April 7, 2010

How to wear your Claddagh Ring

Claddagh Ring: The Heart represents Love, the Hands are for Friendship and the Crown represents Loyalty.

The ring worn on the right hand, crown turned inwards shows that the wearer’s heart is yet unoccupied.  Worn on the right hand with the crown turned outwards reveals that love is being considered.  Worn on the left hand with the crown turned outwards shows that the wearer’s heart is well and truly spoken for.

Sterling Silver Fallers Claddagh Ring

Fallers Silver Claddagh Ring

November 26, 2013

Shamrocks

A shamrock is a three leafed plant that can be found throughout the Irish countryside.  It is the symbol of Ireland.

The name Shamrock is derived from the Irish “Seamróg ” meaning little clover.

The Druids considered Shamrocks to be a sacred plant with mystical powers as its three leaves were a natural sign of a sacred number.  And many people believed that wearing shamrocks would keep them from harm.

According to legend, St Patrick used a shamrock to explain his belief in the existence of the Holy Trinity and was subsequently responsible for converting the Irish to Christianity.  It is this legend that has led to the wearing of Shamrocks on the 17th March, the national feast day o

shamrock charm

Shamrock Charm

f St Patrick and Ireland’s national holiday.

August 23, 2013

The Trinity Knot

Image

The Triquetra or the Trinity Knot as we know it has appeared in several guises down through the years.  It is a common symbol found in Ireland in old manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, on stained glass windows and on Celtic Crosses and monuments from the early Christian period.

To the Celts it was a symbol of life, standing for Earth, Wind and Water.  It later came to represent Mind, Body and Spirit.  Others believe it stands for Past, Present and Future.

Christianity interprets it as a symbol of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and represents eternity.

A trinity knot with a circle around it emphasises the unity of the combination of the three elements or symbolises Gods love around the Holy Trinity.

In modern times the symbol is used as a token of never ending love and represents the three promises of a relationship – to love, honour and protect.  It is therefore a common design in Irish jewellery in particular on wedding rings, pendants and earrings.

February 6, 2013

Thomas Sabo White Cultured Pearl Charm Bracelet

Thomas Sabo White Cultured Pearl Charm Bracelet.

July 20, 2012

Engagement Rings – The emerging trend for colored gemstones

A colleague of mine recently got engaged and her ring of choice?… a beautiful platinum Sapphire and diamond cluster. And she is not the first staff member to choose sapphire in her engagement ring.  So it got me thinking are purely diamond engagement rings going to be a thing of the past or is this just a passing trend for those brave enough to choose something a little bit different?

Being a bit of a celeb follower I was aware that a few famous celebs have gone down the route of colored stones in their engagement rings but after a bit of research for this article I discovered that in fact colored gemstones are a lot more popular then even I believed and I was amazed to find a long list of singers, models, actresses and royalty that have chosen to add a bit of color to their most treasured piece of jewelry.

In fact having an engagement ring set with a colored gemstone is not a new emergence, it has been popular in Royal circles for generations and it is largely because of Royals that the trend is now seeing a resurgence.

From the moment Prince William bestowed his mothers’ beautiful sapphire and diamond engagement ring to the now Duchess of Cambridge, sales of sapphires have shot through the roof, not just in the UK, but throughout the world.  Remember this was the ring given to Princess Diana by Prince Charles, 30 years ago in 1981. And further delving into Royal rings reveals that many other royals also chose colored gemstones as their stones of choice:

In 1960 Princess Margaret got engaged with a ruby and diamond cluster designed to look like a rose (her middle name). For her first marriage in 1973, Princess Anne got a sapphire and diamond ring.    The Duchess of York was given a Oval ruby and diamond ring by Prince Andrew when he proposed in 1986 as it matched her red hair!  And it’s not just the English royals…When Prince Rainier of Monaco proposed to Grace Kelly in 1955 he actually gave her a ruby and diamond eternity ring, before replacing it with a large more traditional diamond ring. Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece gave Marie Chantal a sapphire and diamond engagement ring in 1995.  The sapphire was a family heirloom. Princess Mathilde of Belgium got a large oval ruby and diamond ring when she got engaged in 1999.  And when Crown Prince Haakon of Norway proposed to Mette-Marit in 2000, he gave her an unusual diamond and crescent-shaped ruby ring that originally belonged to his grandmother Crown Princess Martha Louise. A more unusual engagement ring is that of Princess Maxima of The Netherlands who was given a large oval shaped orange-diamond ring when she got engaged in 2001.

Prince Frederik of Denmark gave Mary a ruby and diamond engagement ring in 2003

and then there is Princess Marie of Denmark who has a ruby, sapphire and diamond engagement ring. (To highlight her french heritage). And finally Princess Tatianna of Greece who was given a oval shaped sapphire and diamond ring by Prince Nikolaos in 2010. And I’m sure there are many more.  But this shows that coloured gemstones have always taken pride of place in Royal circles so it is only natural that the rest of the world would eventually follow suit.

And that they have…. Senator John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie Bouvier with a large Emerald and diamond ring which was later redesigned to include even more diamonds. As for Elizabeth Taylor, among the many stunning pieces of jewelry she received during her different engagements and marriages, in 1952 she got a Cabochon sapphire and diamond engagement ring from her 2nd husband, Michael Wilding. Then there is the current crop of well-known starlets, models and singers from Halle Berry with her one-of-a-kind emerald ring, Mariah Carey and Jennifer Lopez’s (When she got engaged to Ben Affleck) pink diamonds, Carrie Underwood, Rebecca Romijn, Heidi Klum and Anna Kornikova all chose yellow diamonds, Jessica Simpson’s ruby and diamond, Elizabeth Hurley’s sapphire and diamond, Carmen  Electra even had a black diamond.  One of the most colorful engagement rings has to be that of Milla Jovovich who wears a stunning yellow, pink and white diamond ring.

Wearing a spectacular colored engagement ring tells the world that you have an independent, fashion-forward sensibility and are a risk taker or in the case of the Royals, that its a family heirloom or tradition. But it would seem that people are becoming more adventurous and the fact that so many famous people do not go for the quintessential engagement ring means that many others are likely to follow suit.

And of course this will have a knock-on effect on the prices of colored gemstones as the higher the demand the higher the prices will become. Being in the jewelry trade we have noticed the dramatic shift in consumer tastes and the corresponding shifts in prices.  This of course has not been helped by the fact that the industry is at the mercy of political and economic variables over the past few years from trade bans on gemstones from Myanmar (where the majority of rubies are sourced) to political upheavels in in sapphire producing nations so supply of these stones are being dramatically reduced just as demand increases.  But there is also a benefit to this in that it means other colored gemstones are being given a time to shine and are forcing consumers to broaden their horizons.  Stones like Tanzanite, Amethyst, Blue Topaz, Alexandrite, Citrine and Amber are all beautiful stones not to mention colored diamonds.  So why shouldn’t they be used in engagement rings? There is no reason at all. And its not like we don’t still want diamonds, of course we do, we just want to add another gemstone to the diamonds in our rings. After all as the famous Marilyn Monroe quote says “Diamonds are a girls best friend” and we will always be enthralled by this beautiful stone, its just that sometimes it’s nice to add a bit more mystery by adding a colored gemstone with them.  Go on we know you would love to…..

November 23, 2011

Christmas Traditions in Ireland

Christmas traditions like most things have evolved over the years with the traditions of one generation differing from those of another generation. This is particularly the case when it comes toIreland, as modernIrelandis now home to many different nationalities, religions and cultures which are all now helping to create new Christmas traditions. Despite this however, there are some traditions that continue to survive generation after generation, though some of them may have changed slightly over the years.

Lighted Candle in Window:Tradition saw one candle being placed in the front window of every house on Christmas Eve. It should be lit by the youngest member of the family and only blown out by someone called Mary.

The lit candle served as a welcome to Mary and Joseph who sought shelter on Christmas Eve and extends hospitality to any weary travellers that the house is open to anyone who needs shelter. This is still one of the most widely followed traditions in Ireland today, though it is now common to see lights in all windows of a house and they tend to be electronic lights rather than normal candles.

Midnight Mass: TraditionallyIrelandis a largely catholic country, therefore mass has always been a big part of Irish culture. And while this is changing as the years pass, it is still an important part of Irish culture. As a result Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is one of the most important aspects of Christmas.  It is a huge social gathering where family, friends and neighbours who may not have seen each other all year can come together, catch up and experience the magical experience of Midnight mass, singing carols and playing music. Churches are all decorated with holly, candles, Christmas tree with lights and of course the obligatory life-size crib. All this combined with dimed lights and a church packed full of people all in a festive mood, singing carols results in a truly un-miss-able experience. It is something which everyone should experience if they get a chance. It’s no wonder many non-religious people attend Midnight mass every year, as they want to be part of the atmosphere and occasion with their neighbours and friends. Though it should be noted, that in many places mass is not actually held at Midnight as this is deemed too late for young children who need to be home in bed eagerly awaiting the visit of Santa Claus. So it could actually be on at 9, 10 or 11pm.

The Crib: In churches a life-size crib is often the main attraction.  But most homes also have their own miniature crib. Tradition would see the crib set up before Christmas with the addition of Baby Jesus to the crib only on Christmas Eve.

Decorations: Traditionally Christmas decorations are put up on the 8th December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and taken down on the 6th January (Little Christmas). It is believed to be bad luck to take down your decorations before the 6th.

Traditional Irish Christmas decorations involved making a wreath out of holly and hanging on the front door of houses. This is because holly could be found in plentiful supply throughout the Irish countryside and the green leaves and red berries made the perfect decoration. In fact the custom of hanging wreaths on front doors inNorth Americacan be traced back to the early Irish settlers that moved there during the Potato Famine.

Pre 20th Century, Christmas trees were only found in Churches, shops and big estate houses. However thankfully this all changed and now everyone and everywhere has Christmas trees, though the type of tree has changed with real trees now replaced by fake ones. And gone are the days of home made decorations and tinsel, now its lights and baubles all the way.

And decorations don’t stop at the tree,Irelandhas now caught up with theUSAand you will find houses covered with flashing lights throughout the countryside.

The Big Clean Up: Advent which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas was traditionally the big clean up time and involved getting the house ready for Christmas.  This included whitewashing the walls, painting and scrubbing the interiors.  And while this is no longer practised in a way it is still followed in that most people tend to give their homes a big clean in preparation for putting up their decorations and getting the house ready for visitors at Christmas.

Food:  Food is probably the most important component of Christmas inIreland, especially Christmas Day dinner. It involves days of shopping and preparation, not to mention hours of cooking.  But it’s all worth it in the end, even though we generally cannot move for the rest of the day once we’ve eaten. The traditional Irish Christmas Day dinner typically features turkey, ham, roast and boiled potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips and stuffing with additions such as cranberry sauce and gravy. Then it’s on to dessert which can be Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and Mince Pies with either custard or cream.  And if that’s not enough there’s always the other obligatory Christmas fare such as the tins of assorted biscuits, boxes of chocolates and selection boxes.

Santa Claus/Father Christmas: Santa Claus as his most commonly known here delivers presents to all the children on Christmas Eve, he places them under the tree to be opened on Christmas Morning. Children usually leave some food and drink out for Santa and his reindeers such as a slice of Christmas cake or mince pie, a glass of milk or sometimes something a little stronger such as a beer, or drop of whisky (only a drop mind as we wouldn’t want Santa getting drunk when he has to travel around the world!) and of course a carrot for Rudolph.

Christmas Cards:  The early 20th Century saw the beginning of the tradition of sending Christmas Cards to friends and relatives in the mail.  This was probably enhanced by the fact that so many Irish emigrated and were unable to return home to their families for Christmas so cards became an essential way of sending Christmas wishes to loved ones. They were often accompanied by a letter with all the news and gossip. But with the popularity of e-cards increasing it will be interesting to see how long this lovely tradition of sending cards by mail will continue! I for one hope this tradition is one that remains for many more Christmases to come.

I am sure that every family probably has traditions that they continue to follow year after year that are unique to them, as Christmas Traditions are as much about individual families as entire countries. I asked a number of my colleagues about their unique family traditions and they came up with some interesting ones. One colleague came from a rural parish in the West of Ireland where they used to have Mass at 6am Christmas Day Morning instead of Midnight Mass.  And though it was more a New Year tradition rather than a Christmas one, My Boss also told me about a tradition his Mother would follow in the shop, whereby you had to serve a Man first when you reopened the shop in the New Year.  It was considered bad luck for your first customer to be a Woman so even if a Woman came into the store first, you would have to ask her to wait until a Man came in and you could serve him first.  Not sure that tradition would go down too well in today’s society!

We would love to hear about your Christmas Traditions. So please feel free to tell us about them by posting a comment. In fact, we will review all stories submitted here and through our website, Facebook or Twitter Pages and the best story will receive a small prize.

 

 

May 11, 2011

Jean Butler Jewelry Collection

Irish –American JeanButler is a household name in Irish-American homes due to her lead role as the original star of Riverdance.  She is one of the most respected and talented Irish dancers in the world. However this year she has joined the commercial world of Jewelry design.  She has just released a stunning range of Jewelry, largely aimed at the Irish- American market. Regarded as one of the greatest ambassadors ofIreland, Jean has designed a range of jewelry that captures her charm, grace and finesse, while subtly reminding the wearer of their Irish heritage.

Jean Butler was born inNew Yorkin 1971 to an Irish Mother who originated from Co. Mayo. She first went to Irish Dance lessons at the age of six but quit shortly afterwards as she didn’t like it. But at nine, she decided to try again with a different teacher and from then on Irish Dancing became her life. She went on to compete in regional, national and international championships and won numerous national and regional titles.  She performed in a number of shows inAmericaincluding a concert at Carnegie Hall with Irish band The Chieftains. She went on to tour the world with them.

But her big break came in 1994 when she was asked to perform in a 7 minute intermission piece at the Eurovision Song Contest which was being held in Dublinthat year. The piece was titled Riverdance and the standing ovation and worldwide interest led it to become one of the most popular interval acts in the history of the contest and the creation of a full show of Irish dance with Jean Butler and Michael Flatley as its’ two lead dancers. The first performance of the full length show opened in The Point in Dublinon 9th February 1995 and by the end of 1996 they had performed 400 shows to an audience of 1.3 million people. 

Riverdance made Jean Butler a worldwide star, but she continued to make a name for herself even after leaving the highly acclaimed show. She was joint collaborator of a new show, Dancing on Dangerous Ground, which was based on the ancient Irish legend of Diarmaid and Gráinne. The show first opened inLondonin 1999 to critical acclaim.  That same year she was awarded for her Outstanding Contribution to Irish Dance.

 She married Irish designer Cuan Hanley in 2001.  From 2003-2005 she was Artist in Residence at theUniversityofLimericks Irish World Music Centreand in 2005 she completed a Masters Degree in Contemporary Dance Performance from theUniversityofLimerick.

 So who better to create a modern Irish range of Jewelry, than Jean. The Jean Butler Collection consists of a number of stylish jewelry suites which capture the character ofIrelandin contemporary designs.  The collection consists of rings, bracelets, pendants and earrings.  All pieces are made in Sterling Silver and complemented by gold toning and come presented in special cream and green packaging. The full range can be seen here:

 http://www.fallers.com/jean-butler-jewellery-CAT467P0.html

Jean Butler Jewelry Collection

Jean Butler Jewelry Collection

January 3, 2011

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 21 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 44 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 541kb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was June 23rd with 43 views. The most popular post that day was Charm Bracelets.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were fallers.com, healthfitnesstherapy.com, digg.com, fallers.ie, and android-vs-ipad.co.cc.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for what does your watch say about you, irish symbols, what does a watch say about you, correct ring size, and christmas in ireland.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Charm Bracelets May 2010

2

How to wear your Claddagh Ring April 2010

3

Celtic Irish Symbols May 2010

4

Choosing the correct ring size April 2010

5

History of the Claddagh Ring March 2010
3 comments

November 24, 2010

Christmas in Ireland

Christmas traditions in Ireland like most countries have changed with the times and from generation to generation, though the core Christmas traditions still remain, many have evolved over the years. But here are the most popular which have stood the test of time in some form:

Advent- The four weeks leading up to Christmas is when people begin to get ready for Christmas. Houses are cleaned, Decorations put up and food preparations are begun such as making of the Christmas cake. In olden times, this time of year saw the biggest clean up of the house and gardens, with the outhouses whitewashed, all in preparation for visiting family and friends.

Decorating a tree is a pagan custom that is practiced the world over. Christmas Trees usually start appearing at the beginning of December with the 8th December the traditional date, though there are the non-Christmas lovers who leave it until the week before Christmas to put up their tree. Today Trees are usually decorated with white lights and sparkling decorations. This has evolved from the popular coloured lights and tinsel of the 80’s and 90’s and before that handmade decorations, holly and pine cones. Fake trees have also overtaken real Christmas trees. This can be put down to a number of factors: Fakes trees do not shed; hence they do not need looking after like real trees. Another reason is that it makes it easier if you just have a tree that you use year in and out and you do not have to go and get a new tree every year and it also means that you do not have to find a way of disposing of the old tree once Christmas is over. We always had a real tree in our home when I was growing up and I always remember the excitement of waiting for Dad to come home each year with the chosen tree and helping to fill a pot with sand to stand it in and the smell of the pine which I loved. Nowadays I live in an apartment and unfortunately having a real tree here is so not practical but I have found myself the closest real-looking fake tree I could find! 

The decorating of whole houses inside and especially outside is a fairly new phenomenon here in Ireland. It’s really only been in the last fifteen years or so that outside decorations have really become commonplace on houses here. Now it’s not uncommon to see lights everywhere from windows to roofs and doors to trees and ornaments in the garden. Not to mention inside, where walls, fireplaces and staircases all see the addition of some Christmas sparkle.

Placing a holly wreath on your front door originated here in Ireland, and today it is a custom practiced the world over. The reason for its popularity here in Ireland was that holly is one of the main plants found throughout the Irish countryside at Christmas, so its vast supply coupled with the fact it was a cheap way of decorating one’s home, made it a popular decoration. It also looks very nice too. However today, many wreaths also contain a lot of other items along with the holly, such as moss, leaves, branches, flowers and other decorations. Fake wreaths are also common, so they can be recycled year after year.

Another custom that is very popular is the placing of a lighted candle in your front window on Christmas Eve. It is believed to be a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph and also to any travellers looking for shelter. Though I’m certain that people would be very surprised if anyone turned up on their doorsteps actually looking to take them up on the offer of shelter. But it is a lovely tradition. The candle is supposed to be lit by the youngest member of the family and should only be extinguished by a girl named Mary. These days, many people put candles in every window of their house throughout the Christmas period, not just on Christmas Eve.

Attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve is probably one of the most widely practiced traditions here in Ireland. Though nowadays the mass is generally a bit earlier than midnight to allow children to be home in their beds in time for Santa Claus! Churches see there largest congregation of the year on this night as entire families attend mass together only on this night. It is a time to dress up in your best new clothes and see friends and neighbours and catch up with people you have not seen all year or maybe even years. The church is lit by candlelight and Christmas lights, prayers are said by the crib, and carols are sung. It is a mass that even non-church goers love to attend each year.

Speaking of Santa Claus, Santa leaves presents under the tree on Christmas Eve and families gather around the tree on Christmas morning to open their gifts together. Then its time to get dressed up in your new clothes and go to Mass if you did not make the Christmas Eve service, or some people actually go to both masses. After which the preparation of dinner continues (some things need to be done the day before) as it takes hours and hours to prepare and cook a traditional Turkey dinner. Though with plenty of sweets and alcohol to keep you going while you get it ready, you are often not hungry by the time it is ready to be served. Personally I think the leftovers eaten the next day always taste nicer anyway!

Now for Christmas food….Christmas cake unfortunately is a dying trend. While many people still buy it from the shop, there aren’t many people who go to the trouble of baking their own except for the older generations. I guess this could be because of the fact that it takes a lot of time and effort to bake a true Christmas cake so it really is only for those people with a lot of spare time on their hands and as you know the young of today are always on the go. Traditionally a Christmas cake is an extremely rich fruit cake which needs to be made weeks in advance. Laden with dried fruit and spices as well as the obligatory Irish whisky and covered in marzipan and white icing, it is then decorated with dried cherries, fruit peel and colourful icing. The whole process takes weeks but the end result if you are a cake fan, is surely worth it!

As for Christmas dinner, well that involves turkey and much more… from baked ham, mashed potatoes, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, brussel sprouts and stuffing to dessert of Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and Sherry Trifle. (Yes all our traditional Christmas desserts involve alcohol as an ingredient!)

December 26th – St. Stephen’s Day is when the wren boys go from door-to-door, dressed up in costumes like at Halloween, singing and playing music. This tradition is a dying one, but it is still found in small doses in some rural areas. This tradition stems from an ancient ritual when people dressed up in old clothes and painted their faces black. They then killed a wren and paraded it around the locality as a punishment to the wren for betraying the hiding place of St. Stephen. Nowadays thankfully no birds are killed and it’s just another day for children to dress up and collect treats and money.

Christmas is officially over on the 6th January – Little Christmas, when it is time to take down all the decorations. It is believed to be bad luck to take them down before this date so don’t tempt fate. So that’s the basis of Christmas in Ireland. Some traditions have survived over the years and hopefully will for many years to come, while others are slowly dying out and may not see many more years. But then there are those that have evolved and will probably evolve even more. Not to mention the new traditions which are emerging such as Pantomimes and Plays. Over the past couple years the popularity of attending pantomimes and plays at Christmas time has steadily increased. Now every community holds some sort of pantomime or play and it nice to have something to do and somewhere to go on these dark winter nights, whether it’s a school play, a church play, a community production or a major pantomime in a large theatre.

Whatever way you celebrate Christmas, we hope you have a good one.

Merry Christmas – Nollaig Shona Duit.

 

Christmas Greetings from Fallers of Galway

Christmas Greetings from Fallers of Galway

 

October 22, 2010

Halloween in Ireland

Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated on the 31st October each year. Its’ origins are very mysterious but it is widely believed that it traces back to the Celtic festival Samhain.

Halloween Pumpkin

Halloween Pumpkin

The name Halloween is actually a modern term, derived from the Scottish All Hallows’ Day another name for All Saints Day, which is celebrated on the 1st November.  It was believed that on this day, departed spirits returned to earth to visit their loved ones. The day before it became known as All Hallows Eve from where it was shortened to Halloween.

Samhain was a harvest festival linked to other Celtic cultural festivals and was celebrated up to late medieval times.  It became associated with the Christian festival All Saints Day and greatly influenced the modern celebration of Halloween.

The Irish name for Halloween is óiche Shamhna which translates to the night of Samhain.  Samhain is also the Irish for November and translates as “summers end”. In medieval Ireland, Samhain was a major festival regarded as the Celtic New Year. It marked the end of the lighter half of the year and the beginning of the darker half of the year and was traditionally celebrated over three days. It was believed that the border between this world and the otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits both good and bad to pass through into this world. It was marked by a great assembly at the royal court of Tara where a bonfire was set alight on the Hill of Tara so that it could be seen for miles around and this signalled to everyone across Ireland to light their bonfires.

Samhain represented the final harvest. It was a time to take stock of herds and grain supplies.  Animals were slaughtered and grains stored, in preparation for the cold dark winter months. Bonfires played a huge part in the festivities.  Each village set up a huge bonfire, all other fires were extinguished and then each family would light their hearth using the common flames of the main bonfire, thus bonding the villagers together.  People used to wear masks and costumes which were believed to be an attempt to either copy or placate the evil spirits so that they would not be harmed.  Hence the custom today of dressing up at Halloween.  That is also the reason why traditional Halloween costumes were modelled on scary creatures such as devils, skeletons, ghosts, vampires and witches. Dressing up in Ireland was prevalent by the 19th Century.

Another feature of Samhain was the use of turnips. Turnips which are a common vegetable in Ireland were carved out and used as lanterns. This practice of commemorating souls with candle lanterns was adapted into the making of pumpkin lanterns in the mid-late 19th century.  The use of pumpkins originated in North America where Pumpkins are in plentiful supply at this time of year and are much larger and easier to carve than turnips.

There are many other features common to the current tradition of Halloween that come from the Samhain. Black and orange, the two colours associated with Halloween represent the darkness of night and the colour of bonfires, leaves and the turnip/pumpkin lanterns. Then there is the practice of trick-or-treating which resembles the late medieval practice of souling when the poor of Ireland would go door to door begging for food in return for saying prayers for the dead. In later years this became known as guising and children would dress up to disguise themselves and go door to door in search of food and coins.  Nowadays this is known as Trick-or-Treating and is still a common practise today.  Though the objective now is to collect as much sweets and money as possible rather than the food needed for survival as was the traditional reason.

As regards food, there are a number of items associated with Halloween in Ireland. Because the holiday comes in the wake of the apple harvest, apples are one of the main items used at Halloween. Whether used in games such as apple bobbing or threading from a string in a doorway to food where they are covered in toffee, caramel or chocolate as a common Halloween treat.

Colcannon while not eaten as much nowadays was a very popular meal up to recent times.  Traditionally served at Halloween as this was when kale or cabbage came into season.  It is made of mashed potato (an Irish staple), kale or cabbage, and butter, salt and pepper.  It was a cheap food staple and made special at Halloween when small coins were hidden in the mixture.

This practice of hiding coins in the food is also found in the barmbrack or báirín breac. This is a fruit cake made at Halloween in which either a coin or plain ring is placed into the mixture before it is baked.  It is believed that whoever gets the ring in their slice of cake will find true love in the coming year, or whoever gets the coin will be blessed with riches. 

So while the modern commercial celebration of Halloween stems from America, the actual origins and traditions of the festival come from Celtic countries such as Ireland and Scotland. Its’ just the beliefs that have changed.  Today it is purely a time of fun and games and not just for children. Head out to a Pub in Ireland on Halloween night and you’re sure to see ghosts, witches, devils, angels, cartoon characters and anything else you can think of having a drink! So enjoy….Féile Shamhna….Happy Halloween! 

September 28, 2010

Crosses of Ireland

High crosses also known as Celtic crosses here in Ireland, are found on old monastic sites throughout the Irish countryside. They were erected to mark a sacred place and to declare adherence to Christian beliefs, and they were also the focal point of celebrations so many can be found close to a church or round tower. However it should be noted that not all were of an ecclesiastical nature, some were just used to mark a place of interest and they were not as many believe, used to mark graves.

No one really knows the precise history of High crosses as there is no written account going back that far. The earliest crosses in Ireland were made of wood and metal and would have been smaller than the stone crosses that still survive today. Crosses can be dated back to the 8th Century. The first stone crosses are believed to be The Western Ossuary Group of Crosses, which imitated the designs of their predecessors. They can be found spread over an area in the south of Ireland around Ahenny, Killarney, Kilree and Kilkieran. The most important feature of these crosses was the basic form of the cross shape.

Most High crosses were made from sandstone as it was easy to work with and could be carved with incredible detail. Unfortunately however it was not the most robust of stones and that combined with centuries of poor Irish weather means many of these beautiful monuments collapsed and did not survive the test of time. From an unfinished cross at Kells, it would appear that the crosses were raised before their carvings were complete. The ring at the centre of the cross is what makes Irish Celtic crosses so unique. No one knows the true meaning, though the ancient pagan Celts believed a circle represented many things including the cycle of life and the season cycle. The cross within the ring has been regarded as a scared symbol of the sun since pre-Christian times. To Irish Catholics, the circle represents eternity and the infinite nature of God’s love. The crosses are etched with intricate carvings.

Later crosses are more ornate and are known as transitionary and then scriptural crosses, they are believed to date back to the 9th Century. It is the scriptural crosses that are specifically entitled High Crosses. There are about 30 of these still standing today and all date back to the 9th and 10th Century. The best known and oldest of these is the Cross of Scriptures at Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly.

There are several local groupings of crosses, the other most well known and popular being Kells and Duleek in Co. Meath, Monasterboice in Co. Louth, Moone and Castledermot in Co. Kildare, Durrow in Co. Offaly and Graiguenamanagh in Co. Kilkenny. Other popular crosses include Downpatrick in Co. Down, Ardboe in Co. Tyrone, Drumcliffe in Co. Sligo and Cashel in Co. Tipperary.

Crosses from the later 11th and 12th Century show a move towards more ornamental design with the Crucifixion being the main scene depicted. After this time, building of new crosses died away. In order to preserve the remaining crosses, some of them have been removed from their original locations and placed in protective environments; some have been replaced by replicas.

Now we will take a look at some of the most popular High Crosses:

Cross of Scriptures, Clonmacnoise, Co. Offaly

The monastery at Clonmacnoise was founded in 545 by Ciaran of Clonmacnoise. Known as a centre of religion, learning and craftsmanship, it was the one of the most famous monasteries in Europe. Many of the high kings of Tara and Connacht are buried there. The original buildings are now in ruins as is the castle which was built by the Normans in the 13th Century. The site also houses a round tower which was built in 1124 by the king of Connacht. The upper part was struck by lighting and was later rebuilt and also houses a number of High crosses. The most notable being the Cross of Scriptures. Standing 4 metres high it is considered to be one of the best crafted of the surviving high crosses. It has an inscription asking for a prayer for Flann, the King of Ireland at the time and Colmán who made the cross. Made about 900, it was carved from a single piece of stone. Scenes depicted on the carvings include the Crucifixion, the last judgement and Christ in the tomb. The original cross has been removed from its original standing spot into a visitors centre to protect it from the elements, however a replica cross stands in its original location.

Monasterboise, Co.Louth

The monastery at Monasterboise was founded pre 521 by St. Buite and remained in existence up to 1122. The round tower was burned in 1097 and there are also the remains of two medieval churches. It actually contains not one but two of the finest high crosses in Ireland. Both date back to the 9th Century. One is the Muiredach Cross and the other is the Tall Cross. The Muiredach Cross is the most well known. It gets its name from the inscription at the base of the west side which says that it was erected by Muiredeach. The cross measures 5.5 metres in height and is covered with decorative panels depicting scenes from the bible, those on the east side include Adam & Eve, Moses, David & Goliath, Cain & Abel and on the west side is Christ being mocked by soldiers, Raised Christ, the Crucifixion, the Ascension and on one of the arms is the Resurrection. The base of the cross features pictures of animals, hunters and interlaced knot work.

Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo

The monastery at Drumcliffe was founded about 575 by St. Colmcille. A Church of Ireland church now stands in its place and in front of this poet W.B. Yeats is buried. There is also the remains of a round tower which was struck by lightening in 1396. The Drumcliffe High Cross measures 3.83 metres high and features images of Adam & Eve, David & Goliath, Daniel in the Lions Den and Christ in Glory on the east face and on the west face it has the crucifixion as well as interlacing knot work.

Moone, Co. Kildare

This 8th Century cross which stands 17 Feet high is the second tallest cross in Ireland. It is situated within the site of an early monastery believed to have been built by St. Palladius in the 5th Century, in a walled enclosure outside the village of Moone in Co. Kildare. The cross had actually fallen apart and was put back together and moved within the ruins of the medieval church. The shape of the cross is unusual as are the carvings on this cross as it is more flat and as a result it is one of the most appealing of all the high crosses. The scenes depicted include the Twelve Apostles, Adam & Eve, the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes and the Crucifixion. There are also pictures of animals. There is also a base of another cross beside this cross.

Kells, Co. Meath

The monastery at Kells was founded in 804 by monks from St. Colmcilles foundation. There is also a round tower and a number of high crosses. The greatest treasure to come from this site was the Book of Kells, which is now housed in Trinity College, in Dublin. Near the round tower is the south cross – believed to date to the 9th Century, the cross was dedicated to St. Patrick and St. Columba. The base of the cross has interlacing and engravings of animals. The east face shows Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Daniel in the lions den and the three children in the fiery furnace. The west face shows scenes of the crucifixion and Christ in judgement. The left arm shows the sacrifice of Isaac and the right arm includes the Miracle of the loaves and fishes. There are also a number of decorative panels on the cross. To the north-west of this cross is another very fine and tall cross. Near the church is an unfinished cross and there is also the base of another cross on the site.

Kells is also home to the Market Cross. This cross stands at 3.35 metres high at the crossing of two streets within the town. It is believed that the cross was moved here and would originally have stood at the gate if the monastery. The base of the cross shows horsemen, animals and a battle scene. The east face shows, Christ in the tomb. Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel and the west face features an inscription saying the cross was erected in 1688 with panels depicting the Miracle of the loaves and fishes and the Crucifixion.

Ardboe, Co. Tyrone

The Ardboe High cross is the only surviving remnant of the monastery that sat on the hill overlooking a lake. Nearby are the remains of a church and an abbey. This is the only cross in the North of Ireland where the shaft and the head of the cross are likely to have belonged together originally. It measures 5.5 metres high making it the tallest cross in Ireland. The east face of the cross is dominated by scenes from the old testament while the west side shows scenes such as the Marriage at Cana and Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The north side appears to represent scenes from the early life of Christ and it also appears to read from top to bottom which is highly unusual. Also on the cross you will see scenes of the crucifixion and the last judgement.

Durrow, Co. Laois

The monastery here was founded by St. Columba in 553. There is no longer any trace of the monastery, but there is a holy well and a high cross dating back to the 9th Century. The book of Durrow also originated from this monastery. The cross measures 3.6 metres high and the scenes depicted on the high cross include the rising of Christ, David slaying the lion, soldiers guarding Christ’s tomb, the crucifixion, Cain slaying Abel and Adam & Eve.

These are just a sample of the 30 high crosses that can be found in Ireland. The beauty and craftsmanship of these crosses have made them some of the most popular tourist attractions in Ireland. It has become a necessity to go and see at least one of these crosses if travelling around Ireland. Because of the beautiful and intricate detailing and designs of these crosses they also make ideal models for jewellery and you can buy pendant replicas of many of the most popular crosses in gold and sterling silver such as this Drumcliffe High Cross. 

Drumcliffe Celtic High Cross

Drumcliffe Celtic High Cross

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 111 other followers