History of the Celtic League
What follows is an excerpt from an interview with the late Alan Heusaff, a Breton nationalist, longtime resident of Ireland and one of the founders of the Celtic League International in 1961, one might say the principal founder. The entire interview, conducted by Celtic League American Branch member Liam O'Caiside in Dublin in 1985, appeared in the first issue of KELTOI, now out of print, and was re-presented in a 40th anniversary issue of CARN.
Liam: How did you come to establish the Celtic League?
Alan: Well, in the early 1960s, things were starting up again in Brittany. There was a great deal of agitation from the Communist side of the Breton movement, pointing out the great economic problems that Bretons face. I thought the agitation could lead to a new campaign for Breton freedom, that it would move away from pure economics and become more political.
So I thought, well, it will be important for Bretons to have outside support of any kind, and the only people who could offer the Bretons any aid were those who were ethnically akin to them, the other Celtic peoples. And I also thought that small countries, those without states of their own, needed to stand together. That’s what led me to suggest the creation of the Celtic League in 1961. I looked for people of the same mind, people who would attach primary importance to the restoration of the Celtic languages. Also, if the French media would not make what was happening in Brittany known, we could at least disseminate the Breton point of view at an international level through the League.
Liam: How did you go about organizing the league in the separate Celtic nations?
Alan: At first we had to rely heavily on the national political parties, like Plaid Cymru. In fact, the leaders of that party at the time, Gwynfor Evans and J.E. Jones, came to our first meeting, which was held in Wales.
But we have since reorganized ourselves on the basis of individuals, at the same time keeping good relationships with the national organizations like the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru.
Liam: What do you see as the League’s role today?
Alan: I’m not a politician myself. I believe that the role of the Celtic League was, as is, primarily educative. That is, to help the Irish People, the Welsh people, and the others to think of themselves as a group. That is especially important to the Bretons, you see, because, although we have common interests with the Basques, the Corsicans, and other peoples within the French state, those relations remain on a French level. If you can get Bretons to look on themselves as a Celtic people, it takes them outside the French orbit.
Liam: Do you feel your efforts have been at all successful?
Alan: I think we have made some gains. I believe it’s important for people to build traditions. Peoples, nations if you like, have to live from traditions. It’s that which provides us with continuity, and a nation needs a sense of continuity to survive.
For us, the term “Celtic” has to have some meaning, a connection to the past, but also some justification for its use today. We can’t just sit here singing old songs and trying to play traditional music. We like all that, but must validate the Celtic idea in modern terms as well. And that’s what we are doing here.
For instance, Bernard Moffatt, our Secretary General, has established a system to monitor the movements of submarines that are causing accidents in the Irish Sea (see Carn #s 49 & 52). He has support from Welsh MPs, but also from people of Irish background living in England.
Liam: What part would you like to see the American Branch play in League affairs?
Alan: Well, there are situations where expressions of support would be important. For example, a number of young Bretons have been involved in the Stourm Ar Brezhoneg campaign for bilingual roadsigns. Some have been brought before French courts, and the fines imposed on them are increasingly heavy. Now, I myself would say “You should think of that beforehand and be prepared for it.” But I would hope that Americans would at least write to the French government in support of him and the other language activists.