Bog Oak, Quintessentially Irish

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Victorian Bog Oak Pendant on Pearls

Bog oak is a fossilised wood that is found submerged up to ten meters deep in the Irish peat or bog marshes, that was used in the 19th century to make and carve symbolic Irish Jewellery. Other woods such as pine, yew and fir were also found in the marshes and not exclusively in Ireland, but it was the Irish who developed the craft. It is a hard black or very dark brown wood substance that is lightweight, warm to the touch and with a matt finish; the latter distinguishes bog oak from jet which can be polished to a high gloss.

The use of bog oak as a readily available, abundant and inexpensive resource used in the rural areas of Ireland emerges before the 19th century, when furniture and even houses were constructed from this easy to work natural material. There were several notable carvers and the skills were often passed down from generation to generation. The craft took on a more decorative role during the Victorian era and the original cottage industry became a highly organised and lucrative industry.

Celtic design, an exclusive native Irish resource, was used with tremendous effect with bog oak at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and at the Great Industrial Exhibition in Dublin in 1853. The visits to Ireland by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stimulated further interest in all things Irish, from which a busy tourist industry developed. Tourists wanted souvenirs as a reminder of their travels and a flourishing trade in bog oak jewellery and small decorative items developed in Killarney, supporting Irish crafts, especially after the arrival of the railway service in 1854. The souvenirs were decorated with Irish emblems such as the ubiquitous shamrock, the Irish wolfhound, Irish castles and abbeys, and the Brain Bour harp. The jewellery was often embellished with gold from Wicklow or Irish silver, Irish rock crystal, amethyst, Connemara marble and even fresh water pearls from local rivers. Celtic design became a fashionable and well established feature of the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland and continues to be used extensively in modern times.

The use of bog oak flourished throughout the 19th century especially after the death of Prince Albert in 1861 when the royal court and most of the country was plunged into a long period of mourning led by Queen Victoria, who never really recovered from the loss of her great love. Black jewellery became de rigeur and bog oak was an affordable option for those that could not afford onyx or jet pieces. By the early 20th century the fashion for black had changed and the advent of World War I brought about a huge decline in the bog oak industry, from which it has only partially recovered. There is a small industry today working to preserve traditional Irish crafts, but there has also developed a strong collecting field for 19th century bog oak pieces in good condition. Read our blog on Vulcanite and gutta percha additional materials often used in mourning jewellery.                                                                                                           

La Vogue Vintage usually has fine examples of bog oak jewellery in stock which can be extremely wearable and given a modern twist with a little imagination.