Many centuries ago, the Celts built their own civilisation. They wanted to stay recognised by the whole world. Especially that they exist in more than one country, yet they’re all united by their Celtic backgrounds.
This explains to us the reason behind the existence of the symbols of Ireland.
The Irish heritage embraces numerous symbols and each has its own significance. Most importantly, those symbols of Ireland unravel the creativity of the folks behind them.
Let’s check them out and learn about them one by one.
Tri-Color Flag of Ireland
Over the years, flags of countries change according to different causes and political reasons. The same happened in Ireland. In 1848, Thomas Francis Meagher, the Irish nationalist and revolutionary, introduced the Irish flag we see today. He introduced it after Ireland became independent from the British Empire. This current flag has become integrated as one of the symbols of Ireland, hence, the colours it represents. Those three colours; green, white, and orange, respectively, represent a meaning.
The Significance of the Irish Flag Colours
Starting with the green colour on the left side of the flag, it represents the Irish people. Yes, the green colour has always been associated with the Irish culture. We can see this on the streets on Saint Patrick’s Day, where everyone wears green. Everything turns green on that day, even food. It’s also the colour of the shamrock leaf and the costumes of the fairy Leprechauns. Both happen to be among the symbols of Ireland as well. We will discuss them in details later.
On the right side of the flag comes the orange colour. It represents the British people. Wondering why exactly they presented in orange? Well, William III of England was popularly known as “William Henry of Orange”. People used to associate the orange colour with William III of England. Thus, Meagher used it to represent the English people. Finally, he placed the white colour in the middle between them as a sign of peace. He wanted to illustrate that the two cultures have finally made peace with one another.
We now learn that the choice of these three colours to represent Ireland was not random. The colours have their own implications and meanings.
The Shamrock – Symbols of Ireland
Here’s one of the more icon symbols that makes you immediately think of Ireland, the shamrock. It’s a three-leafed clover that vastly grows all around Ireland. The shamrock is one of the symbols of Ireland that we just mentioned; it’s green in colour as well.
What this little plant signifies can be divided into two different things. The first thing is that some people believe that this clover is very lucky. Actually, the reason behind such a thought is that the Celtic tradition considers the number three to be a magical one. Therefore, it’s a fortune bringer for so many people, a reason why the Irish like to keep it in their homes.
On the other hand, some people claim that the three leaves in the shamrock represent the Holy Trinity. There are claims that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, spread Christianity by using the shamrock.
Irish Harp – Symbols of Ireland
Music is highly integrated into the culture of the Celts. They love music and art and they express that through the festivals they make every year. While music is a worldwide spoken language, the Irish, in particular, have their own musical instruments.
Such instruments are symbols of Ireland, including the Irish Harp and the Bodhran Drum. Although both of them are related to the Irish culture, we don’t see the Bodhran Drum as often. However, the Irish Harp is one of the popular symbols of Ireland. People also refer to it as either the Gaelic Harp or the Celtic Harp. It’s not limited to Ireland, for it’s also popular in Scotland, in which people refer to it as the clàrsach.
What does the Irish Harp symbolise? Well, during the Gaelic times, the Irish people loved entertaining their guests. They did so by using the harp and playing some nice rhythmic music. In the 8th century, Benedictine monks wrote documents in which they featured the harp. It was another sign of how significant the harp was to the Irish. More signs include having it featured on the banners at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth 1. Also, the coins that were there during the 1500s featured the Irish Harp. From the 18th to the 19th centuries, the harp became part of the national flag of Ireland. That’s because it was featured in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
As you can tell the Irish Harp became and still is a very important symbol of Ireland.
Claddagh Ring – Symbols of Ireland
This is actually one of the most romantic symbols of Ireland, the Claddagh. It’s usually made of a crowned heart that two hands hold together. People use it in the form of a ring during marriage, for it represents love and loyalty.
According to the Celtic legend, the hands symbolise two of the famous Celtic god and goddess. The right hand represents the hand of the Daghda, the Father of the Celtic Gods. On the other hand, the left hand represents the mother goddess, Anu. Meanwhile, the crown itself represents the mystical spirit of the Celts, Beathauile.
Culturally, women don’t get their own Claddagh ring; they are given to them by their husbands-to-be. You can also receive it as a gift from a friend. It’s used as either a wedding or engagement ring. Those Claddagh rings are usually inherited; mothers often handed them down to their own daughters
The Origins of the Tradition
All of the customs originally came from somewhere in the past. It applies to all the symbols of Ireland, including the Claddagh ring. The tale of where that tradition comes from is a bit shrouded with mystery. People are not sure how the customs they are carrying out nowadays originated back then. But, we have two stories telling us about the Claddagh and why it became one of the symbols of Ireland. However, both stories feature different members of the Joyce family members.
The Slavery of Richard Joyce
Galway is a small County in Ireland popular for being a famous fishing village. A group of people who lived there, known as the Tribes of Galway, included members of the Joyce family. One of the most famous figures of the Joyce family was Richard.
One day, he sailed from Galway to the West Indies, but he, unfortunately, couldn’t make it. The Algerian pirates caught him halfway there and sold him into slavery. His master was a Moorish goldsmith; he remained under his sponsorship for 14 years, becoming an expert craftsman. However, in 1689, William III of England released all of the British subjects and Richard was finally free. His master goldsmith was sad to see him leave; he convinced Richard to stay by offering half of his wealth. He also offered him his own daughter, but still, Richard refused.
On his way back home to Galway, Richard learned that his one true love was still waiting for him. Thus, he created the Claddagh ring to offer it to her, as a marriage gift. He married his beloved one and led a healthy and happy life, as a successful goldsmith.
Until this very day, some Claddagh rings still exist from the ancient times. They seem to be the earliest ones and they are marked with Joyce’s initials. That is one reason to attribute the origin of the custom to him.
An Eagle Dropped the Very First Claddagh Ring
Have you read the title of the story clearly? Well, that is pretty much all of it. But, this time, the story concerns Margaret Joyce. She was rather known as Margaret of the Bridges as she built the bridges of Connacht. She actually built them by using her substantial inheritance from her first marriage who was a wealthy Spanish merchant. However, that has nothing to do with the story of the Claddagh ring.
It all started when she married the mayor of Galway in 1596. It was Oliver Ogffrench at that time. On a regular day, an eagle flew over Margaret’s head and dropped a ring into her lap. It was the very first Claddagh ring. Margaret believed it was a gift from heaven. And that was how the Claddagh ring became one of the most recognised symbols of Ireland.
The Celtic Cross – Symbols of Ireland
Well, there is the ordinary cross that the whole world recognises and then there’s the Celtic cross. It’s one of the main symbols of Ireland and Scotland. This can be obviously seen across hundreds of their cemeteries where the Celtic crosses are all over. It also extends to different places around Europe, including England and Wales.
We cannot quite confirm where these special crosses originated from. There are always competing tales telling us different things about the tradition we observe today. One clan claims that St. Patrick was the one to introduce this Celtic cross to Ireland. That is especially because he was the one responsible for the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. He helped so many people through their conversion from Paganism to Christianity.
However, there are different groups of people that believe those sources that claim otherwise. Those sources actually profess that the introduction of this cross was done by either St. Declan or St. Columba.
The difference between the Celtic cross and the ordinary one is the circle found intersecting both the stem and arms. Not really sure what it symbolises, but it’s popular for being a Christian symbol. Yet, there was evidence that show it actually has roots since the ancient times of paganism.
The Celtic Tree of Life
This is a recognisable icon among the symbols of Ireland. You can often see them on different types of decorations including tapestries. Such a tree has been the symbol of harmony and balance to the Celts of the ancient times.
Generally, the Celts have always appreciated the existence of trees. They have always played part in shaping their culture and some of their beliefs. The Celts also believe in the power of Fairy Trees to heal the wounds of anyone. Those trees are usually found in the wild with a well nearby. However, there is more to trees according to the Celts. This explains a lot about the significance of the Celtic Tree of Life to them.
Back during the ancient times, people used to refer to trees as ‘Crann Bethadh’. They embraced the belief that trees held magical powers. Thus, they honoured the presence of trees in the world by leaving big ones in the middle of their fields. Even when they clear the land with all its surroundings, there is only one big tree standing tall. They gathered under the trees, sharing their beliefs of the trees’ powers in healing and providing food and shelter. Not only for human beings, but also for other creatures of natures, including animals and insects.
The ancient Celts were too keen on keeping their trees alive as they were a great providence for all life. They also considered chopping trees down as a serious crime. People used to get back at their enemies by cutting their trees down, it was a sign of great victory.
What Do Trees Actually Represent in the Celtic Culture?
Trees, in general, have been a great significance to the Celts. It was too normal for them to become among the prominent symbols of Ireland. According to Celtic traditions, the Tree of Life represents the forces of nature. It depicts how nature’s forces intermingle to create harmony and balance. It also tells us about the fact the combination of numerous trees results in a tremendous forest.
Trees have big branches and grow tall, similar to how nature’s forces are widespread and strong. Trees combine their life forces to provide homes for countless species. The cycles of life are balanced. The Celtic Tree of Life is a symbol for these ideas.
One more thing that the tree symbolises was resurrection, for the leaves fall down during autumn only to regrow. They also hibernate during winter and come back to life when spring is here and the sun is up.
In some areas around Ireland, people used to believe that trees were doorways into the spirit world. They believed that they guarded our lands and separated us from the Otherworld. It may sound weird for some people, but such beliefs have definitely stemmed from somewhere in the past. The ancient folks regarded the roots of the tree to connect us with the lower worlds as they grow far down. Besides, those roots are connected to the trunk and the branches that grow outwards and show up in our world.
Irish Practices around the Trees
Again, trees were one of the honoured symbols of Ireland. People used to gather around trees, believing in its superpowers and magic. Upon reading tales of Irish mythology, you’ll realise that trees made an appearance in more than a few scenes.
Moreover, there are practices in the Irish culture that are usually linked to the presence of trees. One example of those practices is the Irish blessings. They are just like any other blessing known in different religions; you pray to God asking for blessings. Just as simple as that; however, it’s not religion-related. In fact, it also dates back to the pagan era.
People gather around those trees and tie clooties to the branches after damping them in the well’s water nearby. Such trees are rather referred to as either May Bushes, Wishing Trees, Fairy Trees, or even Hawthorns.
There is also another practice called the Celtic Knots. They are basically knots, but ones that are hard to know where it begins or ends. Those knots are endless to represent the aspect of eternity just like nature does. More precisely, those ceaseless knots refer to the eternity of nature and its forces. People of the Celts use this method to demonstrate their belief in the continuous life cycle where everything is woven together. They even use it as a design for different forms of art, including tattoos.
The Trinity Knot (Triquetra)
The Trinity Knot is one of the most notable symbols of Ireland. In fact, it’s popular in almost all of the Celtic cultures. Yet, its significance may differ in every culture. People also refer to it as the Triquetra and you can see the churches using them to represent the Holy Trinity. The origin of the term Triquetra is known to be Latin and it means “three-cornered”.
This defines the symbol’s design as it consists of three corners and, sometimes, it includes a circle in the middle. One great aspect of this magnificent symbol of Ireland is its versatility. Different religions and cultures use this symbol with a different significance. Even people of today’s world still honour this among the important symbols of Ireland.
Generally, the Celts honour the number three and believe it to be a magical number. We’ve already illustrated that with the Shamrock symbol. That actually goes back to their belief that the world came in three main domains, sea, sky, and earth. While the trinity seems to belong to the Christian beliefs, it has roots that date back to the pagan times.
We can today see the Trinity knot used in several things in the modern age. In fact, it appeared in more than a few TV shows, including Charmed. The series happened to feature three witches (Yes, three again) and their “Book of Shadows” had this symbol on it. It signified the power of being united.
Different Meaning to the Symbols of Ireland
Well, the Celts may agree on the fact that number three always represents something powerful. However, they may disagree on the nature of that “something”. There are so many documents that claim different things regarding the origin of the Trinity Knot.
One assumption states that it probably had something to do with the solar and lunar phases. Although there was not a single written document that claimed so. However, during some excavations that took place in different sites, they found the symbol alongside the lunar and solar ones. That was one reason that drove some to believe that they actually related during ancient times.
But then again, the Christians seemed to have a different opinion. The Christian faith claims the Holy Trinity to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, they applied the same belief to the knot that, coincidently, happened to have three corners. Many Christians believe that the symbol appeared with the monks who came to Ireland to convert people. But according to the historians; some believe it has nothing to do with the Holy Trinity. However, others claim that it dates back to earlier than the Christian era.
The Neopagans and the Wiccans had a different opinion as well. They regarded the Trinity Knot as a symbol of the Goddess’ threefold nature. This nature included mother, maiden and crone, which represent creation, innocence, and wisdom, respectively. The knot also represents the earth, water, and fire. Yet, the circle in the centre represents the female fertility.
You may have already realised that the symbols of Ireland are numerous. They all represent valuable meanings to different people. This one is called the Triskelion or the Celtic Triskele. The word Triskele is a Greek word that means ‘Three Legs”. Here we are discussing the significance of number three again. Some people also refer to it as the Triple Spiral as it actually seems like three separated twirls.
Historians claim that it dates back to the Neolithic or the Irish Megalithic era. They believe so, as there are many of these this symbol at the entrance of Newgrange tombs in Ireland. Despite its archaic appearance, it only gained popularity in 500 B.C in Ireland.
The Significant of the Triskele Symbol
While the Triskele symbol does not seem that complicated, it’s not easy to illustrate the meanings it represents. Historians have named a few; they are endless to ever get a grasp of. However, still, the basic meaning of the magical number three for the Celts remains. Just like the ancient Trinity knot, the Triskele comes in three to give different implications.
Some scholars also believe that the Triskele is deemed to be the most complex of all the symbols of Ireland. It holds a variety of possibilities, but that doesn’t make it valuable any less. We can even see the Irish use it in the Jewelry of the modern day.
Anyhow, one of the meanings that the Triskele may represent is the motion. Sounds a bit weird? Well, the three arms of the spiral lie in positions that make the symbol seem to move outwards. They seem to move away from the centre, representing motion and signifying the power of energy. It can imply the significance of progress and evolution.
Another source claims that those spirals represent the three Celtic worlds. Yes, the Celts used to believe the existence of more than just our world. They even believed that trees were the doorways into the underworld. Such worlds are the present world, the spiritual world, and the cosmic world.
The Green Man
While reading about the Irish mythology, you may come across the Green Man figure. Not only is he a prominent character in mythology, but he’s also deemed one of the symbols of Ireland. His depiction usually involves a man’s face, where leaves surround him and even branch out of his mouth and nostrils.
Some images also feature fruits and flowers sprouting out of the man’s face. In some rare cases, you may see a full figure rather than just the head. But, people commonly know the symbol just with the face part.
Well, the green colour is easy to demonstrate its existence in the name. But, it also represents the natural vegetation process. In fact, the Green Man is usually identified with the Vegetative deities. According to the Celtic mythology, Cerunnos God is referred to as the Green Man, for he was the God of the Forest. He also represents the aspect of resurrection and the growth cycle of plants.
The Rituals of Honouring the Green Man
Aside from the symbols of Ireland, Celtic Gods are countless as well. Each of them was worshipped in a specific way. In other words, worshipping gods depended on what they used to represent. Let’s take Cernunnos as an example; being the god of the forest, people worshipped him around the woods.
However, most of the worshipping of most gods included offerings, but then again, they are related to the deity’s identity. Folks who worshipped the Green Man made their offerings in the forests. They went there carrying a goblet in which they poured holy water or milk. In some cases, they added wine into the goblet, too. Once those requirements were ready, people started calling for the Green Man whilst pouring the contents on the ground.
Such an act meant you believed in the Green Man, called for him, and asked for his blessings. Yet, that was not the only way people used to call for this God.
Here we go again and mention one of the popular Celtic Goddess in Ireland. Since many of the symbols of Ireland stem from a cultural thought, others emerged from tales of Gods. Here’s one example of the symbols of Ireland that bear a connection to a Goddess; the Brigid’s Cross.
This Goddess, in particular, has many symbols yet this one remains the most prominent of them all. She is the Goddess of Sun and Fire. In some cases, people refer to the symbol rather as the Imbolc Cross. That is because the Goddess’ holiday falls on the Imbolc festival in which people started making her cross.
A Brief History About the Honoured Goddess
Before becoming one of the symbols of Irelands, she was a worshipped deity. While it may be obvious that she belongs to Christianity, the Goddess herself goes way back to the pagan times. Brigid appeared off in the mystical tales of the pagan eras as the Goddess of the sun and flame. Her image depiction usually included a beautiful woman with a bustling red hair that symbolises the heat of the sun. Legends have it that she was born with a fire coming out of her and that explains the redness of her hair.
However, when Christianity stepped into the borders of Ireland, worshipping of the pagan gods was no longer accepted. People were not allowed to worship any deities outside the Christian religion.
According to the tales, Goddess Brigid was afraid that the new religion would cost her followers and worshippers. Thus, we see her in the tales written in the Christian times transforming herself into a Saint. People are usually confused between the two versions of Brigid; however, there were sources that proved them to be the same.
There were so many tales in the Irish folklore featuring the Goddess of Sun. It put emphasis on her significance in having power over our world. Given the Irish’s impulse to embrace those beliefs, it was anticipated that gods become among important symbols of Ireland.
The Story Behind the Cross
Just like any other tale in the Celtic mythology, there is usually numerous competing versions. But this time, we are just concerned with the Christian version of the Cross’s story. Legends claim that the cross was first made at the deathbed of a pagan lord. That lord was dead sick and he asked his people to call for Saint Brigid before he was gone.
When St. Brigid showed up, she started telling him the story of Christ as per his request. She sat next to his bed and started to make a cross out of the rushes on the floor. That action was actually a pure illustration of how the cross looked like and what it meant. Yet, it turned into one of the prominent symbols of Ireland that live until this day. Before the pagan farewell, he asked Brigid to baptise him.
Some other versions of the story claim that the dying man was rather her pagan father. They claim that she succeeded in baptising her own father before he was gone. Afterwards, people started customising the cross on their own. It became part of the festivities of the Imbolc holiday for people to make crosses.
Some people identify with the worldwide known cross in Christianity, but others believe it’s a bit more archaic. That is because some pagans of nowadays still use this symbol an attribute to the Goddess and not the saint.
Awen of Three Rays of Light
The Awen of Three Rays of Light is one of the symbols of Ireland with a simple design and a profound meaning. It goes back to the 18th century, according to many sources. The invention was initiated by a Welsh Poet, lolo Morgannwg. This symbol has always signified inspiration, for the word “Awen” means inspiration in the Celtic language. It sometimes translates into “essence” as well. When you first glance at the symbol, you may find it a bit confusing. However, it consists of three dots about three rays that move upwards and they’re all enclosed in three circles. This actually brings us back to the same point; the significance of number three in the Celtic culture.
This number usually holds the representation of our world’s realms; the land, sky, and sea. It could mean either the division of oneself, mind, body and soul, or the three worlds. Those worlds include the Underworld, the middle world, and, lastly, the upper world.
Aside from the representation of the domains, some people also believe that the three rays are a demonstration of balance. They think that the outer rays represent the energies of a male and a female. On the other hand, the middle ray represents the balance between both of them.
Awen and its Solar Connections
The sun itself is a significant element in the Irish folklore. No wonder the Goddess of the Sun easily became among the symbols of Ireland and is still remembered and celebrated. Some people believe that Awen has connections with the sun. Hence, the three rays that appear on the design of the symbol. This concept professes that the Awen, division of light rays, happens during the sunrise of the midsummer. It’s the time when the sun casts three different rays to open the Annwyn; the doorway to the Otherworld.
It’s believed that this symbol goes way back to some pagan beliefs, but was Christianised later. Some also claim that the symbol was commonly used by priestesses and druidesses. Thus, they profess that the energy of the sun was also invoked by a female spirit.
A practice that was associated with the symbol included a cauldron that belonged to the Tuatha de Dannan. The association was featured in a tale in which Gwion stole drops of inspiration. Thus, bards used to drink three drops of the cauldron as an attribute to Gwion.
While being kind of unpopular, Rainbows remain one of the symbols of Ireland. Yet, it’s not that recognised like the rest of the other Celtic symbols. That’s also because there is not a lot of inclusion of that symbol throughout history. However, it’s quite significant in the tales of the Leprechauns; one of the main symbols of Ireland as well.
Rainbows signify hope and goals within the Celtic cultures. The origin of this belief goes back to, again, the Leprechauns. It’S a tiny elf-like creature that was popular for being a skilful sly. Leprechauns loved money and materialistic goods, so they sold people fake promises in exchange for goods. It was popular in tales that when leprechauns convinced people to track down the end of the rainbow. They promised them to find hidden gold pots and other treasures. In exchange, they get whatever they wanted.
But, wait. Do rainbows actually have an end? Exactly, its something you will never get. However, people still kept trying, hoping they would get there. That is the story of how the rainbows became the symbols of goals. It signifies your attempts to pursue your dreams and reach them someday.
Merrows: the Irish Fairies
Merrow is another one of the interesting symbols of Ireland. In fact, they are also popular in Scottish culture. Those creatures are the equivalent of other cultures’ mermaids and mermen. Even the world itself comes from two Irish words, Muir, which means the sea, and Oigh, which means a maid. While there were males of those creatures, they were mostly females, who seduced the mortals with their beauty.
Unlike their female counterparts, mermen were rare and had hideous pig-like features. Moreover, they are all known to be members of the Sidhe or the Irish fairy world. They lived on the lands found beneath the waves of the ocean. Many regions around Ireland regarded them as signs of death and doom.
While their names mean the sea-maids, they look nothing like the world-wide known mermaids. They are basically human beings with some distinct features. But, they don’t possess tails as mermaids do.
Some images features the Irish merrow quite like humans but with wider and flatter feet. They also had thin webs interlaced between their fingers. To travel through the currents of the ocean, they wore red capes made from feathers. However, some of them took the shapes of the seals until they reach the shores.
While some regions feared them, others believed they were beautiful. There were also some notions that mortals married those creatures. This explains why some Irish families claim to be descendants of the merrows.
Intermarriage of Merrows and Mortals
When the merrow reaches a shore, she abandons her cape in order to walk on the shore. If a man finds her abandoned cape and hides it, she is forced to become his wife. They are considered as symbols of wealth since they own the treasures from shipwrecks. Later on, those merrows find their ways to their capes or cloaks. This urges them to go back to the sea; the urge became too strong to ever resist. Thus, they go back to their water world and abandon their human families.
Merrows in Other Cultures
Again, the cultures of the modern world perceive mermaids as creatures with an upper human body and fish tails. We are unsure of where this mermaid’s belief first originated, but such an appearance was not among the symbols of Ireland. However, this is not the case with the Irish version of mermaids. They are basically human beings that travel through the ocean with a cape. The appearance of the cape differs from one region to another. One half believes the cape is red and made from feathers, while others believe it to be a seal-skin cloak.
In Scottish cultures, Merrows are believed to be shapeshifters. They are human beings that have the ability to shed their skin and turn into seals.
Leprechauns are a popular legend all around the world. Yet, it remains one of the prominent symbols of Ireland. The little fairy-like creature made its first debut in the Gaelic folklore, making it popular in Ireland and Scotland. Just like we previously mentioned, they are famous for having pots of gold. They usually tell their catchers to go find those pots by tracking down the end of the rainbows. The legend of the leprechauns invoked the rainbows to be among important symbols of Ireland.
Their depiction is usually a dwarf bearded man in a green costume. They are another reason why the green colour is quite popular in Ireland. Not only does the colour represent the Irish people on the flag, but they celebrate using it on many holidays.
More characteristics of the Leprechauns include loving music and dancing. They are also popular for being the world’s best shoe menders. In fact, they can be quite fun sometimes as they love performing all types of pranks. However, that does not change their sly nature which they are famous for.
Leprechauns are Irish Fairies
Have we said that leprechauns are capable of granting wishes? Well, they are actually some type of fairies that belonged to the Tuatha de Danann before becoming the Sidhe. However, they only became popular after being sent to the Underworld. Nonetheless, they aren’t typical types of fairies; they don’t have pixie dust and so. In fact, they are ones that enjoy causing damage and engaging in destructive behaviours. Even their story in the folklore states that they were exiled for their unforgivable deeds.
According to the folklore, if a human was capable of capturing a Leprechaun, the latter had to grant three wishes. After those wishes came to pass, the Leprechaun is free to go. Given the fact that it’s really hard to catch one. But, when it happens, they manage to flee away using their deceptive skills.
Why are the Leprechauns One of the Symbols of Ireland?
The reason that those little-bodied fairies became associated with Ireland is its popular in folklore. However, the origin of the Leprechauns is quite confusing as they were found in multiple sources of folklore. Despite the sources it showed up in, they became popular around Ireland and Scotland.
Even the world associate the Leprechauns’ symbols with the Celtic culture, and Ireland in particular. On the other hand, the earliest Leprechaun’s story that the world knows is “Adventure of Fergus”. It’s a medieval tale that is quite popular in Irish mythology. Thus, that is how the Leprechauns are usually associated with the symbols of Ireland.
The popularity of the Leprechauns increased with the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day. While there is no obvious connection between the two of them, people associated them together. The reason behind that association is that St. Patrick’s Day falls on the 17th of March. On this Irish national holiday, people celebrate not only for religious purposes but also for cultural reasons. They celebrate the heritage of Ireland and that is why the Leprechauns take part in the day.
Going back to the 20th century, it was the first time people suggested to wear green on the St. Patrick holiday. Probably, it was because the colour was common in many parts of the Irish folklore. As a result, we today see the three symbols; Leprechauns, Shamrocks, and St. Patrick Day as inseparable.
Random Facts about the Leprechauns
We have gathered a bunch of random facts about the tiny-bodied creatures so you can learn more about them. They are quite interesting and one of the most thought-provoking legends in the Irish folklore.
- Leprechauns are only males. The reason behind their one-gendered depiction is unknown. But, they are known to be the unwanted fairies, unlike most of the other fairies. Yet, this had nothing to do with their gender, but rather with their unfriendly nature.
- Some sources claim that the Leprechauns were originally gods. Well, we have already mentioned that they descend from the Tuatha de Danann. But, that, alone, doesn’t make elevate their statuses to being gods. However, it’s said that they derive from the God of the Sun, Lugh. When Christianity arrived in Ireland, worshipping the pagan Gods started to fade away. It was when the Celtic Gods and goddesses started transforming themselves. According to God Lugh, it’s said that he downgraded his status to a shoemaker when he was no longer worshipped. This links to the fact that Leprechauns are known to be skilful shoemakers.
- In the real, there is a disease linked to the Leprechauns called Donohue Syndrome but rather referred to as Leprechaunism. It’s a very rare genetic disorder where the body experiences abnormal insulin resistance. This results in the formation of some elf-like features like small hands and tiny bodies.
Here are more fairy-like creatures that are deemed to be one of the symbols associated with Ireland. However, it’s not as popular as it’s counterpart, the Leprechauns. They are friendlier and more social and not as aloof as the Leprechauns.
But, the reason behind their unpopularity might be the fact that they were invisible. One thing that both creatures share, is the fact that they are only males. Not a single tale documented that there was ever a female Grogoch.
Well, the Grogochs are half-human, half-fairy creatures. They originally came from Scotland but settled in Ireland later on. Thus, they became among the symbols of Ireland. The images illustrated for it usually includes an elderly man who is small in size with a dense red hair.
Those creatures don’t wear any clothes and are usually covered in filth and dirt. Their bodies were made to resist any temperatures; they don’t respond to either freezing cold nor intense heat. They were also water-resistant and that may explain their unhygienic nature. Such creatures resided in caves and hollows. Even in the northern part of Ireland’s countryside, there are large leaning stones that people call the Grogochs’ houses.
Characteristics of the Grogoch
Again, the Grogochs are known to be very sociable. They love being around people and are so helpful. Yet, they have the power of invisibility, they roam around using this power most of the time. They don’t let people observe them unless they are trusted.
When they are invisible and not around trusted people, they will look for peculiar jobs to do. They love keeping themselves busy. However, they have some bizarre habits that include getting under one’s feet and roaming around the houses. If they think someone is friendly, they will get in there, start socialising and helping. However, if the house is resided by a priest or minister, they will be too afraid to come around.
Changelings are not really creatures, but it’s a belief that stayed in Ireland for a very long time. Right after, it became one of the symbols of Ireland. There are also some illustrations of changelings that were found in the Irish folklore.
Well, what do those creatures actually look like? They were basically human beings, but with some fairy characteristics. So, the changeling is an offspring of a fairy or an elf that secretly replaces a real child.
People in ancient times believed that children were supposed to be born healthy. If one had any medical issue, then it was a fairy child rather than their real one.
The Fairy World is the Most Prominent Among the Symbols of Ireland
If this changeling belief proves one thing, it will be the sign of the Fairy world to Ireland. Among all the symbols of Ireland, the fairy world should stand the tallest. That is because it shaped most of the heritage and cultural beliefs of the Irish. People used the fairy worlds myth to explain what they had no control over in their real lives.
For example, changeling was used to describing children who suffered from autism or ADHD. Because medicine was not advanced back then, people hung their problems on the fairy hook. They could not explain why their children were acting the way they did. So, instead of claiming it a mental issue, they assumed that their child was a fairy. Their real ones were taken, according to what their beliefs said. So, what happened when a child’s condition got better? They would explain that by assuming that the fairies returned them back.
The Origin of the Belief
Back in time, Ireland witnessed a high percentage of deaths among pregnant women. The women either died or they suffered from a miscarriage. That was more often in the rural areas of the country. Besides, the percentage of the dying boys were much higher than that of the females. When a mother lost her child, they would assume that the fairies abducted him/her. This explains why mothers dressed their boys in the past just like the girls.
Dresses were common among young boys to confuse the fairies. They used to believe that fairies exchange or steal boys more often. So, they believed dressing them as girls would make them stick around. People explained that by putting the blame on the fairy world. Despite being totally unrealistic, it helped people back then to stop beating themselves up and just deal with the facts.
Seemingly, the symbols of Ireland are endless and they are all almost equally significant. Yet, some of them are rather recognised by the whole world as one of the prominent symbols of Ireland. To the Celtic folks, all symbols of Ireland are recognisable, but to the world, not all of them. This time, the famous symbol is the Banshee. Luckily, the whole world knows one or two about it. There is even an American TV show under this name.
What Exactly is a Banshee?
It’s a mythical creature that you will get to learn about while skimming through Irish mythology. Also, it’s found in different names. Despite its popularity, it’s not one of the pleasurable symbols of Ireland, instead, it’s a sign of omen. Again, mythology was actually the main shaper of the Irish culture during ancient times.
The Role of the Banshee in the Irish Mythology
It’s actually popular on a wider range than just the Irish culture. This mythical creature appeared in many tales in the Scottish folklore as well. According to mythology, the Banshee is a female spirit that notifies the beholders of an approaching death.
It either shows up to the person who’s going die soon or is heard wailing. People in the past used to believe, wailing at funerals was an alert of something dangerous. They didn’t perceive wailing as a loud grief.
The debate on this tale lies in the appearance of the Banshee. The mythology gave us different versions of how the Banshee appeared. One version claims that she was much like Mother Gothel; an old lady who transformed into a young beautiful woman. She would stun people with her unusual beauty, yet she remained a sign of demise.
The appearance of the Banshee varies from one region to another, some parts don’t think it was a woman. Those regions still believed that the Banshee was a female spirit. However, they thought it showed up in the form of a bird-like creature rather than a human being. They believed that this creature landed on the soon-to-die person’s window and stayed there until the clock ticked.
The Origin of the Banshee
Just like a lot of cultural notions, it’s not always easy to learn about where they came from. Most of the myths carved in our cultures go way back to ancient times. People started believing in certain things or carrying out customs by inheritance.
Well, to make a long story short, it’s not clear where the Banshee myth comes from. However, this brings us back to an important point; blaming everything on the fairy world. It was a way out of explaining everything we had no control over.
But, there is a story behind the evocation of the Banshee. In the past, people believed that it was unjust for young women and pregnant ones to die. Thus, they pictured those Banshees to be the deceased women who came back to avenge their undeserved demise. However, the Banshee has an origin according to Irish mythology. She is a fairy that descended from the supernatural race of the Tuatha de Danann.
More Depictions of the Banshee
It is widely known that the banshee is usually a beautiful woman or a bird-like creature. However, some regions perceived the banshee with a different eye. But, those differences are to blame on the tales of the mythology. There are times when a creature shows up in a tale with all the traits of the Banshee.
This led people to identify different creatures of the same characteristics with the Banshee. Aside from the bird-like theory, the Banshee featured in many tales as rather a woman, either young or old. There were tales where the Banshee showed up as a spooky old woman sitting in the woods. The depiction included wearing a green dress and a grey cloak. Her hair was also long and grey with a comb sitting nearby. This leads us to the reason of the comb being among the symbols of Ireland. It’s highly related to the tale of the Banshee.
In other stories, the Banshee showed up as a mesmerising woman with flaming red hair and an all-white attire. For that, some scholars identified the Banshee with popular goddesses like Brigid of the Morrigan. She sat by the river and wept for hours, thus, her eyes were usually red.
The Armor Laundress
There is one more depiction of the Banshee in the folklore. But, this time, it stems from the Scottish folklore. The Scottish mythology states that the Banshee appeared near rivers as a washerwoman. She usually sat there washing blood-stained attires that belonged to soon-to-die soldiers. Men who got to see the Banshee around the rivers knew they wouldn’t survive the battle. Going back to the bird-like theory, the Banshee has actually appeared in many tales in the form of animals. This included a weasel, hare, or a crow.
If you think you’ve read enough scary stuff in the Irish mythology, think again. Pookas are considered the most frightening of all the symbols of Ireland. Briefly, it’s another myth that people of the ancient times used to have faith in. You can find plenty of tales in the Irish mythology featuring the creature so-called Pooka.
The main trait of this creature is enjoying freaking people out. There wasn’t a single source that claims they were hostile, yet they were bold and wild. They reside over the mountains and hills. While most of the tales indicate that they had a disastrous behaviour, others claimed otherwise. Such differences varied depending on which part of Ireland you come from. There are some parts around the country, rare though, where Pookas helped with harvesting and cultivating.
Opinions regarding the creature’s behaviour vary, but it’s still deemed to be a sign of bad luck. They have often been associated with Halloween.
The Pookas and the Halloween
People of ancient Ireland used to believe that the month of the Pooka was November. They even used to wear customs in Halloween as Pookas. Others stayed at their homes, afraid of the stories that hear about them; they believed that they did harm to children.
What makes Irish mythology interesting is its connection to the mystical creatures of the modern world. The incarnation of the Pooka includes the Boogeyman and the Easter Bunny. Some sources claim that those fairy-like creatures derive from the Pooka
You can find different forms of the name, including Puca, Plica, Puka, Phuca, or Pookha. However, they all refer to the same creature. Pooka derives from the old Irish word, Puca; it means a goblin; it’s an ugly dwarf-like creature.
Other sources claim that the word Pooka is a Scandinavian word, Puke or Pook. The literal meaning of the word is the nature spirit or the spirit of nature. Irish people feared the Pooka, as it was thought of as a mischievous creature that enjoyed causing chaos.
What is a Pooka?
Ok, let’s get to the point of what that Pooka actually is. The Pooka is a creature that can take any form; people refer to this kind of creatures as shapeshifters. It could be a goat, goblin, rabbit, dog, or even a human being; an old man in particular. Besides, it only appears at night.
Despite all of those forms, people are familiar with the Pooka as a dark horse that has golden eyes. Above and beyond, they possess some powers that make them capable of communicating with human beings. Those dark horses were able to speak just like human beings. Interestingly, their amusement lies in exaggerating the truth in order to make whom they talk to stray. In spite of their bad reputation, no records ever proclaimed that a single human being had experienced any damage from them.
Facts about Pookas
The Pooka is sneaky and sly; they are cheaters and good at deception. People refer to them as fertility spirit, for they have the power to destruct as well as craft. And, most importantly, they can speak as fluently as human beings do and give accurate predictions and prophecies. Going back to the frequency of appearing as a horse, Irish mythology states that they enjoyed certain acts. The Pooka usually roams around the countryside performing chaotic acts like destroying gates and knocking down fences.
There’s an endless list of symbols associated with Ireland, but these are some of the most interest and famous ones. Each symbol explored to offer a different look at how they have impacted Irish Cultures, past and present.
Do you have a favourite Irish symbol? Please share with us below!