story of Gaeldom begins in the mists of antiquity, and ultimately has its roots in an age
when Europe was largely covered with ice. During those early eons only one type of man
lived amid the European ice sheet— Neanderthal Man—doing so long enough to
develop special physical characteristics beyond strictly cultural adaptations. Ample body
hair, long noses (to warm the air), fairness (lack of pigment) of eye, hair and skin; such
traits are physical manifestations born of long residence in the northern regions, to
which all other people were by their very nature foreign. Though other human groups have
since mastered the cultural techniques of arctic living, only the Neanderthal was
inherently a beast of the North, and yet he was a fully modern human (Weaver 577, 612).
Moving quickly ahead in time, Cro-Magnon man
came onto the European scene some 30,000 years ago, as the ice retreated; he was the
vanguard of other groups which followed in his wake (the term Cro-Magnon can also be
applied to all early Homo sapiens of the post—Neanderthal European period, and to
their culture). The resultant intermixture of racial elements gave birth to the
Indo-European stock, with more blonds, as might be expected, farther north, and a more
purely Cro-Magnon admixture on the western fringe.
The last-mentioned stock appears later as the
relatively small, dark people who preceded the Celts in the British Isles, and built
Stonehenge and other ancient monuments in those western reaches. Red hair, green eyes and
freckled skin remain traits hard to place in an original context. They were perhaps
indigenous to the southern fringe of the European ice sheet, and may represent early
hybridization in central Europe following closely on the heels of the earliest Cro-Magnon
influx. It is interesting that the Basques, a relatively small, dark people of ancient
provenience in the western mountains between France and Spain, currently have the only
native European lanaguage which falls outside the Indo-European language sphere, being of
apparently independent origin.
In this Cro-Magnon—Basque connection, it
is worth noting that there existed as late as the sixth century, in the northern extremity
of the island of Great Britain and beyond the Celtic sphere, a race of "savage"