Like many ancient castles, Ireland's Cabra Castle is one rooted in dramatic events involving warfare, and numerous owners. Presently owned by the Corscadden Family, its ruins have been renovated into an 80-bedroom hotel. Ireland is also the birthplace of featured jewelry designer Slim Barrett.
Every country has a unique jewelry history filled with distinctive style aesthetics and jewelry-making techniques.
The Emerald Isle is probably known most for its shamrock clover emblem, which was once used as a symbol of rebellion, and the Claddaggh Ring design that combines the heart, hands, and crown.
According to historians, this symbol of love and friendship is said to be the creation of Irishman Richard Joyce who learned the craft of metalwork while a slave to a North African goldsmith.
Today, Irish jewelry designers, like Bill and Christina Steenson, though respectful of their homeland's traditional style, are interested in modern configurations while still maintaining a sense of the country's heritage.
Barrett's jewelry falls in line with the new wave of Irish jewelry, which I feel encompasses the robust spirit of Ireland. His collections hold many personalities; it is avant-garde, rugged, sweeping, understated, bold, stately, aggressive, feminine, and sexy.
A graduate of Ireland's Regional Technical College in County Galway, Barrett's childhood was not unlike most. He loved roughhousing and playing outdoors, but his creative side enjoyed the lyricism of the poems his father authored. Barrett also loved the intricacy of artwork, how it is born of simple origins becoming something of stunning beauty and complexity.
"Around age eight, I started my artistic adventure, which saw me hopping on a bus every Saturday to go to art classes in Galway city," he recalls. "On the way home I used to visit our local blacksmith and watch him work--all the fire and burning metal was very exciting."
There is a very medieval edge throughout his collections with items like his 18-karat gold Feronia Coronet tiara, from the East of Paris Collection, and his use of muted metals like brass, copper, and bronze.
His Chainmail Collection feature bib necklaces of cascading sterling silver, bronze and crystals, the manner in which the metal drapes over the décolleté is both audacious and subtle in its sensuality.
Pieces from his Ethnic Punk Collection, with bracelets and pendants fashioned from portions of bullet belts are inherently masculine and militaristic in its lack of delicacy, bright colors, or gemstones.
The glass bullet inserts make for a final stroke that is tough and gritty. The primal energy of his oversized pendants, a clutter of brass chains and copper discs, is suggestive of armor, as are his copper disc bikini bra tops.
"I want people to react to what I create. I draw from a deep well of knowledge and culture. Jewelry is body adornment, you have to let your imagination go," he explains. "The mix of classical techniques, conceptual thinking, and the freedom to explore is central for creating the work."
During the course of nearly three decades, Barrett's work garnered an impressive celebrity following that includes Madonna, Janet Jackson, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Cher, Halle Berry, and the then engaged Victoria Adams for whom he created a diamond encrusted tiara for her wedding to David Beckham.
Barrett has collaborated with distinguished fashion houses such as Chanel, Ungaro, Versace, Montana, Lagerfeld, and Galliano.
He is also the recipient of the Martini Rossi Excellence in Design Award, and is the first Irishman to win the DeBeers Diamond's International Award.
Photo 1 (top right): 18-Karat Yellow Gold Aveta Cuff from the Celtic Nouveau Collection
Photo 2 (bottom left): Bronze Chainmail Bib Necklace with Clear Crystal Droplets from the Chainmail Collection