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Delving into Ireland’s traditions around courtship and love can be intriguing. Some of the tokens that were exchanged in the days before cards, flowers and chocolates may surprise you. Ireland’s love symbols have a long history from the pagan worship of fertility goddesses such as Brigid and, in some interpretations, Sheelagh Na Gig.

The Claddagh Ring is probably Ireland’s most famous love symbol. The two hands clasping a heart are a symbol of love and friendship. How you wear the ring is significant. Wearing the ring with the point of the heart pointing outwards indicates that the person is single and perhaps looking for love. Wearing it with the point of the heart towards the body indicates that the person is in a relationship.

St. Valentine’s Day in February was not the only time love tokens could be exchanged in years gone by. Harvest knots were exchanged at the Lunasa harvest festival in August. These marvellously intricate pieces, usually made by men for their sweethearts, were worn as button-holes over the lady’s heart.

A slightly more unusual Irish love token of yore was a hurling ball (sliotar) given to a player by an admirer and made with the young woman’s hair. The ball, used in the traditional Irish sport of hurling, can be made with a variety of materials wrapped in a casing of leather. Modern balls are made with cork and leather. What a romantic gift!

Is there a classic love story hidden in your Irish family history? Explore millions of Irish marriage records and find out.

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