Celtic languages and culture are thought to have their roots in the later part of the Hallstatt culture (about 800 to 475BC) during the Iron Age in the upper Rhine and Danube valleys. From about 500BC, goods decorated in the La Tène style start to appear to the north of the Hallstatt region. The style appears to have been influenced by the earlier Hallstatt style, and also by classical Etruscan and Greek designs. Known to the Greeks as Keltoi, and to the Romans as Galli, the tribes and states speaking Celtic languages were to be found in many parts of Europe, from the British Isles in the north, Spain to the west, and Galatia in the east.
The only historical reference to a Celtic invasion of Britain is that of the Belgae, who conquered parts of the south east of England in 75 BC. In 43 AD, the Roman legions arrived and eventually conquered most of England and Wales. In 60 or 61 AD, Boudica (or Boudicea) led her famous revolt of the Iceni against the Romans, but was defeated. However, the Romans never conquered the Caledonii in Scotland, and they do not seem to have attempted to invade Ireland. In subsequent centuries, the surviving Celtic societies also came under pressure from the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Ulster was one of the very few regions where Celtic traditions survived.
Before the time of St. Patrick (5th century AD), historians are forced to rely mainly on legends. Attempts have been made to identify several different waves of Celtic invaders from these legends, but such reconstructions must be treated with considerable caution. The origins of early tribes like the Cruithni remain a matter of speculation. Ptolemy drew a map of Ireland in the second century, which may have been based on the epic voyage of Pytheas in about 325-323 BC. This map contains some identifiable names in Ireland such as the Volunti (Ulaidh) in the north east and the Ivernni in the south west (perhaps the Érainn).
Naill of the nine hostages died on a raid in France in 405 AD. The northern Uí Néill dynasties were based in the area now known as Donegal, and claimed to be descendants of two sons of Naill (Eógain and Conall). Cenél Eóghain gradually moved eastwards into Tír Eógain (land of Owen, now Tyrone) eventually restricting the older over-kingdom of the Ulaidh to the area east of the river Bann. By about 1050 AD, the centre of power of Cenél Eóghain had moved from Aileach to Tullyhog, and Cenél Connail were able to conquer Inis Eógain (island of Owen, now Inishowen). These two kingdoms were to dominate much of Ulster until the battle of Kinsale in 1601.
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