The ancient Celts excelled at metalwork. Archaeology has uncovered amazing artistic jewelry and weapons from the distant past that is proof of the skill, imagination and cultural sophistication of the ancestors of the modern Irish, Scots and Welsh. Many of these objects, such as the famed “Tara” brooch, have become emblems of national identity in the Celtic homelands and badges of ethnic pride among immigrants and their descendants.
In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, Walker Metalsmiths of Andover will present a free exhibit of antique Celtic jewelry at their newly remodeled Main Street showroom. The collection of jewelry on display will include Victorian Celtic Revival examples from both Ireland and Scotland from the late 1800s into the early 1900s.
In the years when Ireland was recovering from the Potato Famine there was a renewed interest in the cultural past of that nation as well as a budding interest in archaeology. The discovery of the splendid early medieval “Tara” brooch in 1850 sparked an enormous enthusiasm for the style of Ireland’s Celtic past. By 1851 Dublin jewelers were crafting reproductions of the “Tara” as well as many other medieval brooches.
Royal Tara Brooch by Waterhouse & Co. Dublin circa 1850
We are pleased to be showing an example of the Tara Brooch manufactured by the Dublin firm of Waterhouse & Co. This reproduction of the 8th century original was named ‘The Royal Tara Brooch’ after Queen Victoria purchased two of them from Waterhouse at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851.
By the time of the Irish uprising of 1916 the Tara brooch had become a national emblem. The reproductions once favored by the British Royal family were then part of the regalia of the rebels. Cumann na mBan the women’s auxiliary of the anti-British Irish Volunteers wore Tara style brooches with their parade uniforms. The exhibit includes a modernized enamel version of the Tara brooch in the colors of the Republican Irish flag that was a badge of Cumann na mBan after the War of Independence.
Also on exhibit is a medal and certificate in Celtic design that was awarded to one of Michael Collin’s men from the Irish War of Independence. William Doran, the father of legendary Hornell, NY radio broadcaster Kevin Doran, fought from 1918 to 1921. The materials are on loan from the Doran family.
On the Scottish side of the exhibit Scotch pebble jewelry is represented. This silver mounted style of agate and semi-precious gem jewelry often followed the shapes and forms of older Celtic and medieval styles and became very popular with the rise of middle class tourism in 19th century Scotland. Kilt accessories, including jeweled knives decorated with Celtic ornament are also on exhibit.
We published a companion book to the exhibit titled The Modern History of Celtic Jewelry. Although I am a modern Celtic jeweler myself this is not a book about my work. It is an account of the several generations that preceded me. The book is co-authored by Tara Kelly, a Trinity College art history scholar and expert on Victorian Celtic jewelry, E. Mairi MacArthur, a Scottish historian who has done extensive research into the careers of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie, Celtic designers on the Isle of Iona and the Dublin silversmith Aidan Breen who is himself a living bridge between the Celtic Revival of the early 20th century and the present.
The exhibit will remain on display at Walker Metalsmiths for the remainder of the month of March 2016 and remain on view for the Andover Maple Festival April 2.