Thursday, December 20, 2007

Irish Christmas Decorations


Before everyone imported the idea of having a Christmas tree, the homes of Ireland were decorated at Christmas with boughs of holly. The green holly represents the crown of thorns and the red berries drops of blood from Jesus face and head.

When holly sprigs begin to appear on everything from picture frames to doorways and mantles, you know for sure that Christmas is coming. The placing of a ring of Holly on doors originated in Ireland as Holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and which gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings.


During the holiday season you will find candles in the window throughout the north-eastern United States. They have the Irish to thank for this pretty tradition of lighting their windowsills.

Having a candle in your window on Christmas Eve meant that you were welcoming the Holy Family that found no such welcome in Bethlehem on Christmas. It may also signify that the home was one where the Catholic mass was celebrated. Either way it's a lovely tradition that exists in the US and Ireland alike.

And rest easy if your ambitious neighbor is taking down their tree on January 1. The Irish traditionally take down their decorations on Little Christmas (January 6) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Traditional Irish Christmas Cheer

Here are a few of my favorite Irish Christmas traditions to share with you;
The light of the Christmas star to you
The warmth of home and hearth to you
The cheer and good will of friends to you
The hope of a childlike heart to you
The joy of a thousand angels to you
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.

Some Irish Christmas Expressions

Nollaig shona duit (Happy Christmas)
Nollaig faoi shéan is faoi mhaise duit (a prosperous and pleasant Christmas)
Athbhliain faoi mhaise duit (a prosperous new year)
The Christmas season is apon us with all the good cheer and traditions we love.

Christmas Foods

The Christmas cooking would start early with the making of the plum pudding, breads and spiced beef. A traditional Irish Christmas meal might consist of roasted goose, potatoes, cranberry sauce, vegetables, sausages, and puddings. Spiced beef is often eaten sliced cold with fresh bread in the days after the main feast. (And please be sure to check out my recipe for mincemeat pie! It's a holiday and winter favorite.)

I hope everyone has a Wonderful Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fall Foods: Traditional Irish Soups and Breads

With Fall in the air and the weather turning crisp, what tastes better than a good hot, homemade bowl of soup and some fresh bread?

Soup has actually been part of traditional Irish cooking for generations. It's a natural choice given the abundance of vegetables, high-quality meats and the delicious harvest from their rivers and seas. Soup-making is a wonderful way of packing really good ingredients into one bowl to create a great starter or complete meal. A great all-rounder, soup can be served hot and steaming on a cold winter's day or chilled and refreshing in a summer brunch; as a light starter to dinner party or a meal in itself.

Irish brown bread is a staple of the famous Irish Country Breakfast but you're just as likely to find it in the bread basket at a fancy restaurant. It's made of a special wholemeal wheat flour that gives it a nutty flavor and slightly coarse texture. Irish Soda Bread is another staple of Irish cuisine. And many Irish children have been lucky enough to enjoy freshly baked soda bread as part of their upbringing.

I can't think of a better meal on a fall evening, while cuddling in my Irish throw than a bowl of wholesome soup and fresh bread, and don't forget the Irish Butter.

This is one my favorite soups; Irish Leek and Potato Soup from Nualla Cullen's fantastic book, Irish Soups & Breads.

1 1/4 lbs leeks
3 medium potatoes
3 sticks celery
2 large garlic cloves
4 tablespoons butter
5 1/2 cups chicken stock or light vegetable stock
salt and pepper
3 scallions, very finely chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped chervil (optional) or parsley (optional)
potato croutons (optional)

1. Peel and chop the potatoes into cubes. Finely chop the garlic, the cleaned leeks and the celery.
2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the vegetables and gently cook about 10 minutes or so until the butter is absorbed, but don't allow to brown.
3. Add 3/4 of the stock and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes.
4. Puree the soup in two batches in a blender and add the balance of the stock.
5. To serve, mix the croutons, scallions and parsley together and mound a large spoonful on top of each bowl.


Friday, October 26, 2007

The Legend of the Claddagh

The Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring, given in friendship or worn as a wedding ring. The ring originated in the 17th Century, though elements of the ring's design are much older. The Claddagh was created in a fishing village called Claddagh overlooking Galway Bay, close to the city of the Tribes. There are many versions of how the Claddagh ring was created, but this one may be closer to historical truth;

A man named Richard Joyce, a native of Galway, left his town to work in the West Indies. He intended to marry his love when he returned. However, his ship was captured by Algerian pirates and and he was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith where he learned how to work with precious metals.

When William III, became king, he demanded the Moors release all British prisoners and Joyce was set free. Though his master had grown so fond of Joyce that he offered his most beautiful daughter's hand in marriage if he would stay on. Joyce refused and returned home to marry his betrothed. They were wed at once and he gave his bride the Claddagh ring he had designed and made especially for her.

By tradition Claddagh rings symbolize that love and friendship should be valued above all. The hands signify friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart love. How the Claddagh is worn tells others if you wear it in friendship, engagement or as a wedding ring.
Friendship: by placing the ring anywhere on your right hand.

Engagement: by placing the on the third finger of your left hand with the heart pointed outwards.

Wedding: represented by placing the ring on the third finger of your left hand with the heart pointing inwards towards your heart.
Lastly, legend has it that it's very bad luck to buy your own Claddagh ring, it should be given as a gift by someone who close to you.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Meanings of Celtic Art

Celtic art has been around so long that the Celts were carving spirals around tombs like the ones at Newgrange in Ireland long before the Great Pyramids were constructed.

The Celts believed that there were seven life forms - plants, insects, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals and man. But because there was common taboo that warned against creating an exact likeness of a living person these images are all represented symbolically with Knotwork, Spirals, Maze and Step Patterns in their artwork. These symbolic drawings are still popular today, we wear them on clothing, in jewelry, and decorate our homes with them.

Unfortunately there is no recorded history of the meaning behind the symbolism found in Celtic art. But we do find that there is a general agreement as to the meanings behind the beautiful geometric and abstract designs.

Knotwork - the interconnection of Life and our place in the universe, a journey through life and the understanding of life. Common knots include the Trinity knot, which is thought to represent the Holy Trinity or the Triple Goddesses of the ancient Celts. The Lover's Knot represents two souls entwined as one.
Spirals or Triskels - Are thought to mean the individuals personal spirit, as to balance oneself, as Yen and Yang is in the East.

Maze and Steps - Represents a journey through life, a path of experiences and learning.
Zoomorphics - Hounds - Loyalty, Lions - Strength, Snakes - Rebirth, Birds - Purity, Salmon - Knowledge, and Cats - Gatekeepers, Protectors.

If you want to incorporate Celtic symbolism in your own artwork, crafting or even a tattoo;
Celtic by Chris Down or Celtic Designs by Courtney Davis are both great reference books.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Celtic Halloween

Did you know Halloween began in Ireland?

Halloween began as a Druid pagan holiday called Samhain (pronounced Sah-ween). Samhain is the name for the Celtic God of the Dead. An appropriate title for this favored Pagan festival as it was believed that on this night the veil between the world of the living and the dead was said to be the thinnest.

Samhain began at at sundown on October 31st. (which for the Celt's was "Summer's End.") Samhain was the last gathering before winter's arrival and it was celebrated by the Celtics in Scotland, Ireland and the British Isles and Wales more than 2000 years ago. They honored deceased loved ones and ancestors with Samhain's Feast of the Dead. Offering food and tidbits for the spirits of those gone before. In fact, the tradition of trick or treat actually started with the leaving of food on your doorstep to feed these spirits and keep them from making mischief.

Halloween bon fires were originally called "bone fires" as the feasting that accompanied the Celtic celebration of fire including throwing the bones of the meat as offerings upon the fires that burned to cook the food as well as to keep warm this chilly night. And attendees may have dressed as ghosts believing it gave them the ability to walk amongst the spirits unrecognized and unharmed.

Some other Halloween traditions borne from the Celtic Samhain include;

  • The name Jack O'Lantern (Jack of the Lantern) comes from an old Irish tale.
  • Apples were left or buried on the roadsides to provide for those spirits without family or destination.
  • Black cats became a Halloween symbol as it was believed spirits could return in the body of an animal and black cats were certainly the one of the most ominous. Cats were believed to be the spirit of a deceased person.
  • Witch history is so large no one could hope to cover it all. But the name"Witch" comes from the word Celtic "Wicca" meaning "wise one."
However you celebrate Celtic Cottage wishes you a Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cottage Gallery

"Home is Where the Heart is"

I'm so happy to announce the Grand Opening of The Cottage Gallery. It has taken me so long to finally get it all together as we have been so busy with running the store and getting out Celtic Cottages online store.

The Gallery will be opening in November, at our Palos Heights location and will be a great addition to Celtic Cottage. You can also see some of the fine art work at my online store, where we will be featuring talented artist like Philip Gray whose painting above is one of my most favorites. Philip is one of the best Irish artists and has been given a number of awards, including the top UK artist award. His paintings are known all around the world. He is most famous for his land and sea scapes.

We will also be featuring the work of local artists like Sue Flanagan, who does beautiful pastel painting. If you live in the area we would welcome your visit, you can sit have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

The Grand Opening will be November 13, at 7 pm,
12244 Harlem Ave., Palos Heights, IL. 60463
708-361-8800 email us at

We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Irish and Celtic Wedding Rings

When your mate proposed did he ask;

"Would you like to be buried with my people?"

or perhaps

"Would you like to hang your washing next to mine?".

If he did, and you accepted, then it's time to switch your Claddagh ring to your right hand and face the heart inward signifying that you are a taken lass. Your fiance has used an old Irish proposal to ask you for your hand in marriage.

The traditional Claddagh he might propose with is a heart held by two hands with a crown upon the top. The crown stands for honor, the heart for love and the hands for faith. The motto for the Claddagh is “Let love and friendship reign.” Once your married you can switch your Claddagh to your right hand and wear it as a your wedding band.

As an alternative to the Claddagh many couples are opting for wedding bands that bear Celtic knotwork symbolizing how they feel about one another. The Lover's Knot is used in many Irish weddings as it's commonly believed that the weave symbolizes eternal unity and faithfulness. Others opt for The Warrior Shield as it is said to represent the unending circle of life.

But whichever ring you chose, the meaning that you and your partner assign it is what you will always carry with you. And if you opt for a ring that doesn't bear any Celtic or Irish symbolism it's still possible to honor Irish wedding traditions. Lore has it that the earrings you wear on your wedding day will bring you good luck for the rest of your life.