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Six Irish Celtic Symbols and Their Meanings

The Celts inhabited Western Europe between 500 BC and 400 AD. They left a rich heritage, with many of their signs and symbols coming to be synonymous with Irish national identity.

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1. Brigid’s Cross
This protective cross is linked to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, a life-giving goddess in Irish mythology. It celebrates the start of spring at the feast of Imbolc.

When Christianity arrived, Brigid turned into St Brigid of Kildare and became a patron saint of Ireland.

2. The Celtic Cross
While associated with Christianity and national ambitions, this powerful Celtic cross has its origins in pagan times.

One theory holds that the cross – seen in many cultures – represents the four cardinal directions. Another suggests it symbolises earth, air, fire and water.

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3. Green Man
Many cultures depict the head of a Green Man made out of foliage. Widely seen in structures throughout Ireland, the Green Man represents rebirth and the symbiotic relationship between man and nature. His lush vegetation epitomises spring and summer.

4. The Harp
Ireland’s national emblem is seen everywhere – including on euro coins and the Guinness logo.

The Phoenicians are believed to have brought the harp from Egypt to pre-Christian Ireland, where it came to symbolise the country’s spirit.

Fearing the power of the harp in the sixteenth century, the British ordered the execution of all harpists and the burning of their instruments.

5. The Shamrock
Now Ireland’s national flower, this small clover with three heart-shaped leaves was associated with the triad by druids – Celtic folklore ascribed supernatural power to the number three.

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In the nineteenth century, rebels against the British wore the shamrock as a nationalist symbol, and wearers were executed.

6. The Claddagh Ring
The hands on this traditional Irish ring represent friendship, love is symbolised by the heart, and the crown stands for loyalty.

Claddagh comes from ‘An Cladch’, or ‘flat stony shore’, the village where the ring originated. In Galway, wedding rings were given as the custom started.

The ring may be worn different ways to signal the wearer’s relationship status. According to tradition, the ring is given as a gift and not purchased for oneself.

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