Have you seen symbols that are native to Welsh, Gaelic or Irish language and culture and wondered what they meant? Much of these symbols are found in Ireland, but what do they mean? In this article, we are going to look at the popular symbols native to this culture. We will break down their origins to help you understand where they come from. Equally, we will talk about their various meanings.
That way, when you see one or what to purchase an item with the symbol, you’re aware of what it means. When you do, it holds more meaning and value for you. It is easy to fall in love with these designs as they are unique. That is especially when looked at from a mainstream perspective. You can also take them up and give them their own meaning.
The shamrock is a small shoot with three leaves and is used as the symbol of Ireland. It was also synonymous with Saint Patrick, who used the shamrock to symbolize the Holy Trinity during his Christian missions. It is essential to state that St. Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and thus the shamrock symbol because of the symbol for the country in the 18th century. The beginnings of the adoption of the symbol first came about later in the century when rival militants used the shamrock as their emblem during the war. After, it made appearances for use in other places, including flags. Later, green became the color soldier wore either as uniforms or ribbons on their hats. At the time, and even now, the green of the attire was associated with the shamrock.
From there, Ireland has taken up the symbol and uses them decoratively on their buildings, postcards, stamps, and other materials. You will also find the shamrock as emblems for some state organizations in North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Government of Ireland also registered the shamrock as a trademark. You will also find the shamrock on British organizations affiliated with Ireland.
That said, there has been a misconception is the same as the four-leave clover and a symbol of good luck. These are not the same plant, even though they are both clovers. Be sure to check that the shamrock you get has three cloves. Otherwise, you would be misrepresenting even the St. Patrick’s holiday.
The Irish Harp
The Irish harp is a traditional harp with its roots in medieval Ireland and Scotland. It has a massive sandbox that is carved from a single block of wood. It also has a massive curved neck and even a fore pillar that is genuinely out curved. The designs are large and dense so that it can bear the tension that 30 to 50 heavy brass strings cause. The instrument is played by the plucking of the strings using one’s fingernails. That way, they produce a ringing bell sounding noise.
The Irish harp was dominant until around the 17th century they began becoming extinct due to the changes in at the time, including how music was produced. What currently exists is thanks to one John Egan of Dublin who, in the 1800s, revived the harp but made it modern and lighter. There were hooks at the neck of each string that could get turned to raise the pitch of the string and thus producing a full chromatic octave, and not the diatonically as before.
It is unclear what the Irish harp means. It is, however, found in several places in and around Ireland. Such examples are the Coat of Arms, The National University of Ireland, and the beer brand Guinness. However, it is assumed that they are a market of royalty given where they have been used. Others think that it is a reflection of the immortality of the soul, though there is no direct evidence of this.
The Claddagh ring is native to the Irish, with it first coming about in an Irish fishing village in Galway with the same name. It symbolizes love (the heart), friendship (the arms), and loyalty (the crown). It is said that the ring was first produced in the 17th century, but it did not go by that name until the 1830s. It has various origins, with early rings bearing the signatures of goldsmiths that lived in the 1600s. There is a legend of one Richard Joyce, a captive of the Algerians at the time for 14 years. He made the ring while in captivity and gave it to his sweetheart before imprisonment. After, he continued to make more such rings.
In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, these things were used as engagement or wedding rings. The claps hands were symbolic of hands joined in faith or loyalty and trust. In the 20th century, there is renewed interest in the Claddagh ring because of its symbolism and link to the Irish heritage. You’re likely going to see it used along with other Irish symbols, such in jewelry making.
There are various beliefs around how the Celtic cross came to be, but it is among the most recognizable crosses. You will find hundreds of Celtic crosses in cemeteries in places in Europe, including Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England. The most popular belief that exists is that it was St. Patrick, the patron saint of the Irish, who introduced the Celtic cross during his missionary work to the Kings at the time and their people. He aimed to convert the pagans to Christianity.
It is also said that it was either St. Declan or St. Columba that introduced the cross to St. Patrick. For others still, they think the cross came into being out of necessity. The circle on the cross was meant to give the cross structural integrity to prevent it from getting destroyed by the elements over time. However, the idea itself for the Celtic cross comes from the sun symbol found on the stone circle at Calanais. The only difference is that the cross St. Patrick used was elongated while the original had equal sides. The Celtic cross is still considered an Irish Christian symbol.
Aside from Christianity, it is believed that the circle was a symbol of energy. Thus, the cross can be considered as an energy or life source. It is no longer left to funeral monuments and famously placed. People wear the symbol to show their faith.
Celtic Tree of Life
You’re likely to spot the tree of life on tapestries, tattoos, or on jewelry. What does it all mean? For the Celts, the Tree of Life was symbolic of harmony and balance. The Celts hold trees in high regard, thinking them to hold spiritual powers. They also believed that access to their ancestors and other worlds would be through the trees. It is why you find that many Celtic legends revolve around various trees, with the Oak being the most valued.
The Ancient Celts referred to the Tree of Life as the crann bethadh. The tree of life related to a single tree left in the middle of a clearing when they were making room to create fields to till and for their homes. This lone tree was where important ceremonies got held, including the selection of their authority figures. It was believed that the tree had magical powers, and thus cutting the tree down was a serious crime. In war, it was aid that cutting down the tree was the ultimate defeat on the enemies.
Other symbolic meanings of the Celtic Tree of life are wisdom, strength, and long life. It was also represented rebirth as the trees transitioned through the seasons. For that, trees were indeed considered to be magical and living beings that guarded them against their foes and opened the door to the spirit realm. The base of the tree was said to be where the two worlds converged, with the roots symbolizing other worlds. Otherwise, Celtic Tree of Life is also symbolic of the oneness with nature.
Various trees had different meanings, as well. The oak tree was the most sacred, and it was considered to be the center of the world and a doorway to the Otherworld. It was also considered the tree that symbolized nobility, strength, and stability. The ash was thought to represent connection, surrender, and wisdom. Lastly, the willow signified imagination, vision, and intuition.
Triquetra / Trinity Knot
One of the other best-known symbols is the Trinity Knot or the Triquetra. At the basic, the trinity knot has three corners, but some designs add a circle in the middle. It is known mainly because of pop culture, but it has its origins in several places, including the Celtic culture. Other areas where it is said to have first appeared is in Indian heritage sites that are five millenniums old. Others have gotten found in Northern Europe on curves stones and other still on early Germanic coins.
In the Celtic culture, the first Trinity Knot appeared during the Insular Art Movement in Ireland in the 7th century. Getting the actual date is difficult. The artwork was a representation of the simplest knot to make, which is the triquetra. While the artwork went into decline well into the Golden Age, it is said that it was patronage from Gaelic aristocrats that kept it alive. There wasn’t much after, but it was during a Celtic revival that came about in the mid-19th century did the artwork of the Trinity Knot become accessible again.
The initial Trinity Knot was ornamental, found in manuscripts and jewelry of the time. It has pagan origins, but monks converting the Celts to Christianity used it to symbolize the Holy Trinity. In the modern-day, the meaning has changed. A man typically gives the Trinity Knot to a woman they love as a promise to love, honor, and protect them. It can also symbolize the trinity of the heart, soul, and the mind, or even the physical, mental, and spiritual.
The name triskelion comes from the Greek word for “triskeles’ which simply means three legs. However, the triskelion is a complex ancient Celtic symbol made of triple spirals. The earliest findings of the symbol can be found at the entrance of the Newgrange in Ireland. These ruins are believed to be from the Neolithic era. The popularity of the use of the symbol within the Celtic culture does begin much later, which is in 500BC. It is not always possible to pinpoint one meaning, but it is said to have symbolized many elements of culture at the time.
Based on how the spirals are going outward, it is thought that is shows movement and thus a symbol of motion. That could signify energy, action, progress, cycles, and revolution. Even with that, there are many variations of the same that are found throughout history, so it can be hard to know which one was the original and what it was meant to signify.
However, just like the trinity, the triskelion could mean a trinity between various aspects of life. That could be through spirit-mind-body, life-death-rebirth, physical-mental-spiritual, past-present-future, and so on. It could also symbolize the flow of nature, spiritual growth, or even eternal life. With all these meanings, one has to choose what it best represents for them and take it up as their own.
Brigid’s cross is a small, uniquely designs cross made from woven rushes. There is a woven square in the middle and four arms with the ends tied. The Brigid’s cross is associated with one of the patron saints of Ireland, Brigid of Kildare. Traditionally, these crosses got made when celebrating the feast that falls on the 1st of February, that is, St. Brigid’s Day. Formally, this was a pagan festival that marked the beginning of spring.
However, in Celtic culture, the Brigid cross there before Christianity. It was believed to have represented the Goddess Brigid, who was one of the Tuath Dè Danann, a supernatural race in Irish mythology. From the remaining traditions, we learn that the symbol was used as a charm to protect the house from fire. Given there is not said Christian origin, it likely came from a pagan spiritual tradition. There are however, stories that St. Brigid did a similar cross as part of a tool for conversion to Christianity either for her father or a pagan lord.
Another interpretation of the symbol is that it would protect people from harm. Overall, it is considered as one of the Celtic symbols and also part of the Irish heritage. There are several large organizations that have used the symbol as part of their emblem.
There is much to like about the various Celtic symbols that we have discussed. If you’ve loved how they look then now you’re able to go a step closer and adopt them in your life. They deal with various facets of life and thus quite relatable.
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