Friday, March 12, 2010

Kiss Me I'm Spanish

Stephen Oppenheimer's The Origins of the British uses the hard science of DNA research to shatter many preconceived notions about Irish and British identity. It's a fun, fairly untechnical book and - at least for me - there were many surprises. Among its more startling conclusions:

1. The Irish Celts mostly came to Ireland from Spain, either from the Basque region or Galicia sometime in the first millennium BC.
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2. The Scots came to "Scotland" from northern Ireland.
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3. The Welsh too are Celts - like the Irish - from northern Spain and southwestern France.
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4. The native Celtic and Gaulic speaking English population was not massacred or displaced by the Anglo-Saxons as I was taught in school and college. (We were told the natives fled to Wales, Cornwall and Cumbria and disappeared everywhere else.) In fact Anglo-Saxons only contribute about 5 percent of English DNA which means that the native Celts and Gauls stayed put but gradually began speaking a different language. In others words the Irish, Welsh, Scots and English are virtually indistinguishable genetically.
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5. The neolithic pre Celtic people who came to Britain and Ireland after the Ice Age (the makers of Stonehenge, Newgrange etc.) also seem to have come from northern Spain which is exactly the story told in Irish mythology.
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6. All that crap people talk about on both sides of the Irish Sea about the Irish "race" being a romantic and dreamy one and the English "race" being level headed and dull - is precisely that: total crap. The concept of "race" itself is virtually meaningless and genetically everyone in the British Isles is basically the same.