Galicia’s disputed Celtic heritage

Last month, the Galician parliament took time to celebrate. The region—a misty, rain-soaked province of Spain pinched between Portugal and the Atlantic—honoured the politicians who drafted the principles of Galician self-rule in 1978 with bagpipes and folk songs. Bagpipes are a surprisingly key part of cultural life and hint at the region’s distinctive Celtic heritage. Galicians take pride in this identity, despite scepticism from their would-be cousins across the sea.

Galician Celts have an ancient history. As early as 600BC, they built hill-forts called castros, some of which remain dotted across the hills today. Craftsmen made gold jewellery, as well as life-sized stone figures to guard their settlements. They protected this identity even after the Roman conquest, keeping pagan customs and links to Celts in the British Isles. The modern city of Lugo still bears the name of a Celtic god. Modern Galician, a Romance language related to Portuguese, contains dozens of Celtic words.

But if the Celtic past still thrives in modern Galicia, it has also fired controversy. In 1986, Galicia joined Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man to become the seventh member of the Celtic League, a political and cultural organisation. The decision to accept Galicia as a member caused shrieks of protest: it wrecked the “linguistic criterion” of membership, which put language at the core of Celtic identity. Unlike Irish or Breton, the Celtic language spoken in Galicia is lost to history. A year later, Galicia had been ejected from the league.

Read more: The Economist

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