Blue Topaz - December’s Icy Birthstone

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on December 07, 2017

Blue Topaz - December’s Icy Birthstone

With the winter season comes ice and snow. The beautiful golds and muted browns of fall are gone now, and in their place, the blue of the sky is reflected on frozen ponds. This icy color is reminiscent of this month’s birthstone, the blue topaz.

 

Celtic Knot Birthstone Pendant - December


The name ‘Topaz’ comes from Topazios, which is the name given by the ancient Greeks to St. John’s Island in the Red Sea. Yellow gems were mined on this island but in all likelihood, they were not topaz. However, the name soon became applied to all yellow gems. Topaz is mentioned in the King James Bible as well as in ancient Greek texts, but it’s not at all certain that these texts actually referred to true topaz or to other yellow gems.

Topaz, in its pure state, is actually colorless. Like so many other birthstones, it’s the presence of impurities in the stone that give it color and life. Topaz ranges from a brownish orange to a yellowish color, with the most sought-after color being imperial topaz, which is a vibrant orange with undertones of pink.

Although blue topaz has become increasingly available, it’s rarely found in nature and is usually produced by radiation treatment of common colorless topaz. A light blue variety of topaz is found in Texas, and although it is not commercially mined, the blue topaz became an official gemstone of Texas in 1969. Utah has also honored blue topaz as its state gemstone.

Most topaz comes from South America, with Brazil the largest producer. The stone is also mined in Nigeria, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, Germany, and Mexico. Topaz is also found in the United States, mostly in New Hampshire, Utah, and California.

Russia was a leading producer in the 19th century and a pinkish orange topaz was mined in the country’s Ural Mountains. This topaz was given the name ‘Imperial topaz’ in honor of the Russian czar and not surprisingly, only members of the royal household were allowed to possess it. In 1740 what was originally thought to be the largest diamond ever found, at 1,640 carats, was found in Brazil and eventually set in the Portuguese crown. The stone is now believed to be, not a diamond, but a colorless topaz.

Topaz is relatively hard compared to other gemstones, with only diamonds, corundum, and chrysoberyl being harder. Although it’s a hard stone, there is a peculiarity in its cleavage that makes it subject to chipping or cracking if it is not cut correctly.

Topaz has a long association with healing powers. African shamans employed it in their rituals, using it for healing. The Hindus believed topaz to be sacred and thought wearing a topaz pendant would bring both longevity as well as wisdom to the wearer. In the European Renaissance, many people thought topaz could calm anger and break spells, cure madness and dispel nightmares. Another popular association, most likely because of the stone’s golden color, was to wealth, with many people believing it had the mystical power to attract gold. Blue topaz is a stone that evokes peacefulness as it soothes, aligns and heals.

Besides being the December birthstone, topaz is given as a gift on the fourth and nineteenth marriage anniversaries, as the stone has often been seen as a symbol of love and affection. Nothing will cheer her this winter like a beautiful sterling silver Irish Claddagh ring with a blue topaz stone set as the heart. Matched with these gorgeous Claddagh earrings with simulated blue topaz stones and this Claddagh pendant with a simulated blue topaz stone set as the heart, this is a gift that will melt the thickest winter ice!

Mo Anam Cara - The Meaning and History of Soul Friend

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on December 04, 2017

Mo Anam Cara - The Meaning and History of Soul Friend

In 1997, Irish writer, poet, and former Catholic priest John O’Donohue burst onto the international literary scene with his first published work, Anam Cara. The book quickly became an international bestseller and brought the Gaelic phrase ‘Mo Anam Cara’ into popular culture.

 

 Many people believe that the phrase is translated ‘my soul mate’ but it’s more accurately translated as ‘my soul friend’ as anam is the Gaelic word for soul and cara the Gaelic word for friend. O’Donohue attributes the term to the ancient Irish monks, who used anam cara to refer to a monk’s spiritual guide, teacher and companion. Other scholars believe the term is older than that and may actually go back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers and whose teachings were preserved and transmitted by the Christian monk, Saint John Cassian and whose works are celebrated by both Western and Eastern Christianity.

Men's Mo Anam Cara Wedding Band Ring 

 

The early Celtic church was completely independent from Rome and thrived in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Northern England, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man from the 5th through the 12th centuries. And although eventually, the concept of ‘soul friend’ came to be associated with Roman Catholic priests, these early Celtic Christians opened the role to both women and men, lay and clergy.

 Large Gold Mo Anam Cara Heart Pendant Necklace

 

Today, the words ‘anam cara’ evoke more than someone who is a spiritual guide. In O’Donohue’s words, the term has come to mean a deep and special friendship, one that cannot be broken or wounded or limited by distance, as these two individuals have been united at the level of the soul. Your anam cara is someone to whom you can reveal yourself as you truly are, without any pretense. And as O’Donohue emphasizes, this soul level love is “anything but sentimental...it is the most real and creative form of human presence.”

 Oxidized Women's Mo Anam Cara Wedding Band Ring

 

And soul friends may or may not be our husbands, wives or lovers but may simply be a friend of the same or opposite sex to whom we feel a deep, profound and lifelong connection. But being someone’s anam cara is more than ‘simply’ being someone’s friend. As Maria Popova, who in 2015 explored the concept of the anam cara in her marvelously erudite blog Brainpickings had this to say on what it takes to submit oneself to this role:

Mo Anam Cara Ogham Bracelet 

 

“But being an anam cara requires of a purposeful presence — it asks that we show up with the absolute integrity of intention. That interior intentionality, O’Donohue suggests, is what sets the true anam cara apart from the acquaintance or the casual friend — a distinction all the more important today, in a culture where we throw the word “friend” around all too hastily, designating little more than perfunctory affiliation. But this faculty of showing up must be an active presence rather than a mere abstraction — the person who declares herself a friend but shirks when the other’s soul most needs seeing is not an anam cara.”

 

Mo Anam Cara Two Tone Pendant Necklace

 

There is no better way to honor your anam cara than with this unique Celtic sterling silver and 18k gold pendant showcases that Irish phrase in the ancient Ogham script, crafted in Dublin, Ireland by true artisans. The front of the pendant showcases the Mo Anam Cara symbol in 18K gold script with the words ‘Mo Anam Cara’ inscribed on the back. Or you might prefer this beautiful sterling silver Ogham bangle, with the Gaeilc text Anam Cara as well as the Ogham script for the same term.

Mo Anam Cara Heart with gold bead

 

 

And if you are fortunate enough to be marrying your anam cara, there is no better gift for him than this stunning florentine finished men's gold Mo Anam Cara wedding band. Or for her, this gorgeous women’s Mo Anam Cara silver wedding band in an oxidized finish.

 

I’ll leave you with this poem from John O’Donohue:

 

May you be blessed with good friends.

May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.

May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love,

warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.

May this change you.

May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.

May you be brought into the real passion, kinship. and affinity of belonging.

May you treasure your friends.

May you be good to them and may you be there for them;

May they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth,

and light that you need for your journey.

May you never be isolated.

May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam cara.

 

John O'Donohue

A Friendship Blessing, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stone-Set Celtic Warrior Pendants

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on August 05, 2017

Stone-Set Celtic Warrior Pendants

A wonderful new addition to the traditional Celtic Warrior pendant line is these beautiful stone-set Celtic Warrior pendants.  The are three different CZ stones available as the pendant shield - Swiss Blue CZ, Emerald CZ, or Amethyst CZ.  The shield stone is surrounded by smaller, clear CZ stones for a truly stunning presentation.

Celtic warrior pendant with purple amethyst CZ stone

This stunning pendant is presented in sterling silver and measures 20mm (0.79") in width.  Of course, the chain is included, and is a wonderful spiga design, measuring 18" in length, and crafted from sterling silver.

Celtic warrior pendant with green emerald cz stone

This beautiful Irish jewelry line is inspired by the Ardagh Chalice - one of Ireland's most treasured artifacts.  It was unearthed by two boys digging in a field and is now housed at the National Museum of Ireland.  Each piece is hallmarked at Dublin Castle's Assay Office.  The Irish hallmark is undisputed worldwide as a symbol of quality.

Phoenix Park - The Pride of Dublin

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on July 09, 2017

Phoenix Park - The Pride of Dublin

Dublin’s beloved Phoenix Park is one of the largest city parks in all of Europe, encompassing some 1,720 acres. The sprawling park, which turned 350 years old in 2012, was begun under the reign of Charles II as a royal deer park. Actually, the park was larger originally, as it reached across the Liffey River to the south, but was reduced in size when the Kilmainham Royal Hospital was built. I have a particular affinity for this magnificent park, as my husband’s grandmother once lived right across the street from this landmark.


The history of this parcel of land is fascinating and goes back much further than the reign of royalty. Archaeologists estimate that a community of Neolithic peoples lived some 5,500 years ago at the southern edge of the park on an elevated strip of land that lies between Knockmaroon and Islandbridge.


There is a Neolithic burial ground within the park boundaries as well, located west of St. Mary’s Hospital. Remains of three males, along with shell, bone and flint artifacts, were found interred there as well as four urns containing human ashes from the later Bronze Age.

In addition, Forty Viking graves have been found within the park, the largest Viking cemetery outside Scandinavia and include the skeleton of a woman who was buried with a pair of brooches made of bronze.

 


Phoenix Park is a showcase for both plant and animal biodiversity. A wide variety of deciduous trees such as ash and oak, sycamore and horse chestnut make up about a third of all the tree species in the park. A full 50 percent of all mammal species found in Ireland and 40 percent of all birds in Ireland are found in the park. Underscoring the public’s fascination with the Park’s natural beauty, nearly 1 million visitors a year enter the gates of the Dublin Zoo, located within the park.


In 1840, the Victorian People’s Flower Gardens were built, originally as a Promenade Grounds. The Flower Gardens encompass 22 acres and include picnic areas, a children’s playground, a large lake and of course, ever changing beds of beautiful flowers which showcase stunning Victorian era horticulture.


There are numerous monuments and buildings within the park and many of these structures were designed by famous well known architects, including Edward Lovett Pearce who designed the old Parliament building which is now the Bank of Ireland. Ashtown Castle, build in the 1430’s as a tower and later rebuilt with stone, is the oldest building in the park. One of the best known of the Park’s structures is the massive 116 foot Papal Cross erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, when one and a quarter million people, including my future husband and his family, came to the park to hear Pope John deliver his sermon.

 


The southeast section of the park is the location of the Magazine Fort, originally the site of the Phoenix Lodge, built in 1611 by Sir Edward Fisher. Later, in 1734 when the Duke of Dorset ordered a powder magazine to be constructed for the city of Dublin, the Lodge was dismantled. In 1801 an additional wing was constructed to house troops.


Phoenix Park has a darker history as well. There have been several murders within its boundaries, including the infamous Phoenix Park Murders of May 6, 1822 when Lord Frederick Cavendish, the personal secretary to Prime Minister Gladstone, was stabbed on the very day he took up his new position as Chief Secretary for Ireland, along with Thomas Henry Burke, Ireland’s most senior civil servant. In 1982, the brutal murder of a young nurse named Bridie Gargan as she lay sunbathing in the park, led to national outrage after it was discovered that the murderer, Malcolm MacArthur, was hiding in the home of a former attorney general. Today Park Constables patrol the grounds and the police force of Ireland, the Garda Síochána, has its headquarters in the park.


As large as this park is, there is really no way to see it all in a day. In addition to the Dublin Zoo, the Victorian Gardens, the Papal Cross and other monuments, there are playgrounds, Segway tours, ice cream kiosks, the famous Victorian tea rooms and the Phoenix Cafe. The Cafe has been voted one of the top ten independent cafes in Ireland and is well known for its scones, specialty teas, coffee, lattés and cappucinos. The Cafe offers a variety of freshly cooked soups, salads and homemade cakes as well as quiche. Diners enjoy a beautiful setting surrounded by lush trees and there is an outdoor dining terrace as well.


In planning a trip to Ireland, especially if you visit Dublin, the Phoenix Park should be first on your ‘must get there’ list of places to visit. You will soon see why the Phoenix is one of my very favorite places in all of the Emerald Isle.

Alexandrite - June’s Color Changing Birthstone

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on July 08, 2017

June Claddagh Birthstone Pendant Alexandrite Birthstone

Alexandrite, the beautiful June birthstone often described as ‘emerald by day, ruby by night, is named in honor of Russian Czar Alexander II. Legend has it that the future Czar came of age on the same day in 1834 that Alexandrite was discovered in the emerald mines of Russia’s Ural Mountains. Adding to its rich history, the stone’s rich red and green tones were a match for Russia’s military colors and alexandrite was shortly crowned the official gemstone of the Russian Czars.

The astute observational powers of the French mineralogist Nils Gustaf Nordenskiöld who discovered the jewel are responsible for determining that indeed this was not an emerald but a unique gemstone. Only one of three birthstones that can change color (the others being garnet and sapphire) alexandrite is bluish green in natural daylight but under incandescent light appears purplish red. The reason this stone has the ability to change color under differing light conditions is due to the presence of trace amounts of chromium in its makeup. This color change phenomenon is known as the ‘alexandrite effect.’


The presence of chromium perhaps doesn’t seem so surprising since alexandrite was originally discovered in the emerald mines of Russia and emeralds also have trace amounts of chromium. But actually, it’s very unlikely these two elements would combine under just the right conditions to form this gorgeous gem. This makes alexandrite very, very rare, and equally precious.


Although the most vibrant, beautiful and expensive alexandrite originated in the now exhausted mines in Russia, today most stones come from Brazil, Sri Lanka and East Africa. Even diamonds and rubies, popularly considered to be the world’s most expensive gemstones, pale beside the value of the rare and beautiful alexandrite. Because of its rarity and expense, there is a market for synthetic alexandrite. Synthetic alexandrite stones grown in a lab exhibit the same chemical and physical properties as natural alexandrite, the only difference being the stone was made in the laboratory, not in the earth.


Most large alexandrite gemstones are found in old period jewelry belonging to museums and private collectors, as current large stones are extremely rare. Some English Victorian pieces feature relatively large alexandrite stones, but it is the antique Russian jewelry designs that have the largest specimens. The largest cut alexandrite stone is housed in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and is 66 karats. In fact, any alexandrite stone over 3 karats is quite rare and most cut gems weigh less than one karat.


Alexandrite is a durable, hard stone and can be worn daily without worry, but it’s still important to care for this beautiful gemstone properly. Your alexandrite jewelry can be easily cleaned by using mild soap and warm water and can be wiped down using a soft cloth or soft-bristled brush. As always, when caring for fine jewelry, avoid any strong, harsh chemical cleaners and never use bleach. After cleaning, be certain to rinse the piece well to get off any remaining soapy residue. Keep in mind that alexandrites are much harder than many other gemstones and can scratch other softer stones such as spinel, quartz, and tourmaline. Be sure to wrap your alexandrite jewelry pieces in a soft cloth and store them separately from your other jewelry.


In addition to being the June birthstone, alexandrite is the official gem for 55th wedding anniversaries. Good quality alexandrite has clarity and few inclusions, although occasionally needle-like inclusions can create a cat’s eye. Alexandrite is a member of the chrysoberyl family, which not surprisingly, includes two of the most important gem varieties in the world, alexandrite and chrysoberyl cat's eye. So it’s interesting that alexandrite can exhibit two unusual properties in one stone: color change under differing light conditions and the cat’s eye effect from inclusions.

 


The mythology surrounding alexandrite is quite fascinating as the stone is associated with discipline and self-control. It is said that the wearer of alexandrite will strive for excellence and is thought to bring peace of mind and clarity of thinking as well. Russian legend says that the owner of an alexandrite gemstone will possess good luck, good fortune and love and is believed to be a bridge between the physical and spiritual world. Alexandrite’s purported qualities include strong healing energies and are associated with the crown chakra.


Alexandrite has a fascinating history and a piece of jewelry featuring this intriguing stone would make a fine gift for anyone on your list, including those celebrating June birthdays, 55th wedding anniversaries or for anyone who needs a little clarity of thinking as well! A beautiful Irish claddagh ring, in either silver or gold, and set with an alexandrite stone or a lovely claddagh pendant with matching earrings makes a fine gift for a loved one or even for yourself!

Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, County Wicklow, Ireland

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on April 11, 2017

Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, County Wicklow, Ireland

Last spring, my husband and I traveled once again to the beautiful Powerscourt Estate and Gardens in County Wicklow, Ireland. As many times as I have been there (and I’ve visited a lot!), I never tire of stepping onto the grounds of this gorgeous country estate.


I love the ‘house’ if you can even use that term. The building is actually a medieval castle that was made over into a grand mansion by the 1st Viscount of Powerscourt. And the gardens...so stunning! Anytime I’m missing Ireland’s beauty, which seems to happen more and more, I take out my travel journal and read the entries I’ve written.


Here are a few excerpts from our last time at Powerscourt:


This morning, we drove from Dublin out to the Powerscourt Estate. As usual, we stayed off the M11 and just took our time, weaving our way through the winding roads, over cobbled streets and passing by numerous pubs of course! The green spring Irish landscape surrounding the little towns was breathtaking as usual and I never get tired of taking it all in. Even though the drive from Dublin to Powerscourt only takes a half hour, of course we had to stop along the way to look at interesting shops and just admire the landscape.


We arrived at Powerscourt around lunch time and as usual, Mark was famished. I was a bit disappointed to find that Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant that was located here is now closed, as my husband and I had really been looking forward to having dinner there. For lunch, we decided to go to the Avoca Terrace Café. The place was packed as usual but because it’s informal buffet style, we really didn’t have to wait long at all. The weather was simply perfect, and we couldn’t resist stepping through the tall French doors and sitting in the warm spring sunshine on the terrace with its simply splendid views of the surrounding green countryside and distant Sugarloaf mountain. So lucky to find an empty table this time, especially since the weather was so nice.


I love a good Caesar salad, so I had the Avocas Cajun Chicken salad and Mark had the Sweet Chili Salmon on a bed of Asian noodles. The fish was perfectly cooked and fortunately, he was in the mood to let me have a taste! We ordered a bottle of the Elderflower with Raspberry Juice to share. The juice is wonderful, but I have to admit I couldn’t resist the look of the clear glass bottle with its elegant D.P. Connolly & Sons, Merchant Family label.


The desserts are displayed in a shiny curved glass case that makes them irresistible, so I had the lemon tart and Mark chose the double chocolate cheesecake (how could you go wrong with that!) We finished our meal off with two steaming cups of freshly brewed coffee with cream which perfectly set off the rich sweetness of our desserts.

After lunch, we headed toward the shops located in the mansion itself. Naturally, Mark and I couldn’t stay away from going upstairs to the Design Loft, with its Irish designed jewelry and crafts, all showcasing local designers and artisans. Then we headed back downstairs to the Avoca store to drool over all the locally sourced jams,  homemade bread and made from scratch cakes. By this time and after all that food, we decided we definitely needed a walk outside. The Powerscourt Gardens have to be experienced to be believed and I love coming here in all seasons, but especially spring.

Powerscourt

I think what I love most about the Gardens is the variety. There is almost too much to see and every time I come here I can never decide which of the gardens to see first or which one is my favorite. There’s the Italian garden with its terraces and the lake, partially covered in water lilies floating on the surface. I love the Japanese garden too, with its stone lanterns and central pagoda. And there are more gardens as well, the Walled Garden and the Dolphin Pond, as well as terraces and statues.


But today we decided to go to the left side of the lake and take the shaded path to the Tower Valley and Wicklow Gardens, where the Pepper Pot Tower is located. Turns out that the eighth Viscount, who was the Chief Scout of Ireland, built this tower in 1911 based on the shape of one of his small pepper pots, which sat on his dining room table! We climbed the winding steps to the top and as always I was amazed at the lovely view of the main House and the Gardens. There were very few visitors today and Mark and I had the top of the Tower all to ourselves for quite awhile. Mark loves the cannons guarding the top of the tower. Standing there on the flat stones, I felt like I was an Irish Queen surveying my green ancestral lands below.


I love animals, so I never visit Powerscourt without stopping by the Pets Cemetery where the beloved pets of the Wingfield and Slazenger families who once owned the estate are buried. The pets include dogs, cats, horses and even cows! Today we stopped by one of my very favorite stones, which marks the resting place of Tommy the Shetland pony who died in 1936 at age 32. Engraved below Tommy’s details are the words “also his wife, Magic died 1926.” There is something sweet and sad and at the same time lovely and comforting in remembering the Shetland pony who was apparently devoted to his female companion Magic.

Powerscourt tower
We thought about driving out to see the waterfall but decided not to do that today, as it’s nearly a four-mile drive. The waterfall, set at the base of the Wicklow Mountains, is magnificent though and I remember the first time I saw it many years ago. The falls are the highest in all of Ireland at 398 feet and the drive there is lovely, through flat peat fields with mountain views with the road eventually meandering through beech and oak as well as pine, larch and other trees planted some 200 years ago. The cascading water spreads out over the side of the mountain and comes down in a wide stream, resembling a shimmering, living bridal veil. Our children have always loved visiting the falls, as the park has a playground and in the summer they can even get hot dogs and ice cream from a small stand on the grounds.


After a full day we were in the mood for some really great food, so we headed to the Sika Restaurant in the Powerscourt Hotel. We stepped into McGills Pub at the hotel for a cocktail before dinner. I love the warmth and ambiance of the place. I smile every time I think about what is written on the cover of their drinks menu: McGills Pub - Slingers, Slammers and Cocktails with Manners. I ordered my favorite, their Blueberry Mojito made with Bacardi Gold, fresh mint, a dash of soda and of course, fresh blueberries. Mark had a Smoked Old Fashioned made with light Bulliet Bourbon, maple syrup, angostura and orange bitters and sugar syrup.

 

Then on to the Sika for dinner. I was so let down when I found out Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at Powerscourt had closed before I had a chance to try it, but we had heard good things about Sika as well, and we were not disappointed. The Sika Restaurant is named after Ireland’s sika deer, introduced into the country by Lord Powerscourt in 1868. Apparently, today the Irish deer is a cross between the Japanese Sika and the Irish native red deer.


Sika’s dining room was warm and inviting, the staff friendly and welcoming and I liked Sika the moment we walked in. We started with an appetizer of chicken liver pate spread on toasted brioche with a savory fig chutney. I had the roast cod, with parsnip puree, smoked bacon, pearl onions and chanterelle mushrooms. Mark chose the 8-ounce sirloin, with roasted carrots, mushrooms and watercress and served with a Bearnaise sauce. After the main course, we indulged in dessert; a warm apple fondant topped with toasted almond ice cream followed by cups of rich brewed coffee with cream.


Normally we stay at the Powerscourt Hotel, but because we were visiting friends in Dublin and were driving back there after dinner, neither of us had any more alcohol. I adore the lovely crescent sweep of the hotel, with its stunning views of Sugar Loaf Mountain across the valley and its Palladian-style architecture. The spacious rooms are richly appointed befitting its five-star status.


After dinner, as we walked to the car for the drive back to our friends’ house in Dublin, I thought to myself that life couldn’t get much better. The night was cool and the stars sparkled overhead. Powerscourt Estate and Gardens, as well as the whole of Ireland, has my heart. Can’t wait to get back here!

Red Garnet – January’s Birthstone

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on April 09, 2017

Red Garnet – January’s Birthstone

Although the origin of the birthstone goes back thousands of years and is shrouded in mystery, birthstones are thought to originate from the stones set into the breastplate of Aaron, the high priest at the time of Moses, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel. And Noah was said to have used a glowing garnet lantern to guide the ark in the dark of night.

 

While these stories are intriguing, our modern birthstone designations were adopted in 1912 by the American National Association of Jewelers, with the exception of tanzanite, later added to December.

 

There are many myths and stories about the healing power of birthstones. For example, a birthstone’s healing power is amplified for those born in the month matched with the birthstone and is strongest in the actual calendar month corresponding to the stone.

 

Regardless of your belief in the healing power of birthstones, there is something undeniably beguiling about wearing a piece of beautiful gemstone jewelry, especially when that stone is associated with the month of your birth. Although each birthstone is exceptional, the garnet, January’s birthstone, is universally admired, not only for its exceptional beauty, but also for its many practical uses.

 

Most people think of a red gemstone when they see the word garnet, but garnet is actually found in many vibrant colors, including green, orange and pink. Garnet’s industrial uses are many and include applications in industrial cutting, abrading and filtration.

 

While all of the various colors of garnet are beautiful, it is the deep red garnet that is most universally cherished as January’s birthstone. After all, the word ‘garnet’ comes from the Latin word for pomegranate with its red, jewel-like seeds. Long considered a symbol of love and friendship, the red garnet was often exchanged between friends in the hope and expectation they would soon meet again.

 

In the Irish Celtic tradition, there is a lovely term called Anam Cara, Gaelic for ‘soul friend’ and meant to convey the deep enduring bond that forms between two souls who have come to completely trust each other. There is perhaps no more beautiful expression of this affection than a sterling silver Irish Claddagh ring with a rich, ruby red garnet set as the heart.

 

Of course, the deep red garnet looks simply stunning in other Claddagh birthstone jewelry settings as well, including pendants and earrings as well as rings.  The red garnet not only makes a memorable January birthday gift for a loved one (or even yourself!) but is also perfect to commemorate a couple’s second wedding anniversary or to celebrate a new or enduring friendship.

St. Patrick’s Day Celebration - The American Way or the Irish Way?

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on April 09, 2017

St Patrick's Day Parade

If you are of Irish heritage and living in America, you’re in good company! There are some 35 million Americans who are of Irish descent or who have some Irish blood running through their veins. And of course, like any good Irish man or woman living in the U.S., you’ll likely be celebrating St. Patrick by wearing plenty of green, enjoying a hearty meal of corned beef and cabbage and perhaps even attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Plus, if you are Irish or not, many Americans celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by visiting their favorite Irish pub and downing a few pints of Guinness or other Irish beer.


But what about the Irish who reside on the Emerald Isle? How did they traditionally celebrate and how do they celebrate today? In honor of this most Irish of all holidays, I thought it would be fun to look at the history of St. Patrick’s Day and to compare how the Irish in Ireland and in America celebrate this day. But first, let’s go back to the beginning and find out how St. Patrick’s Day originated.


St. Patrick’s Day or the Feast of St. Patrick is observed on March 17th and is both a cultural and a religious celebration honoring Patrick, the major patron saint of Ireland. March 17th is the traditional death date of St. Patrick and the holiday is known in the Irish language as Lá Fhéile Pádraig or ‘the Day of the Festival of Patrick.’


You may not know this, but Patrick was not born Irish! Perhaps this is why so many people identify with his holiday, even if they don’t have any proper Irish heritage to claim. Patrick was actually the son of a Roman soldier who lived with his family in Roman England. His Romanized name was Patricius, but he later became known as Patrick. When he was a boy of 16, Patrick was captured by pirates in south Wales and sold into slavery in Ireland, where he was imprisoned for six long years.

Saint Patrick image


One day, he managed to escape and he got away to Britain and then to France, where he joined a monastery and studied for twelve years under the tutelage of St. Germain who was the bishop of Auxerre. Finally, Patrick became a bishop himself and as a bishop, he had a life-changing dream. One fateful night, he dreamed the Irish people were calling to him begging him to return to Ireland and to tell them about God.


He received the Pope’s blessing and set out for the land in which he had been imprisoned. He was very successful at winning the Irish people’s hearts for God and converting them from paganism. He was an active preacher and traveled throughout Ireland, even converting some among the Irish royal families. Of course, this did not sit well with many, especially the Celtic Druids and Patrick was arrested several times. Every time, he managed to escape and he made his way all through Ireland for twenty years, setting up numerous monasteries, schools and churches.

Some of Patrick’s writings survive including his Confession, several letters and most notably, the Lorica or Deer’s Cry also known as the ‘Breastplate’ a famous hymn which is also used as a prayer but which may have been written at a later period.


By the 7th century, Patrick’s exploits had become the stuff of legend and those legends, all with a core of truth, continued to expand. For example, Patrick placed a strong emphasis on the Holy Trinity, and it is said he used the three-leaved shamrock to illustrate the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

 


Another legend has it that Patrick put God’s curse on all the venomous snakes of Ireland and drove them into the sea. Indeed, except for zoos, there are no venomous snakes in Ireland. In fact, there are no snakes at all in Ireland, although scientists believe this had more to do with the timing of ancient geological events than with St. Patrick.


After twenty years of service to his adopted Ireland, Patrick died on March 17th, AD 461 and March 17th became his Feast Day, which was originally a Catholic holy day set to both honor Patrick and to celebrate the baptization of Ireland by this remarkable man who was a former slave and prisoner.


Gradually, especially in America, this religious Feast Day has evolved into a more secular celebration with parades, green beer and partying. But for the Irish who remain in Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has remained a much more sober observance than that of their American counterparts.


Traditionally, pubs were closed in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day and the holy day began for most people with a visit to church. The Irish held to the ‘pubs closed on St. Patrick’s Day’ rule for a long time with pubs in Ireland finally allowed to open on St. Patrick’s Day in the late 1970’s. But you would be hard pressed to find much green beer in Ireland as the Irish leave that to the Irish pubs in the U.S. and Canada.

Irish Pub
In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day begins for most Irish who are practicing Christians with a visit to church, as it is a Catholic Holy Day of Obligation. Some sixty Roman Catholic and Anglican churches and cathedrals in Ireland bear St. Patrick’s name. Instead of wearing all green, many Irish will wear a small bunch of shamrocks pinned over their right breast. After church, a meal of meat and vegetables with roast and mashed potatoes is generally served. And no, corned beef and cabbage are not on the menu! This tradition got started in America by poor immigrants who substituted the cheaper bacon and cabbage for the traditional meat and potatoes of their homeland.


Although St. Patrick’s Day parades were never a part of Irish celebrations in the homeland, their popularity eventually spread from the U.S. back to Ireland. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in New York City in 1766 and it was many years later in 1995 when the city of Dublin adopted the practice to encourage tourism! The Dublin celebration has become a five-day St. Patrick’s festival featuring many events such as plays, concerts and art exhibits as well as a parade.


In the United States, the St. Patrick’s Day fun and festivities get underway, sometimes many days before the actual holiday, especially in cities where there are a large number of Irish immigrants such as New York City, Boston and Savannah, Georgia. The good people of Savannah take their Irish heritage seriously and the city’s official St. Patrick’s Day parade committee page even sports a countdown timer to the next parade!


Celebrations in Savannah include a greening of the fountain in beautiful Forsyth Park a week before the actual holiday, as well as a parade on Tybee Island, twenty minutes outside of the city proper. The Sunday before the holiday, a Celtic Cross Mass is observed and another Mass on the Feast Day itself, followed by the main parade through the streets of Savannah, rain or shine! Savannah’s parade is the third largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States.


A St. Patrick’s Day Festival on River Street as well as City Market gets underway in the three days surrounding the actual holiday with restaurants and bars, beer and food vendors lining the cobblestoned passageways with samples of green goodness to consume. By evening, the streets are filled with happy celebrants enjoying Irish music from multiple stages beginning early in the day and continuing all night. If you would like to get a taste of Irish music and you can’t make it to Savannah this year, the Irish and Celtic Music Podcast is featuring a special episode in honor of St. Patrick, with special highlights of the Best Celtic Music of 2016.


If you want to bring some real Irish cooking to your table this St. Patrick’s Day, try this recipe from Epicurious for Bacon and Cabbage Soup. Their recipe was adapted from chef Paul Flynn of The Tannery in Dungarvan, Ireland. You will need:


1 (1/3-pound) piece Irish bacon (available at specialty foods shops) or Canadian bacon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold butter from Ireland!)

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into a 1/2-inch dice

5 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

4 bay leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 small head Savoy cabbage, cored, thinly sliced, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces


Just follow these simple instructions to make this creamy, delicious Irish-inspired meal for your family.


And however you choose to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day...with a visit to a church, a hearty Irish meal, listening to some great Irish music or indulging in a Guinness or a fine Irish whiskey, I’m sure Patrick would approve! Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Erin go Bragh!

Irish Quote

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on February 07, 2017

 

 Some cause happiness wherever they go: other whenever they go.  ~ Oscar Wilde

Friendship Irish Quote

By Julie O'Shaughnessy
on September 24, 2016

May your home always be too small to hold all of your friends.

 

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