Claddaghs, Celtic Knots, and a Bit of Blarney

Claddagh rings flanked the fingers of many of my college friends. That’s not a surprise, seeing that my alma mater was St. Mary’s, an all-woman’s Catholic college, nestled next to the University of Notre Dame, home of the Fighting Irish. With a leprechaun mascot and an Irish Terrier chiseled into the exterior of one of the dorms, it was no wonder that Claddagh rings were exchanged between students. Many of us treasured our Irish heritage, but others simply embraced the Celtic culture and adopted it as their own.
Using metal clay molds
Interesting jewelry of today take clues from antiquities, such as this necklace by Pat Gullet.
I’m no anthropologist, but I do enjoy learning about jewelry with history in mind. The form and function of art comes alive when I consider the people and times that shaped it. The symbolism on ancient artifacts shrouds them with mystery and begs to be explored. When it comes to the origins of the Claddagh, however, the three-fold symbolism has little mystery for it widely know. Back in college, the meaning was shared openly and often with the ring bearers, wearers, and those of us who looked on longingly.
Gold Irish Ring
The Claddagh ring is a sign of friendship or committed love, depending on how it is worn.
The Claddagh ring is said to have originated in the late 16th century. It depicts two hands embracing a crowned heart. The hands represent friendship, the heart symbolizes love, and the crown stands for loyalty. While the images are symbolic, the heirloom takes on a larger meaning depending on how it is worn. When adorning the left hand with the heart pointing inward, the ring represents engagement, never to be separated. When worn on the right hand with the heart toward one’s body, the ring indicates the wearer is in a relationship or bound in friendship. If the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart pointing outward, it means that the wearer's heart is uncommitted. The social customs surrounding this one ring are impressive and compelling.
Sculpted wirework necklace
Spirals have a hypnotic allure, as shown in this necklace by Kristi Zevenbergen. While the meaning of Celtic spirals is debated, many scholars feel they symbolized the balance between inner and outer consciousness.
Long before Christians started influencing the Celts of Ireland, the Celtic people were bound together with customs and social beliefs. A prevalent way of expressing their beliefs was through their artwork. The Celts incorporate knots, spirals, and braids into their intertwining patterns. This complicated twisting is believed to represent their view of eternal life, as well as the relationship between mankind, nature, and the Divine. In particular, it is thought that spirals were used to symbolize continuity of life and spiritual growth and circular knots were incorporated as symbols of eternity.
Celtic knot earrings
Make your own Celtic knot earrings, like these by Susan Harle, using a flat, diagonal peyote tube.
One of my favorite Celtic knots is the Triquetra, or triangle. I’ve read that this symbol dates back to the Book of Kells in the 9th century. Later Christian influence changed the common name to Trinity knot, as a reference to the Holy trinity: father, son and Holy Ghost. This knot traditionally consists of three corners and may hold a circle in the center. This simple, compelling knot can be found on everything from weapons of the past to earrings of today.
Celtic infinity ring
If you think Claddagh rings look too traditional, go more primitive with this Celtic Infinity ring by Dawn Horner.

Whether you are of Irish decent or not, it is important to hold onto symbolism and tradition – even if it is just for one day a year.
Beannachtai Na Feile Padraig Oraibh.         [St. Patrick’s Day Blessing Upon You.]

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