utilising archaeological artefacts, Greco-Roman sources, as well as tales from medieval Ireland and Wales, all in translation. This course has been approved by the Department of Early and Medieval Irish, UCC:  

If you have always wondered what the term ‘Celtic’ really means, then this introductory course is for you. It will trace the word from its origins in the texts of the Classical authors of the Greco-Roman civilisations, to the multitude of meanings it carries in the 21st century. Using source materials spanning over two thousand years, it will examine ideas surrounding Celtic origins, languages, and culture. A particular emphasis will be placed on the function of history, archaeology, mythology, and art in the construction of an idealised Celtic identity in our modern era.

The course for the interested beginner offers a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the term ‘Celtic’ from Classical Antiquity to the Digital Age. It questions the perpetuation of Celtic stereotypes, while honouring the mystery which still surrounds many great works of art and literature usually labelled as ‘Celtic’. It aims to separate preconceptions from provable fact, by exploring the original sources behind the tales that live in the popular consciousness. It investigates the often-romanticised view of the Celtic peoples while equipping the participant with a toolkit to analyse aspects of Celticity for themselves.

Course Schedule 

Classes will be delivered online on Wednesdays 10.30am-12.30pm 7-9pm for ten weeks from 27 January to 7 April. Each class will run for two hours with an optional ten minute break at the end of the first hour. A selection of reading materials will be provided as handouts, along with a list of suggested reading, and where appropriate, online resources will be recommended. Questions and debate are encouraged throughout the class. No prior knowledge is required to take this course.


Week 1: Who were/are the Celts?  What do we mean when we attribute Indo- European origins to the Celtic peoples? How can we assemble a comprehensive chronology of the Celtic peoples, from c. 500BC to the present day? 

Week 2: How was Celtic society structured?  This class will examine the earliest ethnographic descriptions of the Celtic peoples, and the interface between their civilisation and the Classical worlds of Greece and Rome. What are the connections between these Classical accounts and how society in early medieval Ireland was configured? 

Week 3: What constituted Celtic religion?  How did the pre-Christian Celts worship their gods?  What role did the druids play in Celtic society? Who were the most revered deities in the mythological tales of early medieval Ireland and Wales? 

Week 4: The Celtic Otherworld.  What were the beliefs of pre-Christian Celtic peoples concerning abstract concepts such as time and space, life and death? Why does the idea of a mystical Celtic past persist? 

Week 5: The tragic love triangle in Celtic literature.  An examination of a universal trope, and the tales in which we see it employed e.g. The Exile of the Sons of Uisliu, Tristan & Iseult, Diarmuid and Gráinne etc. 

Week 6: Case Study: The Wooing of Étaín:  A tale replete with mythological motifs and ancient symbolism. 

Week 7: The Celtic Heroic Ideal.  Cú Chulainn and Finn mac Cumhaill: Do the tales offer two-dimensional portrayals or nuanced male characters? What behaviours were associated with the Celtic hero? What marked a hero/heroine as different from other mortals within Celtic mythological tales? 

Week 8: An Introduction to Celtic Art.  From La Tène swords, to the Turoe Stone, to Jim Fitzpatrick…What are the recurring aesthetic features and motifs of ‘Celtic’ art?  

Week 9: An Introduction to the Manuscripts. How were medieval manuscripts produced? Where were they produced, why, and for whom? What are their distinguishing features?  Why is it important to preserve and investigate them?  

Week 10: The Celtic Revival.  This week will unpack the 19th century origins of the enduring Celtic stereotype. What does it mean to claim Celtic heritage or identity in the Digital Age?

Course Lecturer

Andrea Lane, BA, HDip, MA; Tutor in Celtic Civilisation with the Department of Early and Medieval Irish, UCC.

Entry Requirements

Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.


Short courses are not assessed. Students will receive a UCC Certificate of Attendance upon completion.

Closing Date for Application

Monday 18 January

Contact Details for Further Information

Regina Sexton, Phone: 021-4904700, Email: