Since 2007 Celtic Britain has its own living history group. The group reconstructs a group of kerns (ceithirne) and galloglass (gall óglaig) from the region of the Irish Sea from the late 13th century and early 14th century. This was the era of the Scottish War of Independence, one of the most important periods in Scottish history.
The Scottish West Coast was characterized during the Middle Ages by a number of semi-independent kingdoms. These were directly developed from the clan system of the early Celtic periods and in their turn the predecessor of the current culture of this area. Our living history thus provides a look into the development of the Celtic culture itself. Because the Scottish War of Independence was also partially fought in Wales, England, Man and Ireland, this period also provides insight in the connections with the British isles.
Nowadays the Scottish culture is often presented too over-romanticized by medieval warriors clothed in the belted plaid and armed with the claymore.
By conducting research on i.a. the burial stones of the Irish Sea region and Irish literary sources we can make a more reliable reconstruction of the Gaelic society from the 13th and 14th century. In our reconstruction we try to integrate as many Old Irish laws and traditions that were central in our culture as possible. The result is that our members know more than what they show on the re-enactment field and are aware of the value of their reconstruction. A part of the research of our living history group can be found at: http://celticbritain.net/Ierse-zee.htm.
The reconstruction is the basis for an informing program that shows the public how the people used to live, fight and work. Living history is the missing part that museums fail to offer. Of course we are aware of the
fact that not everything can be displayed completely representatively. Although our historical camp is simulated as accurately as possible, the re-enactors and their way of thinking are modern. As a result their perceptions often deviate from the perceptions of historical persons, for example on culture, nationalism, the value of news, taste, humour and horror. In medieval Ireland a professional farter could amuse a large audience, but something like this will not easily occur in living history.
The major difference between living history and experimental archaeology is that the latter focuses on one specific part. For example, we have reconstructed a medieval chest with historical tools. Before the actual tests are executed, a pre-research is conducted on historical, literary and archaeological areas. The results of the research and the tests are noted and processed in a research report.
Most of the research does not have to be executed in historical garments. Only the historical accuracy of the test circumstances are important. For instance, in the case of simulating the living circumstances, historical equipment and garments are important. In that case the tests are usually conducted during living history. An example is our research report of ‘The brat, a Gaelic concept’.
Experimental archaeology tests archaeological and literary sources, it thus provides an extra dimension to research and it can supplement the missing parts of literary and archaeological sources. A fine example is the research on food in old Ireland: are all of the cereals mentioned in the Irish laws suitable for making bread? Experimental archaeology is also important for testing reconstructed armour parts and weapons.
Celtic Britain frequently conducts experimental archaeological research. For some examples of our projects within living history and experimental archaeology, please see:http://www.celticbritain.net/portfolio.htm