The Tara Brooch

The Tara Brooch is an elaborate piece of ancient Irish jewelry dating back to around 700 AD. It is on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

Composed mostly of silver and embellished with delicate, interlacing, gold, filigree patterns, it is widely recognized as a symbol of Ireland.

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Tara Brooch

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Celtic brooches are available from many fine jewelers and Irish gift shops throughout the world, with craftsmen finding inspiration from the original Tara brooch. Today I thought I would explain the history behind this wonderful Celtic piece.

Discovered in 1850, this legendary brooch was created for a medieval chieftain to balance his seamless cloak on his manly shoulders.  The weapon-like long pin of the brooch was strong enough to bore through layers of rough cloth. The high quality of workmanship reinforced this chieftain’s head of clan status.

The original brooch is said to have been found by a poor Irish woman in August 1850 on the beach at Bettystown, County Meath. She supposedly claimed she found it in a box buried in the sand. An ancient wooden box surviving under shifting sands for centuries may seem like a tall story. Many believe the woman found the box inland, but moved it to the beach to avoid ownership claims by the land holder.

Another version of the story claims the beautiful piece was found by two little boys playing on Bettystown beach. Their mother brought it to an iron dealer, who wasn’t even slightly tempted to purchase it.  She proceeded to a watchmaker who purchased the ancient brooch for the vast sum of eighteen pence. I wonder if she ever realized how little she was paid for her find.  The watchmaker used his skills to clean up the piece, and then traveled to Dublin where he hoped to find a buyer.  Waterhouse Jewellers paid him twelve pounds for the pin.

Tara Brooch Fabric From Fraser Street Fabric

Tara Brooch Fabric From Fraser Street Fabric

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Although named after the famous seat of the Irish High Kings, the brooch actually has no true connection to the Hill of Tara. George Waterhouse, a creator of Celtic revival jewelry, hoped the name would appeal to women, stimulating a demand for replicas of the intricately ornate brooch. His marketing ploy worked, and to this very day this famous piece of jewelry inspires craftsmen throughout the world.

Although originally a masculine design, the Tara Brooch was quickly favored by Irish women.  In the early years of the 20th century feather boas and furs were the fashion choice of New York and London ladies.  Irish women, however, preferred to pin their serge suits with intricate brooches encrusted with precious stones, inspired by Celtic myth and the Tara Brooch.  Even Queen Victoria herself sent orders for the precious pin to be sent to Windsor Castle for her personal inspection.

Inghiniidhe na hEireann (The Daughters of Ireland) chose a Tara Brooch as a membership symbol. To them it represented a purely Irish identity, so they proudly donned their badge of choice.  In 1914 they merged with Cumann na mBan, and their Tara Brooch symbol was replaced by a more militant emblem of a rifle entwined with the letters ‘CnamB’. Perhaps they failed to recognize the more subtle insignia of the brooch, evocative of a medieval sword.

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National Museum of Ireland – Home of the Tara Brooch

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In the 1870′s the brooch was acquired by what now is The National Museum of Ireland, and there it remains on display, for all the world to see.  Whether found on the beach, the famous Hill of Tara or under some stone wall, by an old woman or her two boys, the Irish people are eternally grateful for the discovery of this national treasure.

And finally a few words of advice for anyone thinking there may be more brooches and ancient jewels just waiting to be found on the Emerald Isle. Metal detecting is illegal in Ireland. This step was taken to preserve Ireland’s historical heritage, and to ensure only those with archaeological expertise and an appropriate license excavate our ancient sites.

And so, when you wear a Celtic brooch,  wear it confidently and with pride. Your taste in fashion and style would be pleasing to Ireland’s ancient warrior kings.

 

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

The Claddagh Ring – Ireland’s Enduring Symbol Of Friendship, Faith, Love And Loyalty

 

 

The Claddagh Ring is possibly one of the most culturally significant pieces of jewelery found anywhere in the world.  It’s history, design, meaning and manner of wearing are all deeply rooted in Irish tradition.  Two hands of friendship hold a heart of love beneath a crown of loyalty.

Love is in the air with Valentine’s Day fast approaching.  What better time could there be to further explore this enduring symbol of Irish love?

The Claddagh, Galway

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1.  The Claddagh Village

 

The ring is named after a tiny fishing village called The Claddagh, which lay just outside the city of Galway in olden times.  Today it is part of the city.  This village got its name from the Irish word for stoney beach – “An Cladach”.  One of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland, it dates back to the 5th century.  The people elected their own King, and lived by their own customs and laws separate from the people of Galway.  It was an Irish speaking, thatch cottage community, that seldom welcomed strangers.

There are three different legends told to explain the origins of the ring.  Who knows which one first found life in reality!  Today all three tales have attained mythical status.

2. The Tale of Richard Joyce

 

The first story centers around a Galwayman, Richard Joyce and his enduring love for his sweetheart Margaret.  Richard was captured by Algerian pirates and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith.  Richard became his master’s apprentice and designed the ring, hoping someday to be reunited with his Claddagh love.

In 1689 William III demanded the release of all British subjects held as slaves.  The Moorish goldsmith offered half his fortune and his daughter’s hand in marriage if the talented Richard would remain with them.  Richard declined, returning once again to Ireland in search of Margaret.

She had remained loyal to him, never marrying another.  They were reunited and wed.  Richard presented her with his specially designed ring to symbolize their friendship, love and loyalty.

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3. A Generous Widow

 

The second historical theory centers around another member of the Joyce family.  Margaret Joyce married a Spanish merchant who traded with the people of Galway.  When he died and left her his fortune she returned home from Spain.  She married the Mayor of Galway, Oliver Og French.  She spent her fortune building bridges around Galway.  The first Claddagh ring was supposedly dropped by an eagle into her lap, as a reward for her generosity.

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4. A Spanish Prince

 

The third and final theory tells the tale of a Spanish prince who fell in love with a young girl from the Claddagh village after the Spanish Armada went adrift off the coast of Ireland in 1588.  The people of the Claddagh hid the Spanish sailors from the English.  The girl’s father did not trust this royal prince, believing his attention and intentions towards his daughter to be dishonorable.  To convince her father of his love and loyalty, the prince designed the Claddagh ring.  Her father gave his blessing upon hearing the deep significance and symbolism of the ring.

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5. A Symbol of Faith

 

Whatever the true origin of the ring, its deep meaning and message of love and loyalty, has put them into a group of European rings called “faith rings.”  These “fede rings” date back to Roman times.

The message of the Claddagh ring can be summarized by the saying:

Let Love And Friendship Reign Forever!

 

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6. How To Wear A Claddagh Ring

 

The manner in which a Claddagh ring is worn also holds deep significance.  If a person is engaged or married the ring should be worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing inwards towards the wearer’s own heart.  If a person is interested in finding love, the ring should be worn on the right hand with the heart pointing out.  If unattached, but disinterested in attracting the attentions of a potential suitor, the ring should be worn on the right hand with the heart pointing in.

 

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Today Claddagh ring designs use many different types of  metals with gemstones often being seated in the middle of the heart.   Wedding bands, embellished with the Claddagh design, encompass the tradition and romance of its deep rooted history.

This enduring symbol of love and fidelity has been in existence for over 300 years.   It’s significance has spread far beyond the Claddagh village where it originated.  These rings of friendship, faith, love and loyalty are admired throughout the world today.

 

Slan agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom