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History of the Celtic cross remains a mystery



The harp is a symbol of Ireland

Over the years, shamrocks and the famed Tricolour have become symbols of the Emerald Isle. But when celebrating Irish history or planning St. Patrick's Day festivities, celebrants should not overlook the important role the harp has played in Ireland for centuries.

The harp is the official emblem of Ireland, appearing on the Presidential Seal and currency and in a number of state-sponsored organizations' logos. The harp also is used by a number of different businesses, including the brewers of the popular Irish stout Guinness, to convey their origins in and ties to Ireland.

The Irish harp, also called the Celtic harp, Gaelic harp or the cláirseach in the modern Irish language, has long been a symbol of Irish pride. Although the earliest origins of the harp in Ireland remain open to speculation, historians believe the harp was introduced to pre-Christian Europe by the Phoenicians, who brought it over from Egypt as one of their international trading goods. Evidence suggests the Irish harp dates back at least 1,000 years. Brian Boru, the last High King of Ireland, was said to have been an accomplished player. The harp also was revered in Celtic/Gaelic culture. Irish and Scottish kings and chieftains often had their own resident harper, who typically would play and recite poetry or sing psalms.

According to Catholic Online, King Henry VIII used the harp on coins as early as 1534. Later, the harp appeared on Irish flags and Irish coats of arms. The harp also was used as a symbol of the Irish people during their long struggle for freedom. Beginning in 1642, the harp appeared on flags during rebellions against English rule. The harp was seen as such a threat that the British Crown ordered that all harps be burned and all harpers executed. It would be almost 200 years before the music of the harp was freely enjoyed in Ireland once again. When Ireland became an independent country in 1921, it adopted the harp as its national symbol.

There are various ways to play the harp. Early Celtic harps were wire-strung and required plucking of the strings with longer fingernails. Modern harps are often played with the pads of the fingers. Eight fingers are used, as the pinkie fingers are not strong enough to strum the strings. With practice, many people can produce a very good sound on their harps after just a few lessons.

The harp is an impressive instrument that has been enjoyed throughout Irish history. And its status as a symbol linked to the Irish people's struggle for independence no doubt played a role in its declaration as an official symbol of Ireland. 

Did you know the Celtic cross is a symbol widely associated with Ireland?

Many may not know the unique history and debate surrounding this unique and instantly recognizable symbol.

The Celtic cross combines a cross with a circle surrounding its intersection, but other than that description, little can be confirmed about the origins of this symbol that some historians believe can be traced back to ancient paganism.

Historical revisionist author and researcher Crichton E.M. Miller theorizes that the cross had more practical purposes than those subscribed to it today, serving as a navigational device used by ancient explorers and builders.

One popular, though highly unlikely, theory regarding the origins of the Celtic cross is that it was introduced by St. Patrick, Ireland's patron saint. This theory states that St. Patrick, or possibly St. Declan, combined the cross, which is the foremost symbol of Christianity, with the sun cross, a circular symbol traced to prehistoric cultures, in an attempt to illustrate the importance of the cross to the pagans he was attempting to convert.

The shape achieved its greatest popularity by its use in the monumental stone high crosses. It is not clear where the first high crosses originated. The first examples date to the about the 9th century and occur in two groups: at Ahenny in Ireland, and at Iona, an Irish monastery off the Scottish coast. A variety of crosses bear inscriptions in ogham: an early medieval Irish alphabet. 

Though the exact origins of the Celtic cross and its meaning will likely never be known, there is no denying its endurance as a symbol and its ongoing association with Ireland. 

(source:  Wikipedia)

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