For centuries, Celtic symbols and signs held incredible power for the ancient Celts in every way of life.
The word “Celtic” refers to people who lived in Britain and Western Europe from 500 BC and 400 AD. Celts were of the Iron Age and lived in small villages which were led by warrior chiefs.
With its rich history and culture, Ireland has been home to various civilisations for thousands of years.
These ancient communities used Celtic symbols that now have become part of the Irish identity and Irish heritage.
Some of these Celtic symbols have even become symbols of Ireland itself.
But did you know that these symbols have much deeper and surprising meanings?
If you do wish to dig further into any of these Celtic symbols, I have written additional articles for the majority of them. I will get them completed soon.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Celtic symbols and what exactly they mean.
Celtic Symbols That You Will Find In This Article:
- The Awen – represents the harmony of opposites in the universe.
- St Brigid’s Cross – Brigid’s Cross is tied to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, which, in Irish Celtic Mythology, is known as a life-giving goddess.
- The Celtic Cross – According to one theory, the Celtic Cross represents the four cardinal directions.
- The Green Man – He represents the lushness of vegetation and the arrival of spring and summer.
- Irish Harp – The national emblem of Ireland
- The Dara Knot – The name Dara comes from the word “doire,” which is the Irish word for “oak tree.”
- The Shamrock – The national flower of Ireland.
- The Celtic Tree Of Life – Symbolises the Druid belief in the connection between heaven and earth.
- The Trinity Knot – symbolises eternal spiritual life, one with no beginning and no end.
- The Triskele – represents three stages of life: life, death, and rebirth
- The Claddagh Ring – represents love, loyalty, and friendship
- The Shillelagh – The Irish fighting stick
- Quaternary Celtic Knot(Coming Soon)
- The Eternity Knot(Coming Soon)
- Celtic Bull(Coming Soon)
1. The Awen or the Three Rays of Light – Celtic Symbols
This neo-Druid symbol, which is a popular design for tattoos, jewellery and artwork, is said to be invented by Iolo Morgannwg, an 18th-century Welsh poet.
However, studies suggest that the symbol might be older than initially thought.
The word “Awen” means inspiration or essence in the Celtic language and it first appeared in the 9th-century book “Historia Brittonum.”
It was said that it represents the harmony of opposites in the universe.
For instance, the two outer rays represent masculine and feminine energy, while the ray in the middle represents the balance between them.
There are multiple meanings for the Awen Celtic symbol.
One interpretation is main outside lines are symbolic of both man and women while the inside line represents balance.
2. St Brigid’s Cross – Celtic Symbols
Widely believed to be a Christian symbol, Brigid’s Cross is tied to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan, which, in Irish Celtic Mythology, is known as a life-giving goddess.
It is woven out of rushes and sometimes straw on the feast of Imbolc to mark the beginning of spring.
When Christianity came to Ireland, the goddess Brigid became St Brigid of Kildare and many of the goddess’s attributes, including the symbol and her association with the destructive power and productive use of fire, were transferred to the latter.
Read more: How to make your own St Brigid’s cross here.
Hang this traditional St. Brigid’s Irish Cross on your wall for protection. St. Brigid, alongside St. Patrick, is one of the patron saints of Ireland.
3. The Celtic Cross – Celtic Symbols
Like with the Brigid’s Cross, many people have come to associate the Celtic Cross with Christianity. However, studies suggest this symbol predates Christianity by thousands of years.
In fact, the symbol has appeared in many ancient cultures. According to one theory, the Celtic Cross represents the four cardinal directions.
There’s also another theory saying that it represents the four elements of earth, fire, air, and water.
The cross is rich in powerful representation and an ideal reflection of the hopes and ambitions of the Celts.
While the Cross is certainly a Christian symbol, it has its roots in ancient pagan beliefs at the same time.
It is a remarkable fact how widespread the distinct shape of the Irish Cross is in the modern era.
Irish gift idea: Waterford Crystal Giftology Collection Celtic Cross
4. The Green Man – Celtic Symbols
The Green Man is represented in many cultures as the head of a man that is made of foliage.
Seen in many buildings and structures in Ireland and Britain, the Green Man is said to be a symbol of rebirth and the co-dependence between nature and man.
He represents the lushness of vegetation and the arrival of spring and summer.
The tradition of the Green Man is carved on to Christian churches exists across Europe, including examples such as the Seven Green Men of Nicosia in Cyprus, a series of seven green men carved in the thirteenth century on to the facade of St Nicholas Church in Nicosia.
Recommended: Cast Iron Hanging Bearded Leaf Man Garden Face
It is believed that the Phoenicians brought the harp to pre-Christian Europe from Egypt as one of their trading goods.
Since the 10th century, it has been an important symbol for the Irish people, personifying the spirit of the country.
In fact, the British Crown was so threatened by the harp that in the 16th century, the British ordered all harps to be burnt and all harpists executed.
Recommended: Irish Harp bone china mug – Irish gift designed in Galway Ireland.
6. The Celtic Symbol For Strength – The Dara Knot
We are halfway through this incredible list. I thought this would be a good place to talk about the Celtic symbol for strength.
Since publishing this article I have received a large number of requests for this and rather than publishing an entirely new article I decided to include it in this post.
The most notable of these is the Dara Knot. The name Dara comes from the word “doire,” which is the Irish word for “oak tree.”
- Trees were a connection to the world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways into other worlds.
The most sacred tree of all was the Oaktree
The intertwined lines have no beginning or end. The reason that this is known as the Celtic symbol for strength is because of the analogy that we all have our own roots and this symbol rises from the roots and has no end.
Oaktree is the symbol of power and strength which is why the Dara knot is the best Celtic symbol for strength.
7. The Shamrock – Celtic Symbols
If there’s one symbol that is widely associated with the Irish, it’s got to be the shamrock.
Now the national flower of Ireland.
The shamrock is a small clover and was an important symbol to the ancient Irish druids because its three heart-shaped leaves represent the triad.
The Celts believed that everything important in the world comes in threes.
Like the three ages of man, the phases of the moon, and the three dominions of earth, sky, and sea.
In the 19th century, the shamrock became a symbol of Irish nationalism and rebellion against the British Crown, and anyone caught wearing it was executed.
8. The Celtic Tree of Life or Crann Bethadh – Celtic Symbols
Often represented by a tree with branches reaching to the sky and the roots spreading into the earth.
The Celtic Tree of Life symbolises the Druid belief in the connection between heaven and earth.
The Celts believe that trees were the ancestors of man and had a connection to other worlds.
Here are some interesting facts about the Celtic Tree of life:
- Trees were a connection to the world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways into other worlds.
- The most sacred tree of all was the Oaktree, which represented the axis mundi, the centre of the world.
- The Celtic name for oak, Daur, is the origin of the word door– the root of the oak tree was literally the doorway to the Otherworld, the realm of Fairy.
- Countless Irish legends revolve around trees. One could fall asleep next to a particular tree and awake in the fairy realm.
- This is why the tree of life symbol itself relates qualities to it such as wisdom, strength & longevity.
- The Celts believed that their enemies would be rendered powerless if their sacred tree was cut down.
- The Celts derived the meaning of rebirth from the seasonal changes they would see each tree go through(Summer to Winter and so on).
9. The Triquetra or the Trinity Knot – Celtic Symbols
Like all Celtic knots, the triquetra is made with one continuous line that interweaves around itself.
Celtic knot meaning:
It symbolises eternal spiritual life, one with no beginning and no end.
Christians feel that it started with the Monks, who brought these designs along with their teachings of Christianity when attempting to convert the Celts of the day.
However, the Triquetra has been speculated to be the oldest symbol of spirituality.
It appears in the ninth century in the Book of Kells as a decoration, with no particular religious significance, and the symbol has been found in Norwegian churches dating to the 11th century.
This symbol matches the Celtic belief that everything important in the world comes in threes.
You might recognise it from Thor’s hammer in the modern-day movie.
10. The Triskele – Celtic Symbols
Another Irish symbol that represents the Celtic belief of the triad is the triskele or the triskelion.
The triskele is one of the oldest Irish symbols, and you can find many of them on the kerbstones of Newgrange.
According to researchers these carvings were believed to be made during the Neolithic times or around 3200 BC.
You can see evidence of this around the world as you can see from the image below from Athens, Greece:
The spirals could have changed over the centuries but the base meanings include:
- Three stages of life: life, death, and rebirth
- Three elements: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
- Three domains: earth, sea and sky, past, present and future.
Recommended reading: Triskele: Book One of the Bwy Hir Trilogy
11. The Claddagh Ring – Celtic Symbols
The Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring which represents love, loyalty, and friendship (the hands represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty).
Claddagh Rings are widely known in Ireland as the symbol of union and loyalty.
Claddagh comes from the Irish phrase, “An Cladch” which means “flat stony shore.”
It was the name of the village on the coast of Ireland where the Claddagh design originated. The ‘GH’ ending is added for phonetic English speakers to create the guttural, phlegmy sound that doesn’t have a character in our language.
It is believed that Richard Joyce, a fisherman from the village of Claddagh near Galway, made the ring for her lady love.
The woman who eventually became his wife.
Waited for him for years after Joyce was kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, and later regained his freedom.
You might not know that there are a few ways to wear the Claddagh ring.
Below are the different ways the ring can be worn.
The Claddagh Ring Rules
- The right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is single and maybe looking for love.
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is in a relationship.
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is engaged.
- The left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is married.
The women’s Claddagh ring is a beautiful part of the long tradition of Claddagh rings.
The tradition of the Claddagh ring started in Galway, a western city that faces out towards the Atlantic Ocean. It was often used as a wedding ring, and the way one wears the ring- facing the heart towards the body or away from it designates whether their “heart is taken.”
According to the story of the Claddagh ring, it is better to give the Claddagh as a gift than to buy one for oneself; so this Claddagh ring makes for a perfect gift!
This particular Claddagh ring is made out of sterling silver, while the heart in the centre is made out of solid 10K gold. The ring measures ⅜” wide, and comes in a variety of sizes.
This Claddagh ring was designed and crafted by Solvar in Co. Dublin, a company that crafts Irish jewellery from fine metals for the modern era. Buy this elegant Claddagh ring for a loved one today!
The Claddagh ring has been worn by some famous celebrities over the years. Including Julia Roberts, Walt Disney and Jennifer Aniston. Read the post on the celebrities wearing the Claddagh ring here.
12. The Shillelagh – The Irish fighting stick
Shillelagh (pronounced ” shi – ley -li ) is the name for a traditional Irish stick or stick of blackthorn wood, who, having a thickening at the upper end.
Known by many names, including bata in Gaelic – which means, fighting stick.
The original cane gets its name from the Shillelagh Forest in County Wicklow. The forest was once famous for its massive stands of fine oaks.
Unfortunately, many of those great oaks were cut down and exported to various parts of Europe.
The shillelagh was originally used for settling disputes in a gentlemanly manner — like a duel with pistols or swords.
What does a Shillelagh look like?
Shillelaghs comes in different forms, as walking or walking stick with a length of up to 100 cm, as a pure weapon with a mean and a very short length.
The stick was carried by Irishmen just about everywhere they went, Various groups or factions were always present at most social gatherings and faction fighting was very common until the famines of the 1840s.
The blackthorn wood was available easily and in large quantities species of high hardness and stiffness – it grew on each side of the road.
In the 19th Century, it belonged in his form as a walking stick naturally to the appearance of an Irish gentleman, until modern times disputes were often discharged with the Shillelagh.
How was the Shillelagh made?
Traditionally, the blackthorn sticks, whose thorn batches were left on the stick, smeared with whiskey butter and smoked over a fire in a fireplace.
This gave them their dark, glossy surface, along with a very distinct odour.
Sometimes, the knob on the end was hollowed out and filled with molten lead.
This was known as a “loaded stick.”
But with sticks made of blackthorn, the knob was actually the root and it would not have been necessary to “load” it because it could pack a significant whack!
If you have an old bata or walking stick made of oak, ash, holly or blackthorn, you do indeed have a real shillelagh.
The shillelagh came to be regarded as a stereotypical symbol of Irishness in popular culture, particularly in an Irish-American context.
Other spelling variants include shillelah, shillalah, and shillaly.
Did you ever have a Shillelagh? Comment below.
What other Celtic symbols do you know about?
Be sure to pin this Celtic Symbols image to your Pinterest board and if you enjoyed these be sure to browse some incredible Celtic Jewelry here:
Other hidden Celtic Symbols secretly that have been grown around Ireland:
This giant 100-meter long Celtic cross is now known as the “Emery Celtic Cross” which is proudly named after its creator Liam Emery.
Liam intelligently planted two different species of pine trees in the shape of this giant Celtic cross design ten years ago in these woods of County Donegal.
The reason being that the outer trees are evergreen and don’t drop their needles during Autumn, but the trees used for the actual cross design are not evergreen & turn a golden colour right before they drop their needles for the cold seasons ahead.
You can discover more about these secret Celtic Symbols in my article on them here.
Thanks for reading,
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