Irish jewelry is renowned the world over – in fact, we’ve been making it since about 2000BC! There’s even been some artefacts found from earlier times like the Gleninsheen Collar, which is thought to have been made around 700BC! Read on to find out more about Irish jewelry…
The Celts arrived in Ireland around 500BC and were excellent jewelry makers. They used gold, bronze and silver to create wonderful pieces like bangles, collars, torques and brooches. Between about 2000BC and 500AD Celtic jewelry became extremely popular due to its distinctive style and was traded across Europe.
In these earlier times, jewelry was made for practical reasons such as pinning clothes together. It was also seen as a symbol of status. A form of ancient jewelry did exist before the Celts, but it was only made from teeth, bones, wood and even stones!
Celtic crafted jewelry can be recognised by its spirals, knotwork, animal designs, crosses and symbols like the harp and the shamrock which are emblems of Ireland. (If you really want to get a glimpse of some ancient Celtic jewelry on display, then visit the National Museum of Ireland, Merrion Street in Dublin).
The Irish monks continued the practise of jewelry making and introduced the ‘high cross’. The monks were excellent craftsmen, which can be seen in the chalices, jewelry and other artefacts that they made. They created jewelry by pouring melted gold or silver into moulds and while the metal was cooling they would carve intricate designs into it. The monks had to be extremely patient and skilled for one slip of the hand could destroy hours of work.
Today, Irish jewelry is one of the most sought after in the world. You can purchase celtic earrings, chains, rings, brooches, bracelets, pendants and you can even get your hands on some beautifully designed celtic engagement and wedding rings!
Probably the most popular item of Irish jewelry is the Claddagh ring. The Claddagh can also be found in the form of earrings, chains, bracelets and necklaces. It has a very distinctive design, which features two hands holding a heart with a crown on it. A bit strange you might think, but these symbols express more than just meets the eye! The hands represent friendship, the heart – love, and the crown – loyalty. “Let love and friendship reign” is the saying that is synonymous with the Claddagh.
The Claddagh ring is no ordinary ring, as the way you wear it sends out a message. When worn on the right hand (ring finger) with the heart pointing outwards (away from the person) it indicates that you are looking for a relationship. If worn on the left hand (ring finger) with the heart pointing outwards it indicates that the person is engaged. But when worn on the left hand and turned inwards it means that the person is married.
The Claddagh ring originated in a little fishing village called Claddagh in County Galway on the west coast of Ireland. It was used as a wedding ring in this small community for over 400 years! There are lots of legends of how this ring actually came about, but it is believed that a native Galway man by the name of Richard Joyce, travelled abroad to the West Indies. While travelling he was captured as a slave and sold to a wealthy Moorish gold smith. Here he learned his trade and designed the ring with which he returned to Galway.
The Claddagh ring has become increasingly popular due to its unique design, its history, its connection to Galway, and of course, it’s sentimental meaning.
Nowadays, there are several different types of Claddagh rings, but if your’re looking for the original, then head to Galway city where you can purchase a hand crafted Claddagh ring with the original hallmark.
When you visit Ireland, then why not take some Irish jewelry home – it’s a fantastic gift idea. The best way to choose some Irish jewelry is just to browse through the jewelry in a local gift/jewelry shop. You may also stumble upon some jewelry makers in rural towns in the west of Ireland, so make for one of these if you’re really looking for the jewel in the crown!
If you’re after something a bit more classy and contemporary then maybe opt for Newbridge jewelry. This handcrafted silver Irish jewelry is very elegant and while quite fashionable, some collections also feature historic symbols of Ireland.
Hope this gives you a little insight into Irish jewelry. Please feel free to leave a comment on this article and if you’ve any questions, just drop us a line and we’ll get back to you.