Great Celtic Gifts to the World, List #1
Updated: Jan 25
During the recent holidays, as I was delighting in a piece of shortbread, I got to thinking about some of the great things Celtic culture and Celtic people have given to the rest of the world. Shortbread is an obvious one, but others may surprise you. For example? You got to read the list below to find out. As the title indicates, this is just a first list. There could be many more. After all, people native to Celtic lands didn’t just stop being creative after the first thousand or so years. They’ve continued making significant contributions to the enjoyment and / or betterment of humankind. Check out my post “Great Scot! 14 Commonly Used Scottish Inventions” to discover the surprising ways Scots have improved our everyday lives. The list below expands to include gifts to the world from the Irish and the Welsh as well as the Scots. The items are simply a sampling and not in order of preference. Enjoy!
1. Walker’s Shortbread. Of course, the delectable delight that is Scottish shortbread is a gift for the mouth no matter who makes it (as long as they do so properly), but I’m listing Walker’s Shortbread specifically because it makes an authentic taste of this traditional Scottish goodie available to those who can’t bake or who don’t have the time or energy. Shortbread only requires three (possibly four) ingredients, but it does take a bit of time, work, and skill to make. Walker’s is available in grocery stores or online and—most importantly—it tastes like the homemade goodie. This is not true of all packaged goods that are labeled “shortbread.” Walker’s is the real deal, with the correct sandy texture (that’s a good thing even though it doesn’t sound like it) and made with butter, not margarine (or heaven knows what else). So, if you’ve never tried this taste of Scotland or you don’t feel like spending two or three hours making it, just pick up a box of Walker’s. You can read the history of the company, established in 1898 in Speyside, Scotland, by going to their website.
2. Whisky / Whiskey. The Irish and the Scots argue about which one of them invented uisce beatha (Ir.) or uisge-beatha (Scots Gaelic), the waters of life. They also debate how to spell it in English (the Scots omit the e). But some people of Irish or Scottish descent will argue against putting this spirit on this list. Whether you prefer Irish whiskey or Scotch, you know it’s good stuff—taken in moderation. Of course, if you prefer Irish whiskey, you’ll likely be partial to Jameson. Established in 1780 and sold in 130 countries across the world, it’s become one of the most popular whiskeys internationally. But Bushmill’s is fairly popular as well. As they proclaim on their website, “We’re not the best because we’re the oldest, we’re the oldest because we’re the best.”
If you prefer Scotch, there’s an extensive list to choose from, ranging rather drastically both in quality and in price. They also vary in flavor profiles depending on the region of Scotland in which the whisky is made. There are five official regions: the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown. Speyside (yes, the same place where Walker’s shortbread is made) is known for Scotch that is “less peaty,” and ranges in flavor from fruity to spicy. Two popular and respected Scotches—Glenlivet and Glenfiddich—are from Speyside. The most popular Scotch in the world according to https://www.tasteatlas.com/most-popular-spirits-and-liqueurs-in-scotland is Johnnie Walker. This brand itself comes in several varieties and varies in price accordingly.
3. Welsh Lamb. You may think lamb is lamb, but Welsh lamb has a reputation as one of the finest lambs available. It is particularly renowned for its sweet flavor and melting texture. It has been granted PGI status (Protected Geographic Indication) within the EU and Northern Ireland. This label is given for certain food products to certify that they are from the region indicated and, as such, can be expected to deliver the characteristics traditionally associated with that regionally specific food product. This is similar to the restrictions on the use of the labels “champagne” and “cognac.” You might want to enjoy your Welsh lamb with a side of leeks. Although I can’t put this cousin of onion on the list, it seems wrong to leave it off. Leeks, after all, are the national vegetable of Wales.
4. ATMs. Yes, you read that right. If you enjoy the convenience of getting some quick cash from an ATM rather than standing in line at the bank, thank James Goodfellow. In 1966, this wonderful Scotsman invented the first automatic teller machine. Although I remember life before ATMs were an everyday thing, I wouldn’t want to go back to the days when you could only make a withdrawal during banking hours. Would you?
5. Waterford Crystal. Speaking of money, this and the next entry will cost you a pretty penny to buy—or possibly provide you with a chunk of change if you inherit them and (gasp!) choose to sell the heirloom. Should you decide to sell the family Waterford or Belleek (below), however, be sure to do diligent research about the item’s material worth. Make sure to have some smelling salts nearby.
All right. Not every piece of Waterford or Belleek is worth a fortune as a collector’s item. It depends on the individual piece, the date it was made, its rarity, and its condition. Besides, why would you want to sell it? These are pieces of extraordinary craftsmanship and, often, beautiful works of art.
Waterford Crystal, established in 1783 in Waterford, Ireland, is best known for its stemware. But, over time, the company has expanded its range to include vases, centerpieces, chandeliers, gifts, and even paperweights. Its products are known for their high quality and their detailed, intricate designs. The most popular pattern is the Lismore, which has become the world’s best-selling crystal pattern (according to Waterford Crystal’s website). The price of a piece of Waterford can range from 34 euros (approximately $38 US) to over 11,000 euros (nearly 12,000 USD). These beautiful artworks are collectibles and, as mentioned above, can potentially be resold for a considerable profit. But again, why would you want to?
You can buy Waterford products from the company’s website. If you are considering buying from a dealer or an individual, I recommend highly that you check out tips for how to tell if it’s authentic Waterford.
6. Belleek China. As with Waterford above, you’d better do your research before selling the family’s shamrock tea set passed down by your Nana from Ireland. It may look like something the locals sell to tourists. It may also be Belleek China and worth anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Why? Because of the quality of its craftsmanship, its age, and its doggoned collectability. Established in County Fermanagh, Ireland in 1857, the company has gained a reputation for its intricate designs, smooth finish, and high quality. The company claims that its original 1857 rule that “any piece with even the slightest flaw should be destroyed” continues to be followed today.
Belleek, like Waterford, has expanded the range of products it offers. In addition to china and tableware, it offers home accessories, giftware, and delicately woven porcelain baskets.
If you want to know when your family Belleek heirloom was made, see the date marks on the company’s website by clicking here.
7. Aran Sweaters (Jumpers). Aran Sweaters (or jumpers, as the Irish, Scots, and Welsh would call them) have become emblematic of Ireland. They are comfy, warm, and well-made, but they are also so much more. Made by hand in the Aran Islands, each Aran sweater is knitted with a combination of stitches which create an intentional pattern. Each pattern is associated with a specific clan much the same way as tartans are unique to individual Scottish clans. According to the official aran.com website, it can take a knitter two months to complete one sweater as each garment is made from approximately 100,000 stitches. Each type of stitch has its own meaning, making each sweater as much a work of art as a piece of Celtic jewelry or the designs of an illuminated manuscript. Find out more by reading the site’s page “The Story of Aran.”
8. Robbie Burns. The annual celebration of Robbie Burns’ Night is coming up on January 25th. But whether you’re familiar with this festival that honors not only the poet but Scottish food and traditions, the truth is all of us—across the world—would have difficulty ringing in the New Year without the Burns’ contribution: “Auld Lange Syne.” To find out more about him and the delightful tradition that is Robbie Burns’ Night, check out my post here.
9. Arthurian Legend. Whether or not the 5th century person on whom King Arthur is based was Welsh or not, Wales is foundational to the legend. While Le Morte d'Arthur by Thomas Malory often is treated as if it is the canon for the story of Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere, et al, it was written in the 16th century. Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh cleric, chronicled Arthur’s tale in his Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain) about four centuries earlier. He also wrote extensively about Merlin in the poem Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin) and in his earliest work, Prophetiae Merlini (Prophecies of Merlin). Nearly nine centuries later, stories of Arthur and Merlin are still being told—throughout the world.
10. Celtic Music. Do I really need to say more?
So, what would you add to the list? Tell me in the comments.
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Slan go foil!
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