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Examining Celtic influences and styles in jewellery: Claddagh Rings, Thistle and Shamrock

‘Celtic’ is a tricky word, with no firm definition. It is often used to refer to the ‘Celtic countries’ (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, and Brittany), where the traditional languages come from the ancient Celtic language group. However, it can also be used to refer to all kinds of ‘Celtic culture’, like music and artwork. This is where it gets even more complicated! Each ‘Celtic’ area has its own history and traditions, which may or may not be similar to the other Celtic-speaking regions.

The jewellery style usually known as ‘Celtic’ draws on a fusion of traditions from all these countries, particularly their ancient and medieval art. Many of the symbols and motifs actually predate the Celtic languages and cultures, but have become wrapped up in the same label.

Celtic Jewellery

Celtic Jewellery Symbols

Claddagh

These traditional Irish rings are one of the most popular pieces of Celtic jewellery. Featuring two hands and a heart, claddagh rings are popular engagement rings for people with Irish heritage. The motif also appears on necklaces and other pieces of jewellery. There is a complicated code that lays out how claddagh rings should be worn by different people – but they look beautiful however you wear them!

Knotwork

Intricate, complex knotwork patterns are one of the most popular and recognisable aspects of Celtic jewellery. The patterns are drawn from beautiful medieval manuscripts, like the famous Book of Kells, which is an incredibly heavily decorated copy of the Gospels. Sometimes knotwork also includes other symbols, like animal figures or an interlace Tree of Life.

Triskele

This triangle motif, made up of a series of interlocked curved lines, is an extremely ancient symbol. It is found in prehistoric carvings in Ireland and Britain, and predates the Celtic peoples by thousands of years. Today, it has been adopted by a number of Wiccan groups as a powerful symbol of femininity.

Celtic Cross

The Celtic Cross is distinct from other cross types thanks to the circle that connects all four branches of the cross. This design is found in medieval Celtic manuscripts, as well as on the famous stone crosses that can still be found in the Scottish and Irish countryside.

Thistle and Shamrock

Celtic jewellery also often contains motifs that reflect individual Celtic countries, even if they are not historically ‘Celtic’ in the same way as knotwork or the Celtic Cross. For example, the thistle is the symbol of Scotland and often appears in Scottish-inspired Celtic jewellery. The same is true of the shamrock in Irish jewellery, or even the dragon for Wales. While these motifs may not have appeared in ancient Celtic art, today they represent the Celtic countries just as much as older symbols.

Who wears Celtic jewellery?

Today, Celtic jewellery is especially popular as a souvenir for visitors to Celtic countries. If you visit a castle in Ireland, you might find that the gift shop is very well stocked with shamrock pendants and Celtic Cross necklaces! There are still some traditional jewellers who have specialised in these styles for generations; Galway, for example, is especially famous for claddagh rings.

Celtic jewellery also enjoys huge popularity in other parts of the world. It is often bought by people whose family originated in a Celtic area, and sometimes even passed down through the family. For a lot of people, being ‘Celtic’ is an important part of their identity and jewellery is a great way to show this.

Celtic-inspired styles have also become popular with a number of New Age and Wiccan groups. It offers a powerful sense of connection to the past and is especially important for those who practice Celtic-inspired religions.

Are you a fan of Celtic jewellery? Which Celtic-inspired jewellery style is your favourite?

08 Nov 2016

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