Celtic & Irish Symbols Explained


Legend has it that the Claddagh symbol was originated by a Galway seafarer kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery.  While separated from his home and the woman he intended to marry, he learned the trade of a goldsmith. During his time away, he forged a ring as a symbol of his love for her. Upon his release, he presented her with the ring and they were married. 

For centuries this was used as a wedding ring by the people of Claddagh village, nestled outside the walls of Galway city.  Claddagh rings are still worn as friendship, engagement or wedding rings depending on how they are worn.

The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown). The expression often associated with these symbols in the giving of the ring was: "With my two hands I give you my heart, and crown it with my loyalty." 

Friendship: if worn on the right hand with the heart facing outwards, the wearer is single and looking for love; the heart facing inwards means the wearer is in a relationship.

Engagement: by placing the ring on the third finger of your left hand with the heart pointing outwards. Wedding: represented by placing the ring on the third finger of your left hand with the heart pointing inwards towards your heart.

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Celtic Cross

Throughout Ireland and Scotland, the Celts crafted these magnificent symbols in stone. In pagan times the circle of the Celtic Cross represented the Sun, being the center of their lives.

It was not until the 4th Century AD when it was introduced by the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine, that the Celtic Cross was used to represent Christianity. During the great conversion, philosophers adapted the Celtic Cross, and taught the meaning of the circle to represent Christ, the center of Christianity.  Thus, the cross incorporates both belief systems.

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Trinity Knot

The Triquetra, more commonly known as the Trinity Knot, is a Celtic symbol of ancient origin and one of the earliest symbols of Christianity predating the crucifix by hundreds of years. This symbol is theorized to represent a three in one concept similar in concept to the triple spiral. The Triquetra could have symbolized earth, air, and water.   Another theory is that of mind, body, and soul. 

We can conceptually understand the Celtic intention to represent interconnectedness of three parts in one. When Christianity was introduced to Ireland, the Triquetra became known as the Trinity Knot which symbolized the persons in one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The combination of the Trinity Knot into rings, linens, jewelry and other bridal designs is associated with eternity and eternal love.

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Celtic Knot

The Celtic knot is one of the best known motifs in Celtic jewelry and art. The delicate twists and turns are found in ancient stone art and tattoos, in illuminated manuscripts - in fact, just about anywhere the Celtic people have traveled. 

It has been speculated that the knots represented basic tenants of life, mankind, and spirituality. Some could have been created to ward off evil spirits, others are said to relate to the concept of eternity, eternal life, or the interconnectedness of all living things. 

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St. Brigid’s Cross

Tradition tells us that St. Brigid's unbounded charity drew multitudes of the poor to her door and much enraged her father Dubhtach, a Leinster pagan chieftain.  One day he came in a rage to inspect the dairy, vowing to sell Brigid into slavery, as he had previously sold her mother. To his amazement, instead of empty vessels, he found the churn and crocks overflowing with butter and milk. God had worked a miracle for His child of grace.  St. Brigid's father was a stubborn disbeliever. When the time of his death was drawing near she sat by him in prayer. While she kept her long watch, she whiled away the time by weaving her first cross from the rushes at her feet.  Her father seeing the cross asked her to explain its meaning and was so overwhelmed that he became a Christian before his death. The rush cross became her emblem. 

It is piously believed that this emblem keeps evil and hunger from the homes in which it is displayed. St. Brigid crosses were used during the penal days of religious persecution in Ireland as they could be easily dismantled in time of danger when the penalty was death if found in possession of a religious emblem. Today St. Brigid’s cross is sign of protection whether for a home or for a person wearing the beautiful symbol.

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Based on the ancient lyre, the Irish harp is one of the world's oldest instruments. The ancient Irish kings employed harpists to entertain them. At one sad point in Irish history conquering invaders made it illegal to possess an Irish harp, and set out to burn every Irish harp in a failed attempt to kill the "Irish spirit". 

Greatly honored the harp is the national emblem of Ireland. It appeared prominently on all Irish coinage until the official currency of Ireland changed to the Euro. However, you will still find the harp stamped on Ireland's portion of the new Euro coin.

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Long ago, when Ireland was the land of Druids, a Christian Bishop known to us now as St. Patrick, came to teach the word of God. Although the origins of the shamrock are lost in antiquity, legend suggests that it was St. Patrick who plucked a shamrock from Irish soil to demonstrate the simple (three-in-one) meaning of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Derived from the Irish word 'seamrog" (sham-rogue) meaning 'summer plant,' one thing is certain about the shamrock, it is worn by millions all over the world on St. Patrick's Day and remains Ireland's most famous symbol.

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Tara Brooch

The design of the Tara Brooch was in vogue in Ireland from about the 3rd century AD to the 10th century. Used as ornamental cloak fastenings, brooches were normally made of bronze and consisted of a gapped loop and a free-swiveling pin. The pin was stuck through folds of cloth and the hoop rotated underneath it.

The Tara Brooch is a classic example of Bronze Age craftsmanship, made in Ireland circa 700 AD. Discovered around 1850 in Bettystown, Co. Meath, it is exquisitely made in silver and gilt, decorated with interlacing patterns, spiral and trumpet devices, silver framed glass studs and gold filigree.

The Tara Brooch can now be found in the National Museum Dublin. It not only reflects the Golden Age of Irish Art in the 8th and 9th century, but it also serves as proof that nobility and prosperity were present at that time in Ireland.

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Connemara Marble

Connemara Marble is referred to as "Ireland's Gem Stone". It is a very unique and rare form of Marble found in valley of the 12 Bens in Connemara, the heart of the West of Ireland.

Dating from the Pre-Cambrian era, Connemara marble is believed to be over 600 million years old. It is a metamorphic rock formed when limestone was heated under pressure, producing a hard granular rock.

Its unique green color symbolizes Ireland and is said to bring serenity to those who keep it close. Products made with Connemara marble combine natural beauty with practical strength.

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Tree of Life

The Irish people believed that the Celtic tree of life was rooted in Uisneach, the center of the Land. They believed the sacred tree of life sheltered all Life on Earth. According to folklore, the Celtic tree of life grew 26 miles high, provided nourishment to all the four corners of the Earth, and that it's branches reached up into the heavens and touched every single star.

When people in ancient Celtic Ireland were building their stone circles, they would use the sacred tree as an axis to align the sun in the sky with their monuments. The point where the sun was aligned with the circle became the central source of spiritual connection between the Earth and the Heavens.

Trees also represented Mother Earth's bounty and the eternal cycle of the seasons. The Celtic tree of life also is a symbol of the individual's quest for spiritual fulfillment. The ancient Celts believed that at the center of each of us is a golden child, where we are worth more than gold. They knew that in order to find our "inner" golden child, we must first recognize our connection to the Earth to the four corners-North, South, East, and West.

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