Celtic Art Bibliography I

While I hammer out the details on my post or posts regarding Historiography, in which I try and engage your attention without missing the best parts, enjoy my first post of books I used to create this series.

In my earliest college days, I had a brief and ultimately unsuccessful brush with journalism. I believe that the only influence that remains from this dalliance is my personal library catalog. I group the majority of my books into five broad categories: who, what, when, where and how.

‘Who’ represents my collection of spiritual and religious books. It also encompasses fairie tales, mythology, poetry, plays, and books that are about specific people such as St. Patrick or Eamonn DeValera.

‘What’ is the largest section, covering books about things. Artifacts. Manuscripts. Stuff. These are my picture books and photo references. Many are obtained from museums and the gift shops next to the old forts and tombs. It includes books about Celtic art ITEMS as seen in museums and my tidy collection of facsimile manuscripts as well as photo books on Northern Ireland‘s sectarian murals.

‘When’ is the section of history and context. It isn’t as large as the rest of the sections as many of my books of history are divvied up into other specific sections of ‘Where’ and ‘What’. Here you will find general books on the world of the Celts and the history of the early Christian church. Books on Christian religion are under ‘Who.’

‘Where’ includes my travel stuff, geography, atlases and hardcore archaeology books. Anything that places art into a physical context. Where is it? I have books on regional archaeology, traveling through the Burren and illustrated maps of the Irish west coast. Historic travelogues are in the ‘When’ collection, current travel books are here.

‘How’ is, of course, my collection of actual construction books. It is more than just George Bain’s book on the construction of Celtic Art. Here I have books on geometry, perspective, and the concept of Notan, the balance of light and dark compositional elements. I have books on proportion and the design underlying the manuscript pages of the Book of Kells. J. Romilly Allen is here, as are Aidan Meehan, DaVinci and Pythagoras.

I have a lot of books to share, and I will occasionally comment on specific books and their usefulness or lack of usefulness. To start, I will include the titles and authors. Hopefully, as I go along, I can flesh out the details of publishers and costs. If you want that sort of info up front for any given book, drop me a line and I’ll go into more detail.


Barry Cunliffe
1) The Extraordinary Voyage of Pythias the Greek; the man who discovered Britain
2) The Celtic World

Vincent Byrne
A Thousand Years of the Hidden Annals of the Kingdom of Connacht: 366-1385AD

David Willis McCullough
The Wars of the Irish Kings: from the age of myth through the reign of Queen Elizabeth I

Peter Berresford Ellis
The Ancient World of the Celts

Simon James
The Celts

J.G. Davies
The Early Christian Church

William Hellier Baily
Rambles on the Irish Coast

Editors Bill Rolston and David Miller
War and Words: The Northern Ireland Media Reader

I think there are a few more in a stack in the studio. A lot of these books are large, and I don’t have a lot of space, thus they will tend to float about. I’ll gather them up and add to the Bibliography page as I go.



Defining Celtic Art

A definition:
Shall we start with Wikipedia?

“Celtic art is the art associated with the peoples known as Celts; those who spoke the Celtic languages in Europe from pre-history through to the modern period, as well as the art of ancient peoples whose language is uncertain, but have cultural and stylistic similarities with speakers of Celtic languages.”

Actually, I kinda like this one. It has a lot going for it. I’m not completely sold, but we can start here. It does have a few flaws. First, you need the definition of ‘Celtic’ or ‘Celts.’ Then, perhaps, you have to be in tune with the science of historic linguistics and the ability of specialists to tell you when and where certain languages were spoken. And what does ‘cultural and stylistic similarities’ mean?

For some, Celtic art is only the works of pre-Roman Celts. Some feel that subsequent degradation of the clear Celtic style through influence of Roman and later Christian cultures creates something decidedly non-Celtic. Some are only acquainted with the traditions of the Christian times: the Book of Kells, the crosses of Clonmacnois, the Ardagh Chalice. And some are only familiar with the green trappings of St. Patrick’s day, the kilts and bagpipes of Scotland or the spoons of Wales. It’s ok. We welcome the uninitiated. Just don’t bring green beer.

The fact is, that much of the common and popular knowledge of Celtic art and even the definition of ‘Celt’ is based on works that came out in the 40’s. We’ve come a long way, baby, and new information is not getting out there. Stay with me.

Saying that there is any single, representational Celtic style is incorrect. So I will just refuse to address that particular ‘Pre-Roman is more Celtic’ reasoning. Celtic art was influenced in many ways by many other cultures at many different times and developed in different ways throughout the areas recognized as Celtic. It’s my blog. I mentioned your reasoning. I find it woefully inadequate so I will not bother my readers with it.

Why bother with it all? Isn’t Celtic art just art made by Celts? Well, sure. But during the rise of nationalism throughout the 1800’s and 1900’s, artists of Celtic ethnicity identified themselves by their national identity, as ‘Irish’ or ‘Welsh’ rather than Celtic. Irish art has come to encompass the range of styles and techniques one would expect of a modern country, yet the term Celtic art still hovers around the idea of historic and predominantly linear, non-representational design.

Celtic art is art done by Celtic speakers from ancient to modern times. Seems way too narrow. There are artists utilizing the methods and symbolism of Celtic art today. And they aren’t always Celtic speakers. It is a growing thing. The history of Celtic art provides roots, a sense of depth. For many of us, the designs evoke a sense of rhythm, a resonance like music. Modern artists use individual elements of Celtic design like musicians use notes. It is in the skill of the individual artist to create a composition that sings to an audience.


We can start with some of the Wikipedia stuff. But we’ll make some changes. Celtic art is art created by ancient cultures recognized as Celtic through archeological and/or linguist evidence. It is also art based on the designs, motifs and visual impressions which are recognized thusly as historically Celtic.

Did you see what I did there? I used the word ‘thusly’ but I also added ‘archeological’ evidence. Did Wikipedia do that? No. Does that seem odd, now that you think about it? It should. It explains why Wikipedia had to add the part about cultures “whose language is uncertain.” I didn’t have to do that.

Ah. Outdated views of Celts. I have my evidence. The next post will cover the fads of the historian and how Wikipedia is perpetuating a stereotype.


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