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History of Ireland Symbols

About History of Ireland Jewellery Collection

In 1970, Irish Silversmith Michael Hilliar was inspired to design the original History of Ireland collection from the carvings found on Celtic high crosses throughout Ireland, dating back to the 5th century. Since then the designs have evolved, becoming more contemporary but the designer’s inspiration and message remain as a constant reminder of our history.

The collection is handcrafted in sterling silver and is Irish hallmarked by the assay office at Dublin Castle. 

Each piece in the History of Ireland collection is engraved with 12 symbols that represent some of the most historical eras in Irish history. It begins in the Neolithic age with the Celtic swirl, then to St. Patrick, the magnificent Round towers from 9th century Ireland, the Vikings, the Norman invasion, the Battle of the Boyne, United Irishmen, the Irish Flag, the Great Famine, Emigration, the GPO and ends with the Partition of Ireland.

Discover the history behind each of the 12 symbols, as we take you on a journey of Ireland's past...

Circle of  life symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Circle of Life

No beginning... the unwinding path, symbolised by a Celtic swirl similar to those carved  in stone by our ancestors some 5,000 years ago. The diversity of the earliest settlers on our island has over time formed a culture that is rich in heritage, beliefs and  tradition that has passed down from generation to generation a sense of life, faith and hope against whatever we have faced and wherever we have found our place.…and no end.

The unwinding path that we are to this day travelling upon, a never-ending journey into the unknown future.

St Patrick Symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick - Ireland’s patron saint, in the 5th Century, helped transform Ireland from a land of pagan illiteracy into one known as a haven of learning, culture and Christianity. A heritage we are known for to this day and which is celebrated internationally every year on the 17th March.

round tower symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Round Towers

These magnificent stone structures proudly stand as enduring images of the Christian faith in Ireland having provided refuge from invaders for the religious community and their precious relics between the 9th and 12th centuries.

vikings symbol from History of Ireland jewellery


A race known for their plundering sprees across the high seas. Viking  raids (first  recorded in 795) were at first small and intermittent, but over the following decades  they intensified in number and ferocity until the invaders found  permanent  settlements that irrevocably changed the landscape and society of Gaelic Ireland.

norman invasion symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Norman Invasion

Our history of invasion continued, albeit at the request of an exiled King of Leinster,  who sought assistance in regaining his throne.  And while the Norman-French army landed  in Ireland and were soon victorious ultimately Henry II  fearing this rival Norman state may threaten the English throne, led his troops into Ireland in 1171, forcing the Irish Kings to submit to his authority.

battle of the Boyne symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Battle of the Boyne

The Battle of the Boyne was fought in 1690 between the Catholic King James II and his  nephew and son-in-law the Protestant King William of the Dutch House of Orange. There  were three issues at stake at the battle: The Throne of England, French Dominance of  Europe and power in Ireland.

This battle is regarded as central in the struggle between the Irish Protestant and Catholic communities as it protected the dominance of Protestant interests in Ireland for centuries to come.

United Irishmen symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

United Irishmen

A century later, the great religious divide was still dominating the country as the catholic community sought more rights, feeling that religious division was being used for gain by the ruling elite. The ultimate goal for the United Irishmen was to separate religion from politics.

The movement was banned in 1793 by the authorities as it grew in popularity but became defunct by 1803 primarily due to three months of sustained and bloody violence following the rising of 1798.

Irish flag symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Irish Flag

Ireland’s national flag is the distinctive tricolour of green, white and orange. History suggests that the green represents Ireland’s older Gaelic tradition and community, whilst  the orange represents the Protestant supporters of William of Orange and his victory in  the Battle of the Boyne. The hope of peace between these two cultures is symbolised by the central band of white.

The Irish flag is an emblem of inclusion and union of all Ireland’s people regardless of their religious or political beliefs.

Famine symbol from History of Ireland jewellery


19th Century Ireland was no stranger to hunger, but between the years 1845 - 1852 the country saw mass starvation on a scale never witnessed before. It is estimated that in Ireland during the Great Famine approximately one million people died and over a million more emigrated. Such widespread hunger was the result of the total dependence of one third of the population on the potato for food.

famine ships symbol from History of Ireland jewellery

Famine Ships

The famine was a watershed in the history of Ireland. It was at this stage that the great‘Irish Emigration’ began (especially to America). The Famine Ships offered hope for a better future and many left Irish shores, facing the unknown. Those attempting to escape the horror of famine were herded onto crowded, filthy, disease-ridden ships and left with little access to even the most basic food and water supplies.

Sadly for many, the dream of a new life turned into a horrible nightmare as hundreds died on the overcrowded and poorly provisioned ships. 

General Post Office symbol from History of Ireland jewellery


 The Easter Rising of 1916 was organised by the Irish Republican Brotherhood, with the aim to end British rule in Ireland and to form an Irish Republic. Among the key buildings seized in Dublin on the morning of 24th April was the General Post Office (GPO) which was chosen as the headquarters of the military operation. It was at this location that the Proclamation of the Republic was declared by senior members of the Military Council. 

After days of relentless shelling by the British forces, the Republican Military Council was finally forced from their headquarters when the GPO caught fire. The GPO building has become synonymous as a symbol of the rising.

Irish partition symbol from History of Ireland jewellery


The subsequent declaration of independence from British rule led to the break out of the War of Independence between rival republican groups. The treaty which ended this conflict established Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland as independent self-governing states. 

At this time, Northern Ireland was populated and governed predominantly by protestants loyal to the crown and the parliament there opted to remain as part of the United Kingdom. The turmoil that has followed is well documented but while the geographical split still exists today, relations between North and South are now peaceful.