The top 10 Irish Celtic symbols and their meanings

10 Irish Celtic symbols and their meanings

The term “Celts” refers to tribes of people that shared similar traditions, customs, language, and culture and dominated Western Europe and the British Isles from as far back as 1200 B.C.

Much of this unique cultural heritage still exists today in Ireland, where the Irish language is still spoken and where people celebrate and remain passionate about Celtic roots.

While Ireland has changed drastically over centuries, elements of ancient Celtic communities live on today. One of the biggest examples of this is Gaelic symbols.

Primitive and ornate, these striking visuals will undoubtedly evoke memories of the Emerald Isle, but did you ever wonder what they imply? Here are ten Irish Celtic symbols explained.

10. Carolingian Cross – a cross made out of four uniform arms

The Carolingian Cross is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols

This Irish Celtic symbol is a cross made out of four uniform arms. It is a more elaborate version of Brigid’s Cross or the Celtic Cross.

It is said that the Carolingian Cross represents unity, balance, and the eternity of God.

9. Claddagh ring – love, loyalty, and friendship

The Claddagh ring is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols

As far as ancient Gaelic symbols go, this is more of an Irish contemporary tradition, and yet it is wholly connected with Ireland. The Claddagh ring first spawned from Galway and it is intended to be given to a loved one.

The ring is said to symbolise love, loyalty, and friendship.

8. Celtic Tree of Life – imagination and intuition

The Tree of Life is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols

This stunning Irish Celtic symbol is synonymous with the Emerald Isle.

The image that depicts a tree rich in roots and flourishing overground suggests an intrinsic bond and oneness with nature and the elements.

Depending on which tree is shown in the illustration, the symbol can have slightly different meanings. For example, if it is a willow tree, the symbol suggests imagination and intuition.

7. The Celtic cross – light or energy

The Celtic cross is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols

This symbol is heavily associated with Ireland and can be seen in the flesh in abundance around the Emerald Isle.

It consists of a traditional Christian cross with a ring interlocking and surrounding its intersection. The Celtic cross circle suggests a source of light or energy.

6. The triskele – body-mind-spirit

The triskele is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols

This is yet another Irish Celtic symbol that references three distinct points (likely alluding to the holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

According to studies, the Triskele is one of the oldest symbols known in Irish tradition. Authentic examples of this ancient artwork can be seen at Newgrange prehistoric monument in County Meath.

The name derived from the Greek word “Triskeles,” meaning “three legs.” Other than the holy trinity, some suggest this design alludes life-death-rebirth or body-mind-spirit.

5. The Awen (the Three Rays of Light) – essence

The Awen is one of the top 10 Irish Celtic symbols

This is one of the Gaelic symbols that can often be observed in ancient Irish tradition. The word Awen means “essence” or “inspiration.”

Like many symbols in Irish Celtic tradition, it offers an illustration with three key components.

4. The harp – royalty

The harp is Ireland's national emblem

The Harp is more than an Irish Celtic symbol. In fact, Ireland is so inextricably linked with the symbol of the harp that it is the only country in the entire world to have a musical instrument as its national emblem.

The Irish Harp has long been associated with royalty. In fact, it’s believed that the strings of the harp represent the arms of the king.

3. Brigid’s cross – peace and goodness

Brigid's cross is a prominent symbol from Ireland

This is a Celtic Irish symbol that is likely to be recognised by most people who have spent much time in Ireland.

Brigid’s cross was often a craft project when in school, and it can often be seen hanging in traditional family homes in Ireland.

It is a Christian symbol linked to Brigid of the Tuatha de Danaan and linked in Irish mythology to the gift of peace and goodness.

2. The shamrock – luck and the Christian Holy Trinity

The shamrock may be Ireland's best-known symbol

The symbol of a shamrock is as Irish as it gets. This is, in fact, the national flower of Ireland, and with its three leaves (do you see a pattern?), the Irish Celts believed that the shamrock leaf brings luck.

It is also linked to St. Patrick who used it as a metaphor for the Christian Holy Trinity. In the 19th-century, it also became a symbol of nationalism and rebellion.

1. The trinity knot – eternal, spiritual life and being

The trinity knot is a memorable Celtic symbol

This is potentially one of the most memorable Irish Celtic symbols that is synonymous with Ireland.

Also called The Triquetra, this Irish Celtic symbol consists of a knotted triangular shape, made up of one continuous, unbroken line. Oftentimes, the Trinity Knot is illustrated with a circle interlocking the knot.

This Celtic knot means eternal, spiritual life and being. It is also supposed to, in the Christian religion, suggest the holy trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. How do you draw a Celtic symbol?

There are many types of Celtic symbols you can draw. This article will tell you everything you need to know!

2. How do you pronounce ‘knot’, e.g. Trinity knot?

The word ‘knot’ is simply pronounced without the ‘k’. It sounds the exact same as the word ‘not’.

3. Are Celtic symbols Christian or Pagan?

The Celtic symbol of the Trinity Knot was first seen in Pagan culture before being found in early Christian manuscripts and works of art.

4. Are Irish people Gaelic or Celtic?

Gaelic is a Celtic language spoken in Ireland, ergo Irish people are both Celts and Gaels.

5. Where can I learn more about Celtic Ireland?

Luckily, we have lots of articles which celebrate Celtic history. Read on if you are keen to learn more!

If you are interested in learning more about Celtic culture in Ireland, you will find these articles really helpful:

Celtic Symbols

The Celtic symbol for strength: everything you need to know

The Irish Celtic symbol for family: what is it and what it means

Triquetra: the history and meaning of the triple knot

Celtic History

Celtic Regions: where the Celts come from and have lived for 3,000+ years

Top 10 most important moments in Celtic history

A fascinating look at the ancient Irish calendar: festivals, traditions, and more

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