Origins and History
The word Celtic or Celt is in reference to the cultural and geographical group of people known as the Celts. Today we generally think of Celtic as a wide reference to Irish or Scottish culture and traditions. Within these traditions there are many symbols. Many of them have rich stories behind them and others have meanings unknown. Surprisingly, a majority of the traditions the Celts celebrated for their weddings have found their way into other cultures, and even Pagan Celtic traditions were transformed into Christian Celtic traditions. Even certain expressions such as "tying the knot" were derived from the Celtic wedding ceremony.
The Claddagh Ring
Although this symbol (or rather combination of 3 symbols) can be seen all over the world, and each piece of the claddagh has a universally understood meaning, the story behind how this design was made is not known by many. There are of course many different versions of the story and there are other stories that are a bit more fanciful, but the most likely history of its creation is as follows:
The Celtic Cross
Predating Christianity, the Celtic cross is a symbol that combines a cross with a ring surrounding the intersection. A standing Celtic cross, made of stone and often richly ornamented, is called a high cross or Irish Cross. The most famous standing crosses are the Cross of Kells found in County Meath, Ireland; the Ardboe Auld Cross in Ardboe, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland; the crosses at Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland; and the Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnoise, Ireland.
The Celtic Knot
It is thought that the reason the Celts used intricate geometric patterns to decorate is because their religion forbade them from using images depicting the creator's works, namely animals, plants and humans. Although there are many interpretations of what these complex bindings mean, there are no documented sources stating their purpose. Some scholars feel that they are simply a way in which the Celts chose to express themselves artistically given the boundaries they put on themselves through their religion. Others feel that the unending knot designs stand for unending love, while some symbols carry even more specific ideologies.
The harp is a revered symbol of Ireland, and has been since ancient times. Harpists in Ireland enjoyed high social status in Ireland until its decline in popularity in the nineteenth century. When the English ruled Ireland, they burned harps and executed harpists in an effort to curb Irish nationalism. In the early 1920s, the Irish Free State brought upon a resurgence in the use of the harp as a symbol of national unity when it used the harp as its official seal. Today, the harp is found throughout Ireland on government offices and other state organizations and banks.
According to Irish folklore, an invading army from Norway was attempting to sneak up on a a Scottish army's encampment during the night. A barefoot Norseman suddenly cried out in pain after having the misfortune of stepping on a thistle, alerting Scots to the presence of the Norse invaders.