Dublin born artist Rachel Arbuckle has always been fascinated by our Celtic heritage. Inspiration found in the intricate knotwork adorning the ancient manuscripts, stone and metalwork, coupled with Rachel's love of a good story, have combined to produce some of the most popular images in contemporary Irish Celtic art. Mythological warriors rub shoulders with ancient historical figures and intertwine with animals, birds and fish rendered in the artist's unique style. Her colours, although modern, emulate the softness of the natural pigments used by the Celts and a discerning eye will recognise shades of both Tuscany, where Rachel currently lives, and the Beara Peninsula, where she thrives on the rugged West Coast of Ireland.
Rachel graduated from Dublin's National College of Art and Design in 1990. In 1991 her first designs were launched onto the Irish market. Today her work is available worldwide, bringing a taste of Ireland to the four corners of the earth.
The Green Man is a motif found in many cultures around the world. The representation of a face surrounded by or made of leaves; it is interpreted primarily as a symbol of rebirth, representing the cycle of growth each spring. Perhaps a fertility God, the beneficent spirit of vegetation or a tree spirit, the Green Man motif was still being built into European churches even after 1000 years of Christianity. Here the artist has depicted the Green Man as the centre of the life cycle of the Oak tree. Oak was a sacred tree for the Celts, thought to have special powers and to serve as the abode of the fairies. In reality the oak tree supports more insect, bird and animal life than any other. The Dagda, the powerful God of Celtic tradition, is likened to the oak, never failing to give hospitality to all who asked for it.
Finn McCool (or Fionn McCumhaill in Irish) is one of the most famous figures in Irish mythology, featuring in many well known legends. As a young boy he acquired the wisdom of the Salmon of Knowledge. As a young man he fell in love with Sadbh, the daughter of the High King of Ireland who had been enchanted into the form of a deer, and later on in life he was betrayed by Gráinne who eloped with Diarmuid before her marriage to Finn. He is also attributed with the construction of the beautiful Giants Causeway in Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland. Legend has it that Finn hurled great rocks into the sea to build a causeway that would enable him to walk to Scotland to fight Benandonner, a Scottish giant that had been taunting him.
The modern English word Yule derives from the Old Norse Jôl, which refers to pagan feasts during the Germanic winter solstice. These would sometimes last twelve days and were later Christianized into Christmas. They involved the giving of gifts, festive meals, decorated trees and colored lights to ward off evil spirits. Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again. Holly was placed over doorways in the belief that it would ward off evil spirits; its berries were also thought to be a food of the gods. Legends refer to the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King at Yule, in which the Holly King won. Huge Yule logs were thrown onto bonfires to honor Thor, the god of thunder. Logs were cut into pieces and offered to each celebrant; they symbolically offered wealth and protection throughout the coming year. There are numerous parallels between the Germanic god Odin and Santa Claus. Odin was said to have led great hunting parties through the sky during Yule. Old Norse poems describe Odin riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances. There are stories of children leaving boots filled with food near their chimneys for Sleipnir to eat; Odin would then reward them with gifts and candy. There are obvious similarities with Santa's sleigh ride, his reindeer and the giving of presents.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRELAND
ONLY AVAILABLE AT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF IRELAND
The National Museum of Ireland comprises four sites, each taking a unique look at Ireland's heritage. The collections span Irish history, from prehistoric to the present day. They enable visitors to appreciate Ireland's rich culture and traditions. The Museums also have displays from other ancient cultures around the world.
The Museum of Archaeology at Kildare Street, Dublin (left) features some of Ireland's most iconic pieces; the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Brooch. The Museum also houses the Prehistoric, Viking Age and Medieval Ireland collections along with ancient Egyptian and Roman artefacts.
The Museum of Decorative Arts & History at Collins Barracks, Dublin (centre bottom) has a major collection of Irish silver, ceramics, glassware, clothing, jewellery, coins and medals. This Museum also has a substantial collection of the work of Eileen Grey. Our Irish Military History exhibition “Soldiers & Chiefs” opened in 2006; this portrays the life of Irish soldiers both at home and abroad since 1550.
The Museum of Natural History at Merrion Street, Dublin (centre top) opened its doors in 1857. It is home to a large variety of animals, many of which are now endangered or extinct. Only a tiny fraction of the two million specimens collected over two centuries are on display.
The Museum of Country Life at Castlebar, Co. Mayo (right) invites visitors to experience traditions of rural life in Ireland during the period 1850-1950. It deals with domestic life, agriculture, fishing, clothing and furniture among many more of our traditional crafts and customs.
THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
1,000, 500 & 150 piece
A stunning interpretation of the classic Christmas song in Rachel’s inimitable style. It was illegal to be a Catholic in England from 1558 to 1829, so this was written as a catechism song to help young Catholics learn the basics of their faith. Since it sounded like rhyming nonsense, Catholics could sing it without fear of imprisonment. The song had hidden meanings; "true love" refers to God and "me" refers to the church. The twelve gifts also had their meanings. On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me twelve drummers drumming (the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles’ Creed), eleven pipers piping (the eleven faithful apostles), ten lords a-leaping (the ten commandments), nine ladies dancing (the nine fruits of the Spirit), eight maids a-milking (the eight beatitudes), seven swans a-swimming (the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments), six geese a-laying (the six days of creation), five golden rings (the first five books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch"), four calling birds (the four Gospels, the four evangelists), three French hens (faith, hope and charity), two turtle doves (the Old and New Testaments) and a partridge in a pear tree (Jesus Christ, symbolically presented as a mother partridge that acts as a decoy to save her helpless chicks from predators).
Maeve was one of the great female figures in Irish legends. She was wealthy, powerful, desirable and a formidable opponent in battle. She was said to have run faster than horses, worn live animals and birds on her shoulders and slept with numerous Irish kings, discarding them as they failed to satisfy her. One morning Maeve was lying in bed with her current husband, Ailill. By Celtic tradition, whichever of the couple brought greater wealth to a union became the ruler of the household. So Ailill and Maeve began comparing their possessions. They matched each other torc for torc and cloak for cloak until finally Ailill mentioned his magical great white bull which used to be in Maeve’s herd, but had defected to Ailill’s side of the fence, considering it unseemly to belong to a woman. The only beast in Ireland to match Ailill’s bull was the Brown Bull of Cooley. Maeve vowed to take possession of the animal, and when her offer to buy it was turned down she gathered her armies and set out to invade Ulster and steal it. The result was the Táin Bó Cuailnge, the Cattle Raid of Cooley, a lengthy battle in which many legendary heroes were slain. In the end Maeve did indeed win her bull, but it and Ailill's bull flung themselves upon each other, tore each other to bits and died, leaving Maeve and Ailill’s wealth equal after all.
A carpet page is a page of pure ornament, looking rather like an oriental carpet, with brilliant colours, active lines and complex patterns. They are commonly found in books in the Insular style, that is, the illuminated Celtic manuscripts produced in Irish and British monasteries from 600 to 900 AD. It has been suggested that the complexity of the ornamentation in carpet pages was believed to confuse evil spirits, thus keeping safe the sacred information contained in the chapters to follow. Some art historians have found ties between Insular carpet pages, Middle Eastern decorative text pages and oriental carpets. In this carpet page by Rachel Arbuckle, the artist has combined the geometric, angular lines of Moorish art with the softer curves and intricate interlacing of the Celts. The central structure of the design is a cross shape which is often found in Insular carpet pages, except in this case the artist has altered the proportions to suggest the four gates of the Tibetan mandala. Dogs, which are used as ornamentation throughout the design, feature extensively in Insular art and appear to have been adapted by Irish and Scottish monastic artists from a style of animal pattern which was found in Germanic art at the time. The result is a contemporary Celtic design which draws on an eclectic mix of styles and cultures, reflecting the possible influences from more exotic climes in Insular art.
1,000, 500 & 150 piece
The image of the peacock can be found in many cultures and traditions. The early Celts looked to the beasts of the earth, sky and sea in an attempt to understand life and believed animals taught them how to live in harmony with Nature itself. The peacock appeared as a symbol of beauty, paradise, rebirth, pride and the incorruptibility of the soul. It also tells the story of the heavens and the rays of the sun. As legend had it, the peacock’s flesh did not putrefy, so the Celts considered it a symbol of the Resurrection and everlasting life. Hence, it is widely used throughout early Christian Celtic manuscripts as a representation of Christ.
ST. BRENDAN THE NAVIGATOR
1,000, 500 & 150 piece
St. Brendan was born in 486 AD and founded a monastery at Clonfert, County Galway. Brendan travelled widely; he was said to have set sail with a handful of monks on a perilous seven-year quest across the Atlantic in a boat of wood and oxhide. En route, legend tells us that they were raised up on the backs of “sea monsters” (whales), they passed by “crystal columns that rose up to the sky” (icebergs) and they were pelted with “flaming, foul-smelling rocks” (from a volcano). Eventually, the intrepid voyagers arrived at a beautiful land they called the "Promised Land of the Saints", an island which became a standard feature on maps for the next millennium. It is widely believed that St. Brendan the Navigator and his monks had in fact arrived in America almost 1,000 years before Christopher Colombus.
1,000, 500 & 150 piece
Patrick, who became the patron saint of Ireland, was born into a Roman ruling family in 390 AD Britain. At the age of 14 he was enslaved by a gang of Irish raiders and spent the next 6 years as a shepherd on a mountain top in County Armagh. A vision of ships persuaded him to escape. He later studied for the priesthood, was made a bishop, and returned to Ireland as a missionary in 432 AD. Many Celtic kings were converted with all of their people. Many legends are told of that time; he banished all snakes (a symbol of evil) from Ireland. The painting uses many other symbols: the shamrock (the Trinity), the harp, peacocks and angels (a calling from God). The conversion of Ireland to Christianity by St. Patrick did not destroy the original culture or cause a single martyrdom; a situation unknown in the rest of Europe.
SIZES OF FINISHED PUZZLES:
piece: 50 x 66.5cm or 19 3/4" x
© M. W. Heasman 1993-2010. All Rights reserved. Patented, Designs Registered & Trade Marks.