Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research

Celtic Symbols: Their Persistence and Transformation


Kaitlin O'Neill


  • Rob Clifford, Instructor of Anthropology , Irvine Valley College
  • Kay Ryals, Professor of English, Irvine Valley College

Ancient Celtic symbols and traditions have transcended time, distance, and other cultural obstacles to become an integral ingredient in the salad bowl that is American culture. Celtic symbols, such as Celtic knots and triskeles, are frequently used in various forms of modern jewelry, tattoos, and other types of art that, in recent years, have become increasingly common forms of creative expression and integral ways of expressing ethnic and cultural identities. This study seeks to investigate this growing trend’s effects on Americans of Celtic origin as a result of evolving technologies, such as the Internet and DNA testing, that have made it easier to trace one’s ancestry. This study hypothesizes that as Celtic people—defined as people of Irish, Scottish, or Welsh origins—have learned more about their cultural roots, there has been an increased frequency of Celtic-themed art, along with new interpretations of these symbols. To test this hypothesis, an investigation is ongoing (to be completed by the second week in November) that explores not only how Celtic symbols have continued to evolve to fit modern culture, but also the different ways and the reasons why they are still used. The preliminary results of the study have corroborated the hypothesis: most of the designs that Celtic-Americans have chosen and identified with are derivatives of the ancient designs but have been incorporated with modern symbols, such as crosses, hearts, clovers, butterflies, flags, and stars. This trend suggests that Celtic-Americans have been merging classic Celtic symbols with American symbols and Christianized Irish symbols, such as Irish crosses, angels, and Celtic knots, in order to create expressions of their unique and modern identities while also acknowledging their ancient heritage.

Presented by:

Kaitlin O'Neill


Saturday, November 17, 2012


2:00 PM — 2:15 PM


Bell Tower 1302

Presentation Type:

Oral Presentation