Originally published in Touchstone magazine, March 2009
As someone of mixed heritage I have become well aware of the dark and painful history of the British Isles. Fortunately after over a thousand years of conflict between these nations it seems that long lasting peace has finally broken out at last! Perhaps now after almost an eternity of war and oppression we have an opportunity to lay to rest the ghosts that still haunt us and begin, in earnest, the process of reconciliation and healing.
Like millions of people who live or have lived in England I feel somehow not entirely at home there. I was born and spent my early childhood in Scotland, however I grew up in England but have spent the last 10 years in Ireland where my Irish ex-wife and my daughter also live. My ancestry is mainly English with a good smattering of German and Irish in the mix; so when I think about who I am I often think to myself “I’m not entirely sure”. Am I English, Scottish or Irish or none of these?
Thinking about this, I realize that there are literally millions of people in England and its former colonies (e.g New Zealand and Canada) who are in the same boat, who known or unknown to themselves have an ancestral and cultural link to the celtic lands. I have grown up aware that I did not entirely fit with the predominant culture - spiritually and emotionally I’ve felt drawn to Scotland and Ireland much more so than to England. However, I must stress I have no antipathy for England (which is often not the case of many Scots, Welsh and Irish people and their descendents scattered around the world). I like England but I find I often feel like a dispassionate observer of the country that I’ve spent roughly half my life in and in which I have many relatives.
For many English people I think there is a total or partial lack of awareness of the tragic history and deep divides that exist between them and the rest of the UK and Ireland. To a huge extent this is the fault of political propaganda and a view of history inherited from colonial times through the education system. My knowledge of Scottish history comes from my father, my knowledge of Ireland from my wife and my own reading and conversations as an adult. What I learnt at school was almost exclusively English history and where history touched on other countries it was heavily slanted in favour of the official point of view.
Without getting into a big English bashing session (which is the last thing I want to do) I feel that it is very important to get to the bottom of this issue if there is to be any genuine forging of links between countries and substantive healing of the damage done over centuries. The growing interest in druidry in the last few decades is now truly international however it is still predominately in the celtic lands and their diaspora that people are reconnecting with their ancient celtic cultures. This is great news all round, but in truth there is still a seething mass of pain, hatred, bigotry and sorrow lying under the surface of the lands and hearts of the modern celts, which in many cases has passed down through generations.
As part of moving forward into better times in our personal lives it is necessary to heal our own hurts, confront painful issues in our past and deal with them for healing to take place. I believe that the land itself and peoples as a whole can be damaged in the same way as individuals and hence it strikes me as of crucial importance that the near demise of the celtic culture of these islands be examined and laid to rest as we move into a new era of celtic resurgence in greater understanding and peace.
The history of these islands and its peoples is now so interwoven that hardly a person does not have an English, Scottish, Irish or Welsh relative somewhere and I think that we all owe it to ourselves to deal with the guilt, blame, anger and sorrow of all that has taken place since the Romans invaded England two thousand years ago. I feel that this is not just important for disgruntled Irish, Scots and Welsh but also for the English who are blamed for all evils in many cases and some of whom feel disproportionately the weight of guilt for the deeds of their forefathers.
While difficult issues remain buried they cannot be resolved, when two people do not talk there can be no reconciliation, I believe the same applies on a tribal or national scale. Now that the last conflict (Northern Ireland) appears to have ceased permanently I hope that a sincere and strenuous effort will be made by all peoples of these islands to look deeply into our shared past so that we may find resolution and healing for all our people and the land with it too.