The old world Celts were hard-nosed renaissance dudes indeed. They seemed to love making war and partying in equal measure. But they also had a subtle appreciation of music and art, and created a design style involving knots, spirals and animal figures that’s still being worn by sophisticated jewelry lovers.

very old claddagh ring from irelandFleeing To Ireland
Celtic culture became, once spread all over Europe, was chased into a refuge in Ireland by the Roman Empire around the end of the first millennium. It went through many downturns and revivals in Ireland (with some of the downturns aided by British rulers), but was still embedded in the Irish culture thousands of years later, when the diaspora spread Irish people – and their cultural icons – all over the globe.

Prized Possessions
So how did Celtic jewelry make it to America? Claddagh rings, first made in Ireland the 1700’s, had spread to England in he 19th century. By then, there were a significant number of Irish immigrants in the U.S. in Canada. Many of them followed what had become an Irish custom of passing down a family-owned Claddagh ring as an heirloom (usually either mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter).

The huge influx of Irish immigrants to America after 1900 brought with it many pieces of Irish jewelry. It wasn’t unusual to find a poor immigrant from Ireland coming into Ellis Island clutching a bag of clothing and an old Claddagh ring.

modern claddagh style ring from irelandWiccans and Rock Stars
From 1900 up into modern times, Celtic designs seem to catch hold with all kinds of people who either saw a religious meaning or a pure fashion value to them. Wiccans adopted them as pagan symbols, while bikers and rock and roll stars saw them (Celtic crosses in particular) as powerful symbols of warrior culture.

Celtic Fashionistas
It’s only recently that Celtic symbols have crossed over into the fashion world. Designers like Nicole Miller have recently seen fit to include them in collections aimed at people who want a Celtic look even if they have no connection to Ireland, while jewelry makers ranging all the way from Tiffany to Jennifer Lopez have adopted eternity knot styles which may not be explicitly Celtic, but seem to owe a great deal to the ancient warriors who also loved style.

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