The Celtic artistic legacy in Ireland is one of the most enduring and important in Europe. The intricacy and delicate craftsmanship are among the finest of any period in history. This especially applies to the goldsmith activities. Celtic art has many variants and styles across Celtic Europe but there was an overall common style – that of balance, filled areas and unfilled, raised and recess all are part of complete whole
Most of these great works of art date from Pre-Christian Ireland, the nature of Celtic art changing after that period and focusing on religious icons and shrines. Another key difference is that pre-Christian retained a preference for geometrical decoration. The Christian era employed figurative subjects, which are often extremely stylised when they do appear, as in the Book of Kells and on Celtic Crosses.
Broughter Celtic Hoard.
Discovered in 1896 in County Derry on the edge of Lough Foyle, the Broighter Celtic Hoard is believed to have been an offering to the Irish God of the Sea Manannán mac Lir. The find consisted of a Celtic Jewellery and torcs and bowls and uniquely a little model boat that is fitted with oars, fishing tools and all the parts of a rowing boat. The Celtic torc, an ancient necklace is of a unique style that has not been seen anywhere else in Celtic Ireland. The gold for these crafts was sourced from Germany while the necklaces seem to be sourced from Rome but reworked in to a Celtic style. Demonstrating that international trade was an integral part of the Irish economy in Pre-Christian times.
Tara Celtic Brooch
The most elaborate piece of Celtic jewellery in existence, the Tara brooch, created in the 7th Century would have been for fastening the cloak of a powerful King. At 7 inches long it was as much for the display as a functional piece. The design, the techniques of workmanship and the use of different mediums such as gold, copper, silver, glass and amber demonstrate the sophisticated level of goldsmiths in 7th C. Ireland. The Tara Celtic Brooch was said to have been found on a beach but it is believed that it was found inland but that the discovers did not want to lose it to the landowner and the rich reward that went with it.
The Church in Ireland was built on the foundation of Celtic Ireland’s ruling and religious class. Their love of intricate art pieces was developed further in this period. The Derrynaflan Chalice is considered the pinnacle of early Christian Irish workmanship. It is believed to have been buried in the 10th Century. During a period of intense upheaval in Ireland due to Viking raids.
Celtic Torcs were status and religious symbols in the Celtic world. Divinity and warrior lords all wore them and most of the ones that we have discovered are wrought of gold. These torcs were a semi permanent necklace. Torc heads were frequently decorated with totemic symbols such as wolf heads and interlace. Some versions have human figurines placed at there end. A rare example of the pagan Celtic prohibition on the depiction of human form being ignored.
The variety of craft styles, their level of intricacy in combining different mediums and materials have left Irish craftsmen a rich source of inspiration in the creation of jewelley. It is the most distinct style in Europe and its popularity has lasted 3000 years.
Quiet an achievement.