What’s the Difference Between the Irish and the Celts?
For many people around the world, when they think of Irish they also think of Celtic, and vice versa. For many people, they don’t even realize there’s a difference between the two. But there is a difference, one that goes back millenia, and it’s a fascinating story. Each influenced the other, and the jewelry designs that come from Celtic and Irish jewelers are some of the most beautiful and deeply meaningful in the world.
The primary difference between the Irish and the Celts is that the Celts are a group of people while Ireland is a nation. The Celts once spanned much of western, Eastern and central Europe, but many were either assimilated or wiped out by the expanding Roman Empire. The places we think of today as traditionally Celtic, namely Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Also Catalonia in Spain and Brittany in France, were locations where the Romans were never able to fully destroy the Celtic people. Today, Celtic is more of a cultural term than an official genetic one, and refers to many of the people in these faraway lands.
Ireland, on the other hand, is a nation that was born out of the Celtic culture. It has a long and fabled past and a proud tradition and heritage. Much of what we think of as the nation of Ireland can be attributed to the many wars fought to maintain their sovereignty. There is also a bit of a divergence between Celtic and Irish when it comes to religions and religious traditions, specifically the introduction of Christianity into Ireland.
But the truth is that there is no hard-and-fast delineation between Celtic and Irish jewelry, as the two cultures are so intermingled and influence each other so intrinsically.
What is Traditional Celtic Jewelry?
One of the most famous Celtic symbols is the Celtic knot, which has been incorporated into many types of jewelry and symbology. The knots are stylized and can take any number of shapes, from triangles to rings to Christian crosses, such as the Celtic “high cross”. The Celtic knots have been found in Roman mosaics and on church steeples and influence all aspects of Celtic symbolism. Celtic knots are typically formed with no beginning and no end - symbolising eternal life.
The Trinity knot may confuse people at first blush, associating it with Christianity, but the Trinity knot is much older and one of the most recognized of all Celtic symbols, the joining of three entities, as three was a sacred number to the Celts. It also represents the three stages of life - Maiden, Mother, Wise Woman.
What is Traditional Irish Jewelry?
The Celtic Harp, or Cláirseacht in Irish, is a square harp that was played before kings and chieftains. Although it has its origins with the Celts, it has become a national symbol of Ireland. In fact, it is the National Emblem, and is on all official documents, including passports and coins.
The Claddagh ring also has mixed heritage, but dates to the 17th century, designed by a sailor named Richard Joyce. This Celtic ring is a symbol of love in Ireland: in the ring, two hands clasp a heart and on the heart is a crown. The hands represent friendship, the heart love, and the crown loyalty. The way that you wear the ring indicates your relationship status.
The Shamrock is perhaps the most well-known Irish symbol. Legend says that St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland, held up a three-leafed shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity, or how three (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) are also one.
In the end, Celtic symbols and Irish symbols are mixed forever. They have influenced each other and both are better off for them. What once was a great group of people who spanned Europe are now carrying on their legacy inspiring noble tradition and new adventures in Ireland.