Exploring Ireland’s Ancient Symbolism

This site generates income via partnerships with carefully selected travel brands and/ or purchases made through links to them. See why this is important.

Many thanks to my friend Leigh Maher who writes for the online store Irish Celtic Jewels. On his blog, he gives tips and information about all things Irish, including weddings, history, culture, symbolism, jewelry and the Claddagh ring.

Moone High Cross, County Kildare, Ireland
Moone High Cross, County Kildare. The second tallest High Cross in Ireland

Ireland offers families the chance to experience stunning medieval beauty at almost every turn. Mysterious, mystical Celtic symbols, such as warrior shield designs and ringed crosses, are often featured in the ancient architecture and art treasures of the Emerald Isle.

If you’d like to share the hidden meanings of these fascinating Gaelic symbols with your children while touring Ireland, be sure to consider visiting the attractions listed below. Once you’ve gotten a little background on the meanings of the most common symbols, (and where they are most likely to appear) you can enjoy looking for them wherever you go!

National Museum Of Ireland –

Since most families hit the vibrant city of Dublin during a stay in Ireland, visiting these amazing museums (there are four branches in Dublin, and admission to all 4 is completely free!) can be a wonderful way to experience the ancient symbolism of Ireland.

The Irish Archaeological Collection is located at the Kildare Street branch of the National Museum Of Ireland – this brilliant exhibit will allow your family to see one of Ireland’s greatest artifacts – the gilt and bronze Ardagh Chalice.

This cup is a perfect example of gorgeous Irish metal work, and it is covered in a series of symbols that have hidden meanings and historical significance. When inspecting the Chalice, be on the lookout for these symbols:

Celtic Warrior Pendant inspired by the Ardagh Chalice (Irish Celtic Jewels
Celtic Warrior Pendant inspired by the Ardagh Chalice Photo courtesy of Irish Celtic Jewels

Celtic interlace (knot work) – The intricate beauty of Celtic knot work, or interlace, is world-renowned. In this hypnotic, latticework style, all lines remain interconnected and never-ending. These delicate, ornate patterns appear (in gold) below the “lip” of the Chalice. Most interlace symbols illustrate faith & eternity…

Warrior shield symbols – The largest Celtic symbol found on the Ardagh Chalice is a circular warrior shield symbol. This bold design echoes the shape of ancient Irish battle shields, and it is a symbol of strength, loyalty, and bravery.

The Ardagh Chalice is a perfect example of the medieval Insular Art period, when Irish monks created many important masterpieces. This large cup, which may have been used for communion, dates back to the 8th century

Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

celtic crossSituated near the picturesque River Shannon, this ancient monastery features incredible examples of striking and symbolic Celtic crosses. Clonmacnoise was constructed in 545, under the supervision of Ireland’s Saint Ciarán.

The monks who prayed and studied at Clonmacnoise were also skilled artists, and they built many beautiful crosses to honor God. The monks tended to avoid working with metal, since metal works were crafted of valuable materials that might be plundered by Viking raiders. Instead, they opted for simple, heavy stone, adding detailed bas-relief scenes and Celtic symbols as decorative elements.

One of the loveliest (and most meaningful) Celtic crosses at the monastery is the Cross of The Scriptures, also known as King Flann’s Cross. Looming 12 feet in height, this millstone piece dates back to the eight century. When examining the cross, look for these symbolic design features:

The Ring – Every true Celtic cross features a central ring that is believed to be a remnant of Pagan Sun Worship. Over time, Christians in Ireland adopted the symbols of the ancient Druids. The meanings of the old Pagan symbols evolved to suit a new faith.

Dove – Animal or zoomorphic Celtic symbols were often chosen to represent human traits, such as courage or wisdom. Serpents, mythical creatures, including the Gryffon, and birds were popular choices. On the Cross Of The Scriptures, a single dove is carved into the ring, symbolizing peace. It is believed that this cross marks the resting place of one of Ireland’s High Kings (King Flann).

What are your favorite Irish symbols?  My husband and I have gold Claddagh wedding bands, my “lucky” piece of jewelry is my Trinity Knot pendant and my girls bought me a gorgeous sterling and emerald shamrock pendant last Christmas.

2 COMMENTS

  1. My Partner and I used the symbolism of her  Cladagh ring  and its principles , Love ,Loyalty , Friendship as an engagement  vow . It was the foundation from which we built on these principles, securing our relationship to date.Focusing on these three principles strengthens our relationship as we move through life together.

      The Claddagh is our wedding band- for the very same reason.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.