The Stories Behind the Symbols of Ireland

Learn about the stories and tales behind Ireland’s most recognised and renowned symbols as we begin the 4 week count down until Saint Patrick’s Day. The time of year for parades, green outfits, face-paints, Guinness and all round celebrations of everything Irish. Before you cover yourself in the tri colours this year, here’s a little lesson on the renowned symbols of Ireland, from the harp to the Claddagh to the wee little leprechaun himself.

The Harp

The harp is one of the world’s oldest instruments and has long been the national emblem of Ireland. The ancient Irish kings employed a harpist to entertain them in song and dance, it was also said to reflect the immortality of the soul.

You may not come across many real harps in Ireland but you can be sure to cross paths with the symbol everywhere you go, from coins, uniforms, the state seal to the Guinness pint glass.



Irish Ogham Alphabet

Ogham is an early medieval alphabet used to write the old Irish language. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet’, based on the medieval tradition of ascribing names of trees to individual letters, each letter is in the form of strokes so, for example, the letter ‘A’ is a single, central stroke.

There are roughly 400 surviving Ogham inscriptions on stone monuments throughout Ireland and into parts of Britain, but the bulk remain in the south of Ireland, throughout the counties of Kerry, Cork and Waterford. The true origin of the alphabet remains a complete mystery.


The Claddagh Ring

This timeless Irish ring has been around for centuries, symbolizing love and Irish heritage showing off beautiful designs and quality craftsmanship. The symbol of the Claddagh Ring dates back to a fishing village in Galway known as Claddagh village (An Cladach in Gaelige meaning “the shore”)

Legend tells us that it was Richard Joyce, a silversmith from the village that invented the Claddagh. Whilst captured for 14 years by Pirates who raided the village Joyce a gold ring for his love, which he gave to her when they were finally reunited.

The ring he had designed and crafted which evidently went on to become one of Ireland’s most beautiful and memorable jewelry designs famously known as the Claddagh Ring. The heart represents timeless love, the crown represents loyalty and the hands represent friendship.

claddag galway


claddagh                           claddagh glasses

The Celtic Cross

The meaning of the Celtic Cross is told in legend of Ireland’s St. Patrick. He was shown a sacred standing stone that was marked with a circle. St. Patrick took this opportunity to show the union of old and new ways. He marked a cross through the circle and blessed the stone.

Symbol for Celtic Christianity that combines the traditional Christian cross with a ring through the cross’s intersection. Also referred to as the High Cross, the Irish Cross and the Cross of Iona. The ring is considered a solar symbol of energy, a life source.


Celtic Tree of Life

The tree of life or crann bethadh branches reach in search of learning and knowledge. The trunk symbolisses strength, the flowers and fruit symbolized renewed growth and the roots represent our ancient Celtic heritage.The Celts had many tree symbols. Birch signifies youth, beginnings and renewal. Ash signifies connection, wisdom and surrender. Heather stands for dreams, romance and feelings.


The Shamrock

Although not the official emblem of Ireland, it is the most recognizable symbol of Ireland. The shamrock (seamrog in Gaeilge meaning “summer plant”) was first made famous by Saint Patrick himself.  He used it in his teachings of Christianity, the three leaves representing the holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In more recent times the shamrock has been closely linked to bring luck.




Tri-Colour Flag

The tricolor flag of Ireland was introduced by Thomas Francis Meagher in 1848. The color of the green represents the catholic population of Ireland, the orange represents the protestants and the white color symbolizing peace and unity between the two sides.


The Leprechaun

Smart, devious, lucky, small, fast, and well.. small.. these are just a few words to describe the Irish Lebrechaun. You may end up being the luckiest person alive if you ever manage to catch a Leprechaun but the chances of finding the “wee” man and his pot of gold are extremely low.  He’s small enough to sit comfortable on your shoulder and presents himself very smartly in a green suite with a waist coat, hat and buckled shoes. Find the end of the rainbow and find the pot of gold.



See all the famous symbols of Ireland represented in our extensive ranges of jewelleryhomewarepottery and clothing and get your very own emblem of Ireland to treasure.

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Views: 2719

Tags: Arts, Gaeilge, History of Ireland

Comment by jean kaniecki on February 18, 2014 at 4:23pm

Isn't it interesting that the Harp on the Guinness glass is turned the opposite way


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