Sunday, July 29, 2018

The Flight of the Earls

In the 17th century, Irish Catholic Nobility fled Ireland for service in France and Spain along with other Catholic Countries. This military migration, which began with he Flight of the Earls, O'Neill and O'Connell, in 1607, three years after the battle of Kinsale, led to a situation where there was no continental European state without Irish men serving in its army, often in Irish regiments that were called Irish brigades. This was particularly so after the Williamite wars when in 1691, 14,000 Irish soldiers went to France alone.
The Flight of the Earls

Red Hugh O'Neill was the most powerful of the Irish Chieftains at the end of the 16th century. His father, Matthey, Baron of Dungannon, was loyal to Queen Elizabeth I, and in accordance with the Queen's wishes, he sent his son at an early age to England to be educated. It was hoped that the learning and training he would receive there would make him a firm supporter of the English rule in Ireland.

On his return to Ireland the Queen created him Earl of Tyrone in 1585. He appeared to be an active supporter of the English and in 1593 he took part in the battle between the English and Irish at Belleek on the River Erne.

However, O'Neill secretly planned for the overthrow of English dominance in Ireland, but he knew that this could not be achieved without unity among themselves along with aid from Spain or France. He was elected Chieftain of Tyrone in 1593. He spend much time creating unity among the Chieftains, and particularly, smoothing out difference between himself and O'Donnell of Tirchonaill (Donegal) and Maguire of Fermanagh.

In 1594 Maguire laid siege in Enniskilllen and defeated an English garrison who had held it for a number of years. In the same year O'Donnell's army moved south and captured the province of Connaught, while O'Neill defeated the English in the battles in Monaghan and Cavan.

After these encounters there was comparative peace in Ulster until 1597 when a three-pronged attack was made on the northern province from Connaght by the new Governor, Conyers Clifford. His army was defeated at Ballyshannon by O'Donnell, Maguire and O'Rourke of Leitrim. Another army advanced from the midlands and was defeated at Mullingar, while O'Neill routed the third army at Drum Fluch in Armagh.

In 1598 the English suffered their greatest defeat at the hands of the Irish at the Battle of Yellow Ford on the Blackwater in Co. Tryone.  This victory, led by O'Neill, encouraged all the Irish Chieftains supporting the English to rebel, with the result that the English retreated to within the Pale, an area around Dublin not more than 30 miles by 20.

Queen Elizabeth employed all the resources at her command to defeat this new Irish unity, and in 1599 she sent over an army of 18,000 men under the Earl of Exxes to engage O'Neill, whom she regarded as her arch enemy. Instead, Essex sent an army of 7,000 south from Dublin, which was defeated in Co. Laois. Elizabeth was enraged and again ordered him to march against O'Neill, and when their two armies finally met on the opposite banks of the River Lagan they negotiated a truce. Essex failed so badly that he was recalled to England and was later executed for raising a revolt against the Queen.

During the six years of this almost continual war O'Neill has been waiting for aid from Spain. The long promised help arrived at last in 1601 when a Spanish fleet with 3,000 men sailed into Kinsale harbor. A month later another fleet with 1,000 men arrived in Co. Cork. O'Neill was disappointed at the size of the aid and at the location where they had chose to land. He would have preferred to have them land in Ulster, where his army was strong, instead of Munster where his allies were weak.
The English marched on Kinsale and besieged the Spaniards there, while O'Neill and O'Donnell marched south. Near the end of 1601, through bad lick and treachery, the fate of Ireland was sealed for generations to come by the victory of the English at the battle of Kinsale.

O'Donnell went to Spain to seek further aid from King Philip III and while there he was poisoned by an English agent. O'Neill returned to Tyrone where he fought on, but in 1603 he submitted and was granted an amnesty and restoration of his territory by King James I.

In 1607 O'Neill and Rory O'Donnell, the new chieftain of Tirchonaill, received warning that they were about to be arrested. They took flight, and on September 14, 1607, they sailed out of Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal with their families and about 100 faithful followers for France. Both Earls eventually died in Rome, O'Donnell in 1608, and O'Neill in 1616.

Sometime during the 19th century The Flight of the Earls was later coined with a poetic name, The Flight of the Wild Geese.

The Irish Gift House is proud to offer a Celtic goblet, along with a Celtic tankard, that commemorates the The Flight of the Earls. These Mullingar Pewter gifts are lead free and are hand crafted in Ireland; these vessels represent just two of our many Irish bar-ware gifts. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Irish Symbols

Favorite Irish Symbols
Irish Symbols - Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross

The best known icon of early Christianity in Ireland, and one of the best representations from medieval Ireland, is the Celtic cross. Early Celtic crosses were often found at churchyards and are self-contained monuments that were generally sculptured form sandstone, some standing as tall as twenty feet.

Many Celtic crosses, such as the Cross of Scriptures at Clonmacnoise and the 16th century Celtic Cross at Monasterboice, featured ornate figure carving, but the chief characteristic feature is the circle connecting the arms.

Today, you will find that Celtic wall crosses are very popular for the home and many who honor their Irish heritage wear a Celtic cross necklace.

Claddagh Rings

Early 16th century legend tells that a fishing boat, from the village of Claddagh in County Galway,
Irish Symbols - Claddagh Rings
Ireland, was captured by pirates and the crew taken as slaves. One of the crew-members, Richard Joyce, was to have been married the same week he was captured. His bride-to-be was inconsolable.

Years went by and Richard became a master of his trade as a gold-smith. His skillful hands shaped a unique ring for the girl he could never forget. The design of the Claddagh ring was born of their love. At the center a heart, symbolizing their love, on top a crown, symbolizing their loyalty, and two hands holding the heart, symbolizing the caring friendship they shared.

After eight years, Richard escaped and returned to his native village of Claddagh. He found, to his great joy, that the girl he could not forget had not forgotten him and she had never married. He gave to her the special ring he had crafted. They married soon afterwards, never to be separated again.

Claddagh rings along with Claddagh wedding bands are very popular as wedding rings; although, they are also often given and worn as a symbol of friendship. 

Irish Symbols - ShamrocksShamrock

In ancient times the shamrock was highly revered by the Druids of processing mystical powers. The three leaves were considered a natural sign of the sacred number three. Many believed wearing the shamrock would give them luck and keep harm away.. 

The legend of St. Patrick states that Patrick plucked a shamrock from the ground to explain the belief in the Holy Trinity. With the explanation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all combined as one, Patrick was able to convert the Irish to Christianity.

As the shamrock blankets the ground of Ireland it has become the most notable symbol of the Emerald Island. From shamrock wall hangings to shamrock jewelry, this Irish symbol is displayed as a sense of pride.

St. Brigid's Cross

St. Brigid was born during the mid-fifth century. She was the daughter of Dubhtach, a Leinster pagan chieftain, and a slave woman. It is believed that she was a contemporary of St. Patrick, who converted her to Catholicism.  St. Brigid founded a monastery in Kildare, Ireland and is remembered for her great charity and kindness and is second only to St. Patrick, among Ireland’s heritage of
Irish Symbols - St. Brigid's Cross
Saints.  Thousands of Irish woman are named Brigid in her honor.  St. Brigid’s feast day, February 1, corresponds with Imbolc, the Celtic feast of purification and renewal.

The most enduring image of St. Brigid is the St. Brigid’s Cross. In her endeavor to explain the Passion of Christ to her father, a dying pagan, she wove a cross from the straw-like rushes strewn on the floor.  

In those early Christian times the farmers adopted the custom of making these same crosses at the beginning of spring to protect their holdings, placing the handmade St. Brigid's cross in prominent positions in their houses and barns. The tradition of making the crosses on St. Brigid's Day, February 1st, continues to the present day in Ireland and abroad.  The St. Brigid’s Cross is believed to protect homes from want and evil.

You will also find that St. Brigid's cross necklaces, along with 
St. Brigid's cross charms, are popular Christian symbols that are worn as jewelry. 

Celtic Knot

Irish Symbols - Celtic KnotCeltic knot-work embodies a richness and pureness of ancient Celtic times. It dates back as far as the 5th century and was used extensively by the medieval monks to illuminate the world famous Book of Kells manuscripts. 

The interlaced unbroken lines symbolize man's spiritual growth, external life, and never ending love - having no beginning and no end. Each twist and turn has its individual magical and mystic qualities.

In addition to illustrations you will find these intricate designs are fashionable as Celtic jewelry along with tattoos. 

Irish Symbols - LeprechaunLeprechauns

Leprechauns are a type of fairy that are derived from the Tuatha Dé Danann, a supernatural race in Irish mythology.

They are mischievous little men who are often depicted with red beards while wearing a coat and hat. Cobblers by trade, Leprechauns spend most of their time making and mending shoes. These solitary fairies are known through legend to have a pot of gold hidden at the end of the rainbow. A leprechaun will often grant three wishes in exchange for his freedom should he be caught by a human.

Irish Blessings

The Irish have a blessing or toast for every occasion and every celebration including those that hall mark the milestones in life.  From greetings to marriage and even death, a well-expressed verse in the form of a proverb or an anecdotal saying is sure to be had.

These Irish blessings often employ a bit of Irish laughter or the sentiment of days gone by, but they are almost certain to bring a smile to your face. 
Irish Symbols - Blessings

Even when addressing their adversaries the Irish put their signature touch on the subject so that even in a curse there is a blessing for someone. This artful use of the tongue is often referred to as Irish diplomacy.

Irish blessings are passed down from one generation to the next, memorized and presented in verbal fashion; however there is no shortage of Irish blessing gifts, including Irish blessing plaques, that feature these eloquent proverbs. 

The quintessential Irish blessing offers the following verse:

May the road rise to meet you. 
May the wind be always at your back. 
May the sun shine warm upon your face, 
The rains fall soft upon your fields and, 
Until, we meet again, 

May God hold you in the hallow of His hand.

Tree of Life

Irish Symbols - Tree of LifeIn the Gaelic language the Tree of Life is known as Crann Bethadh. The ancient Celts believed that trees are the foundation of life and held mystical powers which represented balance and harmony in all worlds, connecting heaven, earth and the underworld.

The tree branches reach in search of learning and knowledge.
The trunk symbolizes strength,
Its flowers and fruit renewed growth

and its deep roots represent our ancient Celtic heritage.

You may express your own ancient Celtic heritage with a Tree of Life gift or by wearing Tree of Life jewelry.


Irish Symbols - GuinnessSt. James’ Gate in Dublin, Ireland, became the home of Guinness in 1759 when Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease for £45 per year. By 1838 St. James’ Gate became the largest brewery in Ireland and by 1914 the Dublin brewery was the largest in the world. 

To this day Guinness remains the largest brewer of stout in the world. The black porter is omnipresent in Irish culture and it is universally related to Ireland. Every pub, Irish or not, that is worth its salt serves Guinness. 

Those who imbibe in this dark brew have given the brand a loyal following and often wear or display Guinness merchandise.
This collection of Irish symbols is far from complete, but it includes many of the favorites of The Irish Gift House.   

Friday, July 20, 2018

Irish Flat Caps

The flat cap is the ubiquitous head-wear for an Irishman; it is a rounded woolen cap with a small stiff
Irish Flat Caps
brim in the front. The flat cap is very comfortable to wear and it is able to take a beating while providing many years of use. The cap is woven of Irish wool in various tweeds along with solid colors and even patches to create a patch cap.

The flat cap had been considered the typical Irish cap for those in various trades; however, it is now stylish for those of any stature. The Irish flat cap has gone from working class to mainstream.

The Irish flat cap is also commonplace on the golf course. The popularity increasing with golfing greats, such as Ben Hogan and Walter Hagen, wearing these Irish wool caps on the links. Could wearing this iconic cap improve your game?

Over the years the Irish flat cap has taken on many nicknames such as scully cap along with driving cap and newsboy cap.   

The woolen flat cap has been fashionable for centuries but there is an ironic twist as to how it gained popularity in Ireland. In 1571, the English Parliament, in an endeavor to force an increase in domestic wool consumption, and its subsequent increased tax collection, enacted a law that decreed all males over the age of 6 to wear woolen head-wear on Sundays and holidays. Those in violation received a fine of 3 farthings per day. Ireland was under English rule and domination during this period of time, so the edict was also imposed upon the Irish.  

The Act was repealed in 1597, but by then the flat cap had become resolutely ingrained in Irish society.

The Irish Gift House is proud to offer a collection of Irish made flat caps that are available in 7 different colors and styles.    

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


The blackthorn tree root forms the knob on the Shillelagh that was historically used as a poor man's
weapon in Ireland. The Shillelagh is a cudgel or club that was traditionally smothered with butter and hung for months in a chimney to cure.

Occasionally, the hitting end of a Shillelagh was hollowed out and filled with molten lead, thus increasing the weight and the potential damage one could inflict.

The name is derived from the Shillelagh Forest in County Wicklow, Ireland.

The Shillelagh has been romanced in stories along with songs and has evolved as part of the logo of professional sporting teams as well as an insignia of military regiments.

A Shillelagh should not be confused with its taller cousin, the Irish walking stick. The Irish walking stick is also typically sourced from blackthorn wood but it is longer and it is often carried for aesthetic appreciation as well as for mobility issues.

The Irish Gift House is happy to share this poem about the iconic Shillelagh:

Oh no! It’s not a walking stick,
It’s carried neath one’s arm,
For though it was a weapon,
It kept you free from harm.

For long ago invaders came,
To Ireland’s pleasant shore,
Those Danes were fearsome fighting men,
With sword and shield and more.

To kill or plunder was their aim,
And pretty girls to snatch,
But when they reached Shillelagh,
They found they’d met their match!

The peaceful farmers had no swords,
Their homesteads to defend,
But they knew that on the Blackthorn,
Their lives they could depend.

They cut stout sticks,
Then joined the fight,
And quickly put the Danes to flight,
Such exploits brought Shillelagh fame,
And to the stick they gave its name.

- Author Unknown