Symbols of Ireland

The Irish Flag

The Irish tricolor flag made its debut in 1848. It was based on the French tricolor; however, the colors were altogether Irish. One outside band was made green, the color that had long been used as a symbol of the Catholic majority. The other outside band, a stripe of orange, was chosen to represent the Protestant minority. And the middle band of white represented their unity.

The Harp

The harp, of the small portable type played by Celtic minstrels, is the oldest official symbol of Ireland. Through not as recognizable as the shamrock, the harp is widely used. It appears on Irish coins, the presidential flag, state seals, uniforms, and official documents. But the harp is most often associated with Guinness, which adopted the harp as its trademark in 1862.

The Shamrock

The Shamrock is the ubiquitous symbol of all things Irish. Although today it is usually regarded as a simple good luck charm or a St. patrick’s day decoration, it is one of the oldest Celtic symbols.

The shamrock is a native species of clover in Ireland. A Catholic legend holds that St. Patrick used it’s three lobes as a device for teaching the Holy trinity. To the Druids who came before gim, it symbolized a similar “three in one” concept- the three dominions of earth, sky, and sea, the ages of man, and the phases of the moon.

In Celtic folklore, the Shamrock is a charm against evil, a belief that has carried over in the modern belief in the four leafed clover as a good luck charm.

Brighid’s cross

Usually known as “Bride’s Cross,” this equal-armed cross is traditionally woven from straw in honor of Ireland’s Saint Bridget (Also known as: Bride, Brighid, Brigid) on her holiday, Candlemas, observed on the second of February. There is a very strong likelihood that there never was such a personage as St. Bridget, and that she may have been a cover for worship of the Celtic Goddess of the same name. The cross itself is a type of solar cross, and both the symbol and the woven representation predate Christianity in Ireland.

Triskele (Triple Spiral, Triskelion)

The triskele, or triple spiral, a symbol closely related to the triquetra, is a tripartite symbol composed of three interlocked spirals. The spiral is an ancient Celtic symbol related to the sun, afterlife and reincarnation. The example above comes from the Neolithic “tomb” at Newgrange, where it is supposed by some to be a symbol of pregnancy (the sun describes a spiral in its movements every three months; a triple spiral represents nine months), an idea reinforced by the womb like nature of the structure. The symbol also suggests reincarnation- it is drawn in one continuous line, suggesting a continuous movement of time.

Triskeles are one of the most common elements of Celtic art; they are found in a variety of styles in both ancient and modern Celtic art, especially in relation to depictions of the Mother Goddess. They also evoke the Celtic concept of the domains of material existence- earth, water, and sky, and their interrelations.


The Irish Claddagh Symbol is named for the Irish coastal town of Claddagh (pronounced “clah-dah”), where the ring design is attributed to an ancient local legend. The now famous tale, about a townsman kidnapped into slavery, who returns to present a ring to his true love, is one of the most popular romantic tales of Ireland.

Despite the romantic story, Claddagh rings are a traditional token of loyalty and friendship as well as romantic love. The Claddagh design usually appears on rings, but is now used on all sorts of items, from jewellry to napkins to family crests. The hands in the design represent friendship, the heart, love, and the crown, loyalty. Various traditions ascribe different meanings to the ring, depending on how it is worn- as a wedding ring, it is worn on the left hand, with the heart pointed inward. As an engagement ring, it is worn on the right hand, with the heart pointing inward; for friendship, it is worn on the right hand, heart turned outward.

There is probably some relation between the claddagh and Norse “fede” (engagement/betrothal) rings, which sometimes depicted hands clasped around a heart.

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