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Linguistically, the Celtic culture (barely) survived only in the peripheral areas of the British Isles and in the French Brittany. These are the areas to this day more Celtic in nature. But throughout the northwestern Iberia (Spanish Galicia and Asturias and the Portuguese Trás os Montes), Celtic roots survived intensely in traditions and folklore.

This area is a sort of second league in the ranking of "Celticness", despite having a Latin language (four of them, actually: Galician, Portuguese, Asturo-Leonese and Castillan). The flag above would be a flag of the first league, those areas with not only Celtic culture, but also Celtic language.

The use of Pan-Celtic flags is during meetings, such as Celtic festivals, for inter-Celtic groups, such as the Celtic congress, or perhaps for people of all or many of the six Celtic nations descent. The one on the left is based on Celtic symbols. It has on the border in each corner Celtic knotwork. This, obviously, represents Celtic culture. In the center is a large Celtic cross. This represents the separate Christianities of the Six nations: Anglicanism (Ireland, Scotland, Wales), Catholicism (Ireland, Brittany), Methodism (Cornwall, Wales), and Presbyterianism (Scotland), and also Celtic Christianity. The six six-pointed stars represent the six Celtic nations. The knot in the center represents Christianity (the Trinity).

The colors have several meanings. White means purity and justice. The dark blue of the knotwork border and the cross represents the sea which separates all of the nations. The red star represents the Isle of Man, the dark green, Ireland, the blue, Scotland, the white, Cornwall, the light green, Wales, and the black, Brittany. The six pointed stars each represent the six Celtic nations.


EIRE (Ireland)


A gold harp on a green field was the traditional Green Flag of Ireland before the tricolour became popular.

The evolution of the heraldic harp can be traced in Irish coinage. The harp first appeared on coins in the reign of Henry VIII. From the reign of Henry VIII to that of Elizabeth I the forepillar of the harp was plain. In the coinages of James I and Charles I it had an animal head. The naked female torso first appeared in the coinage of Charles II (appropriately enough perhaps) and was a permanent feature from then until 1822 when the Irish currency was abolished. The harp adopted as the state emblem on the formation of the Irish Free State is a medieval instrument, the Brian Boru harp, which is preserved in Trinity College Dublin. Use of this particular harp is reserved to the state so all private bodies are obliged to use harps of other designs.


The oldest known reference to the use of the three colours (green, white and orange) as a nationalist emblem dates from September 1830 when tricolour cockades were worn at a meeting held to celebrate the French revolution of that year - a revolution which restored the use of the French tricolour. The colours were also used in the same period for rosettes and badges, and on the banners of trade guilds. There is also one reference to the use of a flag 'striped with orange and green alternately'. However, the earliest attested use of a tricolour flag was in 1848 when it was adopted by the Young Ireland movement under the influence of another French revolution. Speeches made at that time by the Young Ireland leader Thomas Francis Meagher suggest that it was regarded as an innovation and not as the revival of an older flag.


Origin of the Royal Banner of Scotland

William, who succeeded his father, Malcolm IV in 1165, was known as William the Lion, but there is no positive evidence that the lion rampant had become "the Arms of Dominion of Scotland" before 1222, when it appeared in the seal of his son, Alexander II.

Fox-Davies in A Complete Guide to Heraldry confirms both statements and later quotes Chalmers' "Caledonia" saying, "the lion may possibly have been derived from the arms of the old Earls of Northumberland and Huntingdon, from whom some of the Scottish kings were descended". Fox-Davies also mentions a legendary explanation by Nisbet according to which, "the lion has been carried on the armorial ensign of Scotland since the first founding of the monarchy by King Fergus I -- a very mythical personage (...) about 300 B.C.".

William the Lion (1143-1214) is generally credited with adopting this symbol, although records of this are uncertain. It was referred to as the "Lion of Justice" and the "Lion of Bravery".

1222: first known use under Alexander II, on a seal. It also appears on a seal of Alexander III. The design was surprisingly complex for its time - possibly the double tressure fleury counter fleury is related to the French fleur de lys, although that is not known until 1223 in France. Before this time, the Scottish royal standard bore a dragon (known in 1138). Nisbet quotes the use of the lion rampant by Fergus I in 300 BC, although there is no extant evidence for this.

James VI quartered the arms of the United Kingdom after the Union of the Crowns (1605), using the lion rampant, the three English lions, fleur de lys and harp. The lion rampant is much used in the arms of nobles in Scotland (e.g., Lord Lyon).

1998: Queen Elizabeth began to use a Scottish Royal standard in Scotland.

The Scottish Saltaire (St. Andrew's Flag)

One legend, (very much a story but of interest nonetheless), concerns the fact that it is believed by generations of Scotsmen that our national flag, the white saltire on a blue ground, the oldest flag in the British Commonwealth, originated in a battle fought, a little more than a mile from present day Markle, in the Parish of Prestonkirk in East Lothian, in the Dark Ages between the Picts and Scots on one side and the Angles of Northumbria on the other. There are various versions of the tale but it is generally agreed around the time of the 8th century, an army of Picts and Scots under King Hungus found themselves surrounded by a force of Angles under their leader Athelstan. King Hungus prayed earnestly for deliverance to God and the saints and that night St Andrew appeared to the King and promised them victory. Next day, when battle was joined, the vision of the white saltire (the diagonal cross on which the Apostle had been martyred) was seen by all in the blue sky. This so encouraged the Picts and Scots and affrighted their adversaries that a victory was won. King Athelstan was slain at the crossing of the burn, still known to this day as Athelstaneford. The story continues that this all was seen as a 'Miracle' and may have been the origin of the name "Markle"! In the nearby East Lothian village of Athelstaneford, a flag heritage centre commemorates and discusses the development of the legendary white cross on the blue background.



The national flag of Man is a plain red field with the "trinacria" emblem in the centre. This is a banner of the arms which date back to the 13th century and are believed to be connected with Sicily, where a similar device was used in the Norman period. Traditionally, the symbol is associated with the Legend of the Three Magic Legs.
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Origin of the Triskelion

According to the World Encyclopedia of Flags, by A. Znamierovski, 1999: 'The triskelion (from the Greek "three-legged") is one of the oldest symbols known to mankind. The earliest representations of it were found in prehistoric rock carvings in northern Italy. It also appears on Greek vases and coins from the 6th and 8th centuries BC., and was revered by Norse and Sicilian peoples. The Sicilian version has a representation of the head of Medusa in the center. The Manx people believe that the triskelion came from Scandinavia. According to Norse mythology, the triskelion was a symbol of the movement of the sun through the heavens.'

In "Emblemes et symboles des Bretons et des Celtes" (Coop Breizh, 1998), Divy Kervella explores in depth the possible meaning of the triskell. It is the symbol of triplicity in unity, one of the basis of the Celtic religion, and probably originally a solar symbol. Triplicity in the Celtic civilisation is exemplified by:

the staff of the Celtic pantheon: Lugh, Daghda (Taran), and Ogme ;

the unique goddess who has three aspects: daughter, wife, and mother ;

the division of the society in three classes: priestly class, ruling and martial class, and productive class (craftsmen, farmers, fishers ...)

the philosophical conceptions of the world based on number 3: the three circles of existence, the bardic triads...

The triskell is also often said to represent the three dynamics elements: water, air, and fire, or the wave of sea, the breath of wind, and the flame of fire. One of these elements is sometimes replaced by the furrow of the earth. A more complex interpretation says that the centre of the triskell is the static earth, which receives life from the three dynamic elements. The spiral could symbolize life, dynamics and enthusiasm, as opposed to everything straight and spellbound.

The representation of the triskell must be dextrogyrous (turning to the right). A senstrogyrous (turning to the left) triskell would have a maleficent, or at least hostile meaning. Traditional Breton dances and processions always turn to the right. The war dances of the ancient Celts started by turning to the left to show hostility, and ended by turning to the right, as a sign of victory.

The triskell is close to the hevoud, another Celtic symbol and the Basque lauburu, and is probably of pre-Celtic origin (for instance on the cairn of Bru na Boinne in Ireland).


CYMRU (Wales)


Y Ddraig Goch (the red dragon) is the national flag of Wales, and has been officially recognised as such since the 1950s. The white-over-green field is in the livery colours of the Tudors, the Welsh dynasty that once sat on the English throne.

Conventional wisdom is that the 'draco' standards of the Romans were adopted by the Britons, probably as a metal (possibly real gold) head with a windsock type of body made of silk. In the mouth was a whistling type device that would make sounds as it was waved with vigor. Supposedly used by King Arthur, certainly used by the Wessex lords in the 700s, the emblem has been used by Britons right up to the present time.

Today the dragon is the most prominent Welsh symbol. It is an ancient symbol, already prominent across England and Wales in the years after the departure of the Romans. With the invasions of the Angles and Saxons, the ancient Britons and their dragon symbol was pushed back towards Wales. The dragon has always been a symbol of a people, not an individual.

Here is a brief summary of what Perrin in British Flags and Giles-Scott in The Romance of Heraldry have written about the dragon.

A dragon was the standard of a Roman cohort which was a tenth of a legion. After the Romans left Britain it was used by both the Britons and the Saxons. A golden dragon was the principal war standard of the Saxons of Wessex, and was carried by them at the battle of Burford in 752. In the eleventh century battles the king positioned himself between his personal standard, which was the rallying point and the dragon standard which was carried by a standard bearer chosen for his strength and prowess. After the battle of Hastings the dragon standard was adopted by the Normans. No record of its use in Scotland after the battle of the Standard in 1138,where it was borne as the Scottish royal standard. A dragon standard was taken on the Third Crusade by Richard I in 1191. A dragon was borne by the English army at the battle of Lewes in 1216 and later Henry III had a dragon standard made to be placed in the re-built Abbey at Westminster. Used by Edward I, Edward III at the battle of Crécy 1346, Henry V at the battle of Agincourt 1415, and at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was carried in state to St Paul's Cathedral. Henry VII displayed the red dragon of Cadwallader, from whom he claimed descent, on the Tudor colours of white and green. Until this time it was probably golden. The supporters of the English royal arms were a lion and a dragon, but the latter was replaced by a unicorn for Scotland by the Stuarts. The dragon reappeared briefly as a supporter of the arms of the Commonwealth under Cromwell.




The black flag with the white cross is the banner of Saint Piran, and is now recognized as the 'national flag' of Cornwall.

Saint Piran is the patron saint of tin-miners. Tin was formerly the most important element in the economy of Cornwall. Is is said that Saint Piran derived his colours from his discovery of tin, a white metal in the black ashes of his fire. Another story tells that the colours stand for the ore and the metal, although Cornwall was of course famous for tin long before the beginning of the Christian era.

An article in Encyclopædia Britannica tells that the flag was carried by the Cornish contigent at the Battle of Agincourt (1415). In a history of 1837 Saint Piran's flag was described as the "standard of Cornwall", and another of 1880 which said that: "The white cross of St. Piran was the ancient banner of the Cornish people."

Source: Heraldry Society Flag Section Newsletter, Autumn 1969



The Gwenn-Ha-Du

The flag is called the Gwenn-ha-du which means "white and black". The Bretons say that it is the only flag in the world which doesn't have any colours, but surely it is the only flag in the world which in a parade is carried at arm's length over head. The dimensions are not really fixed. They vary from 9:14 cm to 8:12 m. The flag is not only used by cultural associations or autonomists but really by everybody, and this quite often: you can even see it on town halls in the region. Because of the absence of legislation concerning regional flags in France the flag is also flown on sail and fishing boats. This is tolerated, but the French flag must also be flown. The design of the ermine spots can vary but the most frequently seen is that on the above drawings.

Over the years, the authorities considered the flag as separatist but things have now changed and the flag can appear everywhere, even on public buildings along with the French flag. It no longer has any political connotations. The Gwenn-ha-du is now the flag of the Region Bretagne. It is also used in the department of Loire-Atlantique, although this belongs to the Region Pays de la Loire, because the territory of Loire-Atlantique is historically part of the province of Brittany. Nantes (Naoned), its prefecture, was once one of the two capital cities of Brittany.

The design seems to have been inspired by the American Stars and Stripes. Interestingly, the arms of the Irish Marshall clan are very similar to Marchal's design.



Galicia or Galiza is the least well-known of the Seven Celtic Nations. Its destiny through the last five centuries under Spain's dominion has condemned it to the oblivion of the world, but its actual Celtic spirit has survived and it's yet alive.

Located in the Northwest Corner of the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, this is the land, according to the history, that King Milesius and his people traveled from to arrive and settle in Ireland.
Galicia is green, hilly and rainy, most reminiscent of the British Isles. Like the landscape, the people’s culture and music are distinctly Celtic in flavor.

Galicia is fresh and verdant, it has gushing rivers and a coastline more reminiscent of Scotland than Spain. The weather is cool often misty and the land is impregnated with an age-old magical atmosphere, which travelers can share in cathedrals, castles, Dolmens & Hill-forts. You may even hear Galician bagpipes (Gaitas) droning across the pasture.

Galicia is the most forgotten of the seven Celtic nations. Even so, it has some of the oldest Celtic traditions, going back more that 2000 years. Travelling in Galicia, one can sense this Celtic feeling coming back from the ancient times. One does not see the calm magic of Galicia, one breathes it in: in the genuine hospitality of the people; in the popular festas and carnivals. In the fruits which land and sea share out generously to locals and strangers: seafood, meat, fish and wine. Also in the restful pleasure of the parador hotels, or experience the rural beauty in accommodation's like Monasteries, Castles, Convents, Manor Houses (Pazos) and Country B&B’s converted into beautiful rural inns all with there own distinct character. That is the magic of Galicia. Always attractive. Always... UNFORGETTABLE.

"...Galicia, a green and hilly region in the northwest corner of Spain. With an economy historically based on fishing and farming, it has traditionally been one of the poorest regions in Europe. Galicians speak their own language. The culture, particularly the music, has more in common with those of Brittany, Wales, Scotland and Ireland than Castille or Andalusia. Galicia was once described as the world's most undiscovered Celtic country... the traditional pilgrims route to the enchanted cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Christians hold the site sacred and believe it to be the final resting place of St James the Apostle. Older legends dating back to ancient Celtic times speak of another pilgrimate that followed the stars to the Milky Way to Land's End [Fisterra]. Trascending its own mysterious origins, the pilgrimate continues to draw countless thousands from around the world to this faraway land." -- PADDY MOLONEY July,1996

About the Galician Coat of Arms:

When Heraldry became widespread through Western Europe, the ancient kingdom of Galicia was then already part of the Leonese monarchy, and its kings used to use quite simply the talking lion. That dependence was the reason why Galicia lacked an heraldic symbol from the 12th to the 14th Century the need to use a figure that represented Galicia provoked the use of a eucharistic symbol in the coat of arms by way of a covered goblet during the 15th Century, or a chalice with a host on top in the 16th Century, and by the monstrance starting from the 17th Century. This figure appeared due to an ancient privilege existent in the Cathedral of Lugo be the constant exhibition of the Holy Sacrament to the faithful.

In the Renaissance the goblet lost its expressive character and in order to insist on the message, the eucharistic bread became patented and the chalice replaced the goblet.

The appearance of the crosses in the Galician coat of arms came from years back coming out of the need to fill the empty space. The crosses were chosen fundamentally for religious reasons, the first ones being made up by several smaller crosses. There were six of them throughout the whole of the 17th century but the one which finished off the monstrance ended up becoming independent and the resulting seven crosses were identified by the heads of the old Kingdom of Galicia. Nowadays it is characterised by its simplicity. The background colour of the coat of arms has been blue since the 15th Century and today the crosses are preferably silver. The chalice appears in gold joined to the silver host. Amongst the exterior ornaments, special attention needs to be paid to the crown and to the cross of Santiago. They did not appear until the 17th Century as their use was reserved solely for Knights of the order. Nowadays only the crown remains.

It was in 1972 when the Royal Academy of Galicia in a plenary session adopted the definitive model of this symbol which today is considered official.

From Celebration of Celts
Anne & John Macpherson


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