Christmas season is in full swing, and that means – along with great food, parties, family gatherings, cold weather, festive decorations and much more – it's time to shop for presents for your nearest and dearest. Whether you have a proud Irish heritage, have left the country for pastures new, or were born, raised and resident here for your whole life, Irish themed gifts are meaningful, patriotic and sometimes even a little bit nostalgic. We've come up with a list of the best gifts from Ireland for you to bring home to your loved ones this Christmas. All you need is some roast turkey, some traditional folk music, and a good Christmas movie to enjoy the perfect Irish Christmas!
We couldn't write a list of the best Irish Christmas gifts without mentioning the Claddagh ring! The ring has been a favourite gift among family, friends and lovers in Ireland for centuries, and it represents all of the best traits of the Irish (not that we're biased!). The design of the ring features a heart held by two hands with a crown on top – the heart symbolises love, the hands friendship and the crown loyalty. Designed by goldsmith Richard Joyce in the late 18th century, it was originally used by the fishermen of Claddagh as a ring of identification, but soon spread all across the country. Don't forget the etiquette of wearing the ring; if the heart points into your body your heart is taken, but if it points outwards, you're still looking for love.
The Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland (near county Galway) are one of the few regions of the country that still includes the old Irish traditions, culture and language as part and parcel of their daily lives. Always isolated from the Irish mainland, one of these traditions unique to the islands is that of the Aran jumper. Made from 100% wool and knitted by the women of the islands for their men to wear when out fishing or working the fields, the natural untreated wool was warm as well as water resistant. They knitted special textured patterns while making the jumper which have certain meanings; a honeycomb for good luck, a cable pattern for successful fishing, and so on. Traditional Aran jumpers are now available all over the country and are great for cold winter evenings.
The Aran jumper's contemporary counterpart in Ireland is the Christmas jumper. This phenomenon of colourful wooly jumpers featuring Santa Claus, reindeers, Christmas trees, snowmen and all manner of other festive images has taken Ireland by storm in recent years and only seems to be getting more popular each time December 25th comes around. From somewhat subtle and tasteful jumpers to all out designs with flashing lights, almost every shop in the country has a plentiful supply. Just make sure you don't end up wearing the same one as every other person you meet on Christmas Eve!
Waterford has a centuries old tradition of manufacturing crystal, dating as far back as 1783 and is always a highly popular gift both for locals and visitors alike. From their factory in Waterford city, Waterford Crystal make exquisite glassware that includes everything from beautiful bowls and vases to smaller items like wine glasses, and even tiny Christmas tree decorations. All pieces are made using traditional mouth blowing techniques and are hand finished. You don't have to make your way down to the south east to buy some though, as it's available all over Ireland and online too.
Although Guinness may be Ireland's most famous alcoholic beverage, whiskey is a much older and arguably a much more prestigious drink. Irish whiskey differs from its Scottish counterpart as it is triple instead of double distilled and peat is not used in the manufacturing process, making for a much smoother and less smokey taste. There are currently seven Irish whiskey distilleries who craft some world famous names including Jameson, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew and Lockes, all of which are aged for at least 3 years in wooden casks before being bottled. A sip of Irish whiskey after a traditional Christmas dinner is a regular occurrence in Irish households.
For the particularly brave, Poitin makes a good alternative to whiskey. This traditional Irish beverage was originally distilled in small pot stills in people's homes using malted barley, sugar beet, whey, or most commonly, potatoes. Usually produced by farmers in rural areas where law enforcement was somewhat lax, it was distilled on land borders to further confuse the issue, and during periods of wet and windy weather so smoke from the fire didn't attract attention. Measuring up to 90% ABV, it's not a drink for the faint hearted – it was even made illegal to produce it without a licence as far back as 1760!
Roses – the chocolate rather than the flower variety – are a classic Irish Christmas gift, and at least one box is found in every Irish home at Christmas time (or any other special occasion for that matter). Made by Cadbury's since 1938, it includes an assortment of different chocolates in different coloured wrappers twisted at the ends – in the early days, boxes also included samplers or embroidery rose designs. Everyone has their favourites, which can often cause arguments after dinner time when the box begins to run low! Last year, Cadbury's modified the range included in the box which almost caused a national outcry. This year, they've rectified the problem by releasing single bags of certain chocolates to keep everyone happy!
Another traditional Christmas gift from Cadbury's is the Selection Box. Usually given to children or included in Christmas stockings, it includes a 'selection' of Cadbury's most popular chocolate bars in a box, usually with a puzzle or drawing to colour on the back. It's a favourite among kids and big kids all over the country, although a change to the line up included doesn't cause as much controversy as it does with Roses. Cadbury's also offer the chance to create your own customised selection box online, so if you're a fan of Crunchies or Curly Wurlys, you can get a whole box of them!
Belleek pottery is made in the town of Belleek in county Fermanagh, who have been crafting this distinctive porcelain pottery since 1884. It was founded by John Caldwell Bloomfield as a means of providing work for his local tenants who had been affected by the potato famine. After discovering that his land was rich in minerals, he partnered up with an expert merchant and architect to set up the pottery business. Their products include tableware, jewellery, sculptures and ornaments, and of course, lots of beautiful Christmas decorations, all with an instantly recognisable style. so they make unique and treasured gifts, whether you're a collector or not.
Hurley and Sliotar
There's no better reminder of Irish culture than the Gaelic Games. Hurling and Gaelic football are avidly watched and enthusiastically played by children and adults alike all over the country, and have been for thousands of years. A hurley and sliotar is the perfect gift for any sports mad Irish person. Hurleys are crafted from wood and have a peculiar shape, somewhat like a flattened and widened hockey stick, while sliotars are extremely hard balls made from cork and covered in leather, slightly larger than a tennis ball and similar in looks to a baseball. They make an excellent introduction to the fastest (and arguably the most dangerous) field sport in the world.
For those who prefer to watch rather than play sports, a GAA jersey is not only a great way to support your local team but a proud display of your love for your local county too. Each of the 32 counties of Ireland has its own GAA jersey, so you can instantly tell where somebody hails from by the jersey they wear – or at least, you can tell which team they support, which is sometimes all you need to know anyway! The most popular teams (and usually the teams that win the most) include Kerry; a green and gold jersey, Kilkenny; a black and gold striped jersey; and of course Dublin, a light and dark blue jersey.
Musicians will love a bodhran as a gift, or any other traditional Irish musical instrument. A bodhran is a handheld percussion instrument that is a staple of any traditional song. Traditionally it consists of goatskin tacked around a circular wooden frame, with a bar to hold on the opposite side. One hand holds the drum in place in an upright position on the player's lap, while the other hand beats it with a double ended wooden stick called a tipper. The pitch and timbre is controlled by beating different areas of the skin. If a bodhran is too bulky to transport, however, other more suitable options may include a tin whistle or fiddle.
Of course, if all else fails, jewellery is always a safe bet for a gift. At Claddagh Design we have a range of jewellery from men inspired by Irish culture. Our range includes pendants, cufflinks, tie pins, tie clips and rings using Celtic designs such as ogham writing, trinity knots, Celtic crosses, and as always, the ever popular Claddagh ring motif. All of our jewellery is hand made with sterling silver at our workshop, sent to Dublin Castle to be hallmarked, polished up and sent in a beautiful wooden display box right to your door.
Our range of ladies' jewellery at Claddagh Design includes bracelets, pendants, rings, and earrings, all with the same designs and materials as above. We can also make custom pieces for you if you have a particular idea in mind that you want to see come to life. Popular ideas from our customers include family crest pieces, custom made wedding rings, or jewellery with meaningful phrases written in Gaelic or Irish. Take a look in our store, or contact us to create the perfect piece for you!