With its rich history and culture, Ireland has been home to various civilisations for thousands of years.
These ancient communities used Celtic symbols that now have become part of the Irish identity and heritage. Some of these symbols have even become symbols of Ireland itself.
But did you know that these symbols have deeper and even surprising meanings?
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Celtic symbols and what exactly they mean.
1. The Awen of the Three Rays of Light – Celtic Symbols
This neo-Druid symbol, which is a popular design for tattoos, jewellery and artwork, is said to be invented by Iolo Morgannwg, an 18th-century Welsh poet.
However, studies suggest that the symbol might be older than initially thought.
The word “Awen” means inspiration or essence in the Celtic language and it first appeared in the 9th-century book “Historia Brittonum.”
It was said that it represents the harmony of opposites in the universe. For instance, the two outer rays represent masculine and feminine energy, while the ray in the middle represents the balance between them.
2. Brigid’s Cross – Celtic Symbols
Widely believed to be a Christian symbol, Brigid’s Cross is tied to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, which, in Irish Celtic Mythology, is known as a life-giving goddess.
It is woven out of rushes and sometimes straw on the feast of Imbolc to mark the beginning of spring.
When Christianity came to Ireland, the goddess Brigid became St Brigid of Kildare and many of the goddess’s attributes, including the symbol and her association with the destructive power and productive use of fire, were transferred to the latter.
3. The Celtic Cross – Celtic Symbols
Like with the Brigid’s Cross, many people have come to associate the Celtic Cross with Christianity. However, studies suggest this symbol predates Christianity by thousands of years.
In fact, the symbol has appeared in many ancient cultures. According to one theory, the Celtic Cross represents the four cardinal directions.
There’s also another theory saying that it represents the four elements of earth, fire, air, and water.
4. The Green Man – Celtic Symbols
The Green Man is represented in many cultures as a head of a man that is made of foliage.
Seen in many buildings and structures in Ireland and Britain, the Green Man is said to be a symbol of rebirth and the co-dependence between nature and man.
He represents the lushness of vegetation and the arrival of spring and summer.
5. The Harp – Celtic Symbols
The national emblem of Ireland, the Harp is one of today’s most widely recognised Irish symbols apart from the Shamrock.
It is on the Irish Euro coins and is the logo for Guinness, which is considered by many as the country’s national drink.
It is believed that the Phoenicians brought the harp to pre-Christian Europe from Egypt as one of their trading goods.
Since the 10th century, it has been an important symbol for the Irish people, personifying the spirit of the country. In fact, the British Crown was so threatened by the harp that in 16th century, the British ordered all harps to be burnt and all harpists executed.
6. The Shamrock – Celtic Symbols
If there’s one symbol that is widely associated with the Irish, it’s got to be the shamrock.
Now the national flower of Ireland, the shamrock is actually a small clover and was an important symbol to the ancient Irish druids because its three heart-shaped leaves represent the triad.
The Celts believed that everything important in the world comes in threes like the three ages of man, the phases of the moon, and the three dominions of earth, sky, and sea.
In the 19th century, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism and rebellion against the British Crown, and anyone caught wearing it was executed.
7. The Celtic Tree of Life or Crann Bethadh – Celtic Symbols
Often represented by a tree with branches reaching to the sky and the roots spreading into the earth, the Celtic Tree of Life symbolises the Druid belief in the connection between heaven and earth.
The Celts believe that trees were the ancestors of man and had a connection to other worlds.
8.The Triquetra or the Trinity Knot – Celtic Symbols
Like all Celtic knots, the triquetra is made with one continuous line that interweaves around itself.
It symbolises an eternal spiritual life, one with no beginning and no end.
This symbol matches the Celtic belief that everything important in the world comes in threes.
9. The Triskele – Celtic Symbols
Another Irish symbol that represents the Celtic belief of the triad is the triskele or the triskelion.
The triskele is one of the oldest Irish symbols, and you can find many of them on the kerbstones of Newgrange.
According to researchers, these carvings were believed to be made during the Neolithic times or around 3200 BC.
10. The Claddagh Ring – Celtic Symbols
The Claddagh Ring is widely known in Ireland as the symbol of union and loyalty.
It is believed that Richard Joyce, a fisherman from the village of Claddagh near Galway, made the ring for her lady love.
The woman, who eventually became his wife, waited for him for years after Joyce was kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, and later regained his freedom.
What other Celtic symbols do you know about?