Accepted paper:

Re-configuring the Celtic tradition: invention, revitalization and commodification


Máiréad Nic Craith (Heriot-Watt University)

Paper short abstract:

Before World War 1 European folklorists visited the Great Blasket island off the west coast of Ireland. These ethnographers encouraged local tradition-bearers to publish their memoirs. With reference to the first memoir this paper focuses on the symbolic “re-configuration” of the Celtic tradition.

Paper long abstract:

At the beginning of the twentieth century a number of Nordic and British folklorists visited the Great Blasket island off the south-west coast of Ireland They were in search of an authentic language and lifestyle. These folklorists were impressed with their findings. From their perspective, they had encountered a Neolithic Celtic lifestyle untouched by modern civilisation. Being surrounded by the sea had ensured that the community had minimal contact with the mainland. In their quest to bring this example of Celtic authenticity to a wider audience, the visitors encouraged the tradition-bearers to publish their life-stories. The Blasket autobiographies were subsequently translated into several European languages. Introductions to translations of these books set the context for a renewed image of Celticity which emphasized isolation, poverty and ignorance. With reference to the first Blasket-Island memoir (the Islander) this paper focuses on the symbolic "re-configuration" of the Celtic tradition in the early 20th Century. This historically-informed presentation explores the (mis-) representation of the Celtic peasant at a time of major cultural transformation on the island itself. It queries the impact of this scholarly commodification of Celticity from both an emic and etic perspective. It asks who was complicit in a process of heritage-making that was highly symbolic in the wake of Irish independence. The presentation explores the extent to which this "re-invention" of the Celt fed the wider European imagination. Most significantly, it queries how this new-found popularization of the Celtic tradition impacted on the islanders themselves and their self-image.

panel Heri05
Re-enchantment, ritualisation, heritage-making: processes of tradition reconfiguration in Europe: historical and ethnographic examples