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Irish Jewelry – The History Behind It

Irish Jewelry – The History Behind It

Irish jewelry in prehistory

Over a thousand gold objects from prehistoric Ireland are known to survive. The largest Irish jewelry hoard found to date was discovered by workmen in Co. Clare in 1854, containing over 150 gold objects. The working of copper, bronze and gold had become well established in Ireland by 2000BC. Irish jewelry at this point consisted of plain and decorated bands along with gold collars called lunulae. By 1200BC twisted earrings and neck bands, or ‘Celtic torcs’ were forged. The period from 1000-850BC was particularly productive as Irish jewelers popularized bracelets and dress-fasteners. These jewelry pieces were often decorated with complex patterns derived from concentric circles and herringbone motifs.

The Celtic influence

The Celts arrived in Ireland circa 5th century BC and brought with them a more profound knowledge of metalwork. Over the millennium that followed, this Celtic understanding, married with native Irish tradition producing uniquely Irish jewelry and artifacts of exquisite beauty.

The golden years of Irish jewelry

The Tara brooch is held as one of the finest examples of what is now called ‘Insular art’, the distinctive Irish art style that peaked in Ireland in the eighth century. The brooch features spirals, and curves derived from the Celtic art of the pre-Roman age. These elements sit in contrast with panels of stylized animals in filigree wire, demonstrating the influence of Germanic art. The minute and complex gold filigree work is typical of the technical and artistic brilliance of jewelry from Ireland at its best in the first half of the eighth century. It was common in Irish metalwork at this time for the parts to be cast separately before being assembled into the whole. The Cross of Cong is one such example. Another is the exquisitely decorated Ardagh Chalice, assembled from 354 pieces.

Irish jewelry under the Anglo-Norman invasion

The Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169-71 led to the replacement of native jewelry (Irish) techniques with imported. This would remain the case in the centuries that followed, stifling the production of any identifiably ‘Irish’ jewelry. A revival of sorts took place in the fifteenth century when a confident local Gothic style emerged. This style was characterized by silver filigree and inlaid rock crystal and colored stone. Most of these artifacts were produced for the clergy or for religious purpose.

Irish jewelry today

Irish jewelry today is influenced primarily by the major works of Insular art. Irish jewelers produce a dazzling range of rings, bracelets, necklaces and accessories featuring Celtic knot and interlace designs. You will also find detailed reproductions of national treasures such as the Tara brooch and Cross of Cong. The Ardagh chalice is celebrated in the Celtic warrior range produced by a number of Irish jewelers.