The Celts lived during the Iron Age from 600BC to 43AD. The invasion of the Romans in 43AD marked the end of the Iron Age which is named from the fact that people first used iron to make weapons and tools. Previously, they would have used bronze.
There were three main branches of Celts:
- Brythonic (also called Britons) – who lived around modern Cornwall and Wales.
- Gaelic (also called Gaels) – who were based in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.
- Gaulic (also called Gauls) – who lived across modern day France, Belgium, Switzerland and northern Italy.
Many Celts in Wales lived in hilltop enclosures or hillforts, defended by one or more banks or ditches. Within the enclosure, people lived within round houses. The Iron Age Celts were mainly farmers who grew wheat and barley and also kept, sheep, cattle and pigs. There were however specialist craftsmen who worked in clay, metal and wood. The Celts loved personal finery and ostentatious display. Archaeologists have found beautiful jewellery such as torc necklaces, razor blades for shaving, combs and hair accessories. They were a war like people and warriors would have been equipped with a shield, spear and a sword. They fought on foot or from their horse drawn chariots. Celtic priests were called Druids. The Celts believed that they understood nature and the world around them so well that they could predict the future from it. Druids also acted as judges in Celtic society and even doctors. They also knew about the healing properties of plants. Celts believed that there were gods for every part of life and that the druids were the ones who understood how to speak to them and interpret what they wanted. Today all that remains of the places where the Celts lived are the banks and ditches of the hillforts.
Some of the best hillforts to visit in Wales are:
Celtic saints are an integral part of the history, culture and psyche of Wales. The patron saint of Wales is St David. The origins of Christianity in Wales date from the Roman period. As Christianity evolved and changed during the early medieval period from 400-1100AD the role of saints often originally monastic founders, increased. The fifth and the sixth centuries are sometimes called the Age of the Saints and the origin of some sites can be firmly dated to this period.
Sites such as Bardsey or Enlli in Welsh, St Davids, Pennant Melangell, Holywell and Llantwit Major founded in remote places, became focal points of pilgrimages which commemorated these early saints. The Celtic saints, like all saints of the first millennium were not canonised but became recognised as saints for their devotion to preaching and prayer.
Sites in North Wales
- Bryn Celli Ddu - A prehistoric site on Anglesey located near Llanddaniel Fab. Its name means 'the mound in the dark grove'. It was archaeologically excavated between 1928 and 1929. Visitors can get inside the mound through a stone passage to the burial chamber. The presence of a mysterious pillar within the burial chamber, the reproduction of the 'Pattern Stone', carved with sinuous serpentine designs, and the fact that the site was once a henge with a stone circle, and may have been used to plot the date of the summer solstice have all attracted much interest.
- St Beuno’s church, Clynnog Fawr – Here you will a 8th or 9th century sundial at this fine late medieval pilgrim church and a cross-carved stone in the chapel.
- St Winefride’s Well, Holywell – This site was first mentioned in the Domesday book and is a fine late medieval well and chapel.
- Tre'r Ceiri Hillfort – It stands 450 metres above sea on an exposed peak of Yr Eifl on the Llŷn Peninsula in Gwynedd. It is one of the best preserved and most densely occupied hillforts in Britain, its stone ramparts surviving in places to near full height and enclosing over 150 visible stone houses.
- Ynys Llandwyn/ Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey – Associated with St Dwynwen and St Beuno. Here you will find a holy well, ruined late medieval chapel linked to the stories of St Dwynwen associated with saint’s day 25 January, celebrated by lovers.
Sites in Mid Wales
- St David, Llanddewi Brefi – Here you will find a sixth century inscribed stone and a collection of cross-carved stones. A now fragmentary inscribed stone recorded as naming St David is set into the wall.
- St Padarn’s Church, Llanbadarn Fawr – Here you will find two Viking age crosses and a fine late medieval church
- St Tysilio and St Mary’s Church, Meifod – Here you will find late 11th, early 12th century cross slab and is a site of major foundation associated with later medieval rulers of Powys.
Sites in South Wales
- Castell Henllys Iron Age Village, Pembrokeshire – is a reconstructed Iron Age Village within thirty acres of beautiful woodland and river meadows in the heart of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
- St Illtud's Church, Llantwit Major, near Cardiff – Associated with St Illtud. Here you will find an impressive collection of crosses and cross-carved stones.
- Pentre Ifan, Pembrokeshire has an exposed Neolithic burial mound on the hillside high above the village. The setting is magnificent with Carn Ingli and Newport Bay as a backdrop.
- St Brynach’s Church, Nevern – Associated with St Brynach. There's a 13ft high Celtic cross and a miraculous bleeding yew. An avenue of 700 year old yew trees leads you through the churchyard: According to 12th Saint’s life, St Brynach is buried in the church
- St Davids Cathedral, St Davids – Associated with St David. Here you will find an impressive cathedral as well as a collection of crosses and grave slabs. St Davids is still a destination for pilgrims.
Welsh (Cymraeg) is the oldest language in Britain dating back possibly 4,000 years.
The majority of European languages, including Welsh, evolved from a language now called Indo-European, which developed into nine different language groups, one of which was Celtic. In turn, Celtic developed its own family of languages.
Before the coming of the Roman Empire, Celtic languages were spoken across Europe. Present day place names indicate the extent of their influence: the town of Bala in Turkey and the city of London in England both have names with Celtic origins, as do the rivers Danube, Rhone and Rhine.
The Celtic languages that survived are those that migrated from mainland Europe to the western islands of Britain and Ireland. Labelled Insular to differentiate them from the Continental European languages, the versions of Celtic on these western islands developed into two branches.
In Ireland, Goidelic - or Q-Celtic, thanks to its characteristic kw sound - became the dominant language and gave rise to Irish, Scots Gaelic and Manx. Most historians date the arrival of the Celtic language in Britain to around 600BC. This version of Celtic was to evolve into Brittonic (or Brythonic), which in turn gave rise to Welsh, Cornish and Breton.
Today, according to the 2001 Census, 20.8% of people in Wales can speak Welsh. This means that approximately 582,362 people aged 3 and above speak the language. Welsh is mainly spoken in the West and North West of Wales, in counties such as Gwynedd, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. Although the percentage of Welsh speakers is generally higher in the West, more and more people all around Wales are taking up learning Welsh and are sending their children to Welsh medium schools.