The Dublin Castle Tradition: Medieval Fortress to Center of Cultural Metropolis

by Kirsten Fedorowicz
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The Dublin Castle Tradition: Medieval Fortress to Center of Cultural Metropolis

Part historical relic, part cultural center, and part functioning government building, Dublin Castle is the heart of Dublin City. Built in the medieval era to serve English colonizers, Dublin Castle has since cast off its shackles and has become a celebration of everything Irish! Dublin Castle is also where also Irish jewelry is hallmarked, as it has been since 1637!

Issued by King John of England, Dublin Castle was originally designed to be a medieval fortress built into an existing Viking building. The castle began construction in 1204 and served as a seat of English and British rule until Irish independence in 1922.

Much of the medieval structure burnt down in a 1684 after a great fire. The rebuilt building had more of a Georgian style, and was much more lavish. The building today, now fully restored, is a mixture of the medieval structure and the Georgian rebuild of the late seventeenth century. The Viceroy, the Englishman charged with the care and keeping of Ireland, lived comfortably in an area of the castle now known as the State apartments.

A symbol of the English rule, Dublin Castle was heavily targeted during the Easter Rising in 1916. When Ireland won its independence, the Castle was handed over to the newly formed Irish government, and has remained part government building and part cultural center into the modern era.

These days, Dublin Castle is rich in heritage and culture. There are historical artifacts in sections of the building, and a rotating art exhibit that showcases a variety of contemporary artists and styles. There is also the Garda museum inside the castle, honoring the history of Ireland’s police force.

Many tourists visit Dublin Castle to view this ancient and storied piece of Ireland’s history, but Dublin Castle is far more than “just a tourist attraction.” Irish presidents are inaugurated in the State Apartments of Dublin Castle, and major events and announcements often unfold in the spacious courtyard. The castle also includes several government services, including the Dublin Assay Office that hallmarks all genuine sterling silver and gold jewelry in Ireland!

The Assay Office at Dublin Castle was established in 1637 as an impartial body to determine the quality of Irish jewelry. This is usually how hallmarking is done; a nonaffiliated government body determines the caliber of the metal, and stamps it when satisfied. Sterling silver is marked with “925,” indicating that it is 92.5% silver. Gold jewelry is also marked with the percentage of pure gold in it, or with the amount of karats it has.

For example, check out this gorgeous Claddagh ring! On the inside, it features a "925" mark, meaning that it's beauty is derived from sterling silver (and some astounding artistry on the part of Solvar, who made it!)

Just like the rest of the castle, the Assay Office has a long history. Since 1637, the way the assayers assess the quality of the metal has become more high-tech, but is just as rigorous as it was in the seventeenth century. Even though times have changed, good jewelry hasn’t!

Speaking of good jewelry, check out this Celtic Cross necklace! Just like Dublin Castle, the Celtic Cross has roots in the medieval ages, when Ireland became a haven for Christianity. People have been making Celtic Crosses for hundreds of years to symbolize their faith. In 1637, the Assay Office was stamping these crosses, and they're still stamping them today! Isn't that amazing? 

All of the sterling silver and gold jewelry that Biddy Murphy carries has been stamped at the Assay Office! Our jewelry does more than just look like it came from time-honored Irish traditions and cultural artifacts: it really does! Biddy Murphy assures the quality of every piece you buy, and we have time-honored experts that back us up.

St. Bridget's Cross is one of the most time-honored traditions of them all. Woven for generations in honor of one of the patron saints of Ireland, this cross is also taking part in the tradition of Irish hallmarking. You can't always get a guarantee that your reed weaving is near perfect, but you can get a guarantee that this necklace is!

Have you been to Dublin Castle? What did you think? Did you learn anything new from reading this blog? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

Slán as anois, goodbye for now!

by Kirsten Fedorowicz


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