Ireland is the land that boasts 40 shades of green, but we don’t want to wear all 40 shades at once. It’s the emerald isle, but we do have other jewels linked to this land. A bit of variety is always good. Pearl jewelry also makes lovely Irish gifts, and Ireland has in the past produced its own freshwater pearls – although not in large numbers. Pearl fishing, whether it was organized for commercial purposes or done more casually, has never been big business here, perhaps because our native mollusks are not all that inclined to make pearls so the odds of finding one have never been great.
The term ‘freshwater pearls’ is usually used for pearls that created in pearl farms, but Ireland has a native freshwater pearl mussel, margaritifera margaritifera. (No, is not an error – this bivalve’s official name is the same word repeated.) The margaritifera margaritifera is found throughout Ireland; according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, they can be found in more than 130 rivers and several lakes throughout the island of Ireland, but only in small numbers.
While they only occasionally produce pearls, they constantly improve water quality so it isn’t fair to call them lazy. You could say the pearls are more of a hobby for them. But of course, once people realized they produced pearls, it was not a good time to be a mussel in Ireland. Left alone, they live to 100 years of age, but when you are a helpless mollusk containing pearls, you aren’t likely to be left alone without someone to protect you. Ireland’s freshwater pearl mussels are now considered critically endangered and protected by law. While it might or might not be possible to find a pot of gold here, it is definitely not okay to look for pearls in the rivers where the margaritifera margaritifera live.
Once upon a time, however, pearl fishing was not uncommon in Ireland. Indeed, the Tuatha Dé Danann are believed to have fished for pearls to use as elixirs. The ancient Irish used freshwater Irish pearls to trade with other nations. The traditional song The Snowy Breasted Pearl, sung by The Wolfe Tones among others, is not, however, about Irish jewelry but about a lovely lady whose beauty and grace rival that of the esteemed pearl. Pearls are now popular in Irish jewelry gifts for occasions such as First Holy Communion and Confirmation.
There is no harm in keeping a sharp eye out for any lovely surprises at the Galway Oyster Festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this September, or any of Ireland’s other oyster festivals this autumn, but it is unlikely that anyone will be bringing home a pearl among their Irish gifts. But there is a lot a craic to be had, as well as amazing food. But if it is Irish jewelry featuring pearls you want, you’ll have to take a look at our site www.IrishShop.com