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Gaelic History

Are you interested in information on Gaelic history? The Gaels originated in Ireland and spread out from there to the Isle of Man and Scotland. They spoke one of three Gaelic languages: Irish, Manx, or Scottish Gaelic. Read on for more about their history and culture.

Gaelic History

About Gaelic History

The history of the Gaelic language is pretty short. About 300 BC the Gaels were in Ireland and soon spread to Scotland and the Isle of Man. The language broke into the two groups of Irish and a combination of Manx and Scottish Gaelic. After time, the Manx and Scottish languages separated and the three languages were distinct by the 17th century.


A Gaelic political order existed in Ireland until 1607. It consisted mostly of many kingdoms of various sizes spread over the land. When the Normans invaded in 1169, Norman lords controlled large portions of Ireland, but Gaelic Ireland still continued in the other parts of Ireland. Of course there were many battles between neighboring lords but by 1541, the Kingdom of Ireland was established. Then the English began a conquest of Ireland and in 1607, many earls left Ireland for the mainland and that was the end of Gaelic Ireland.


Gaelic history needs to include information on religious practices. Before Christianity was introduced to the Gaelic regions, their religion would be considered pagan or polytheistic, meaning they believed in many gods and goddesses. A major part of their religious beliefs included animism, meaning all parts of the natural world contain spirits and humans can communicate with them.

Trees were particularly sacred and the beginnings of the Irish language used the Ogham alphabet, which has names of trees associated with each letter. The Gaelic Irish and other Celts believed in life after death and buried various objects with the deceased, like food and weapons. Their four major holidays were celebrated on these days: February 1st, May 1st, August 1st, and October 31st to November 1st, which marked the four divisions of the year.

Gaelic Society

The society and culture throughout Gaelic history is also interesting. Society revolved around the clan, or "fine", and of course there were many disagreements and wars over the years. Laws were passed down orally and were mostly concerned with the payment of fines for any harm done by someone's actions. Of great importance were bonds among clansmen and social norms concerning hospitality and other responsibilities. Cultural traditions and folklore were also passed down orally, with storytelling, poetry, and the arts being held in high regard.

Social Structure

There were four divisions in Gaelic society. These levels were not exclusive and a person could move from one to another.

  • At the top were the nobility, which included lords, kings, and chieftains.
  • Next were the professionals, like doctors, craftsmen, lawyers, poets, historians, and even druids and clairvoyants.
  • On the third level were people who owned land and cattle. Under them were the slaves and serfs.
  • A group that lived apart from society was the bands of warriors called "fianna". They usually did not settle in one particular place.

People sustained themselves with livestock like sheep, pigs, cattle, and horses, and by fishing. The main crops grown were barley, wheat, and oats with flax being grown to make linen. The main exports were animal hides, wool, cloth, and fish. The main imports were things not found in Ireland including salt and wine.


Houses were round and built with stone, wattle and daub, wood, sods, clay, or a mixture of materials. The conical roofs were either composed of thatch or sods. After Christianity began making its way into society, monastic settlements sprang up and later turned into towns.

Art in Gaelic society consisted of carvings, pottery, tableware, jewelry, and illuminated texts. Music was lively and two favorite instruments were the harp and the tabor, which is like a snare drum. There were also stringed instruments, fifes, various horns, castanets, and bagpipes.