There’s a reason Irish jewelry is so beautiful. Practice does make perfect, and we’ve been at this metalwork business a good few centuries now. Lots of people are curious about their roots, but what about the roots of their Claddagh ring or Triple Spiral pendant? They have some pretty amazing ancestors too, and they are a bit easier to find than many people’s great, great grandparents. In fact, you can pop into the National Museum of Ireland and visit them anytime. (Well, anytime the museum is open.)
Irish metalwork goes back to the Bronze Age. Much of what was made then was very pragmatic, but artisans were making gold ornaments, including the lunula, an early sort of necklace. It really picked up in the Iron Age. Gold neck ornaments were still in style, and other jewelry such as pins and bracelets were also produced. By the early middle ages, the Celts in Ireland were producing amazing jewelry.
The Tara Brooch is the big name in ancient Irish jewelry, and the original dates back to roughly 700 AD. It is one of the pieces you can see in the National Museum, along with the Ardagh Chalice. This silver cup was made with more than 350 separate pieces and decorated with several other metals including gold, bronze and brass. The tradition of using metals together continues today, as you can see in these knot work earrings.
Another feature that is consistent from the early middle ages to the present day is the love of curving, interlaced lines. We don’t tell stories in a linear straightforward way, and we don’t make jewelry with straight lines either! Animal images are common on metalwork throughout Irish history right up to contemporary art and jewelry. But of course, even the animals are twisted.
While Irish Celtic jewelry has evolved, it is amazing how the same themes and designs have been seen so far back through history. The mixing of metals and the curving, interlacing lines seen in the earliest finds are still seen in contemporary jewelry designs. It takes the idea of fashion classics to a whole new level. You can have faith that the Celtic necklace you buy today will indeed remain stylish for not just years, but perhaps centuries to come. Its roots stretch back pretty far, after all, making jewelry a meaningful way to express your own connection to those talented ancient Celts.