St. Patrick’s Day is the perfect time to explore traditional Irish culture by giving gifts that are rooted in Ireland’s history. Here are some suggestions for gifts that delve deeper into genuine Irish heritage than the stereotypical green beer and shamrocks.
Claddagh rings are based around a design of two hands grasping a heart from either side, typically with a crown atop the heart. They can either be a token of love or a wedding ring, and have their origins in medieval “Fede Rings”, from the Italian mani i fede, or “hands joined in faith”.
The Irish variant dates at least as far back as 1700, though the term “Claddagh ring” did not come into use until Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall’s three-volume study Ireland, its Scenery, Character etc., published from 1841-43. The Halls focused on the wedding rings of the fishing community in Claddagh, a small village adjoining Galway. Ida Dellamer’s article on the Claddagh ring gives more detailed background about the Halls’ work and the controversies surrounding it.
The Claddagh ring is worn in a variety of ways to signify a person’s relationship status. It can be worn on the left hand as a wedding ring, but when worn on the right, it has two possible meanings. If the heart points towards the fingertip, the wearer is single and unattached. If the heart points the opposite way, it means the wearer is in a relationship.
There are a variety of Claddagh rings available, ranging from the traditional design to more modern variations. The selection on Irishop.com gives a good example of the variety of these rings. In addition, there are also necklaces, bracelets, and brooches that use the Claddagh design. Carrigdown.com carries several of these items.
The bodhrán is a traditional Irish frame drum. The first written references to the bodhrán appear in the 17th century, and it may have originated as a battle drum during Tyrone’s Rebellion (also known as the Nine Years’ War), an uprising against English rule that took place from 1594 to 1603.
Despite this long history, the bodhrán didn’t achieve prominence in Irish music performance until the 1960’s, when there was a resurgence in performances of traditional Irish music. It has since become a common feature of traditional Irish bands.
The bodhrán has similarities to drums from Africa and the Middle East. It has a goatskin head tacked to one side, with the other side left open so the player can use one hand inside to control pitch and timbre. Some bodhráns have crossbars inside the frame.
Some bodhráns feature an unadorned skin, while others have designs such as Celtic crosses or even the Guinness logo on the drum head. The bodhrán section at Irish Books and Gifts gives a good overview of the styles that are available.
Peat Stoves and Incense Burners
Peat is commonly used for heating and power generation in Ireland. The use of peat for domestic heating dates back centuries, but has been refined by the availability of processed peat fuel briquettes. These have the advantage of being virtually smokeless when burned in domestic fireplaces.
Unfortunately, if you want to obtain an Irish peat-burning stove for your own use, you’ll have to go to Ireland to purchase it. The parent company of the primary Irish manufacturer, Waterford Irish Stoves, no longer distributes the line in North America. The Fireplaces & Wood Stoves web site gives an overview of Waterford’s products, for those adventurous shoppers willing to go the extra mile to bring a piece of Ireland back home.
For a more readily available gift, there’s the Irish Cottage Peat Turf Incense Burner from Irish Incense. Designed to have the appearance of a traditional Irish cottage, the burners are individually hand-made and come with a supply of peat incense