A "Spirit of Ireland Magazine" Interview with Martina Hamilton / March 2017

Contemporary Irish Jewellery from the timeless edge of Europe.

Multi-award winning jewellery designer, Martina Hamilton works from her studio in Sligo town with her small team of master goldsmiths. Martina’s jewellery designs are focused on delivering exquisitely crafted statement pieces, around which complementary collections are then created. She works exclusively in hallmarked sterling silver and gold. 

Two new collections are launched by Martina each year. Her most recent for example are the Island Link and Shore collections. Island Link is inspired by her discovery of a lost chapter in her family history and the links she has begun to forge with her ancestors and their family descendants who lived on the beautiful tiny Dernish Island, just off the coast of her native Sligo. The collection features bracelets and necklaces of hand crafted individually intertwined links and sculpted bars, made in sterling silver and rose gold, combined on sterling silver chain. 

“My ancestral links to Dernish became a very important focal point for me. Dernish is no longer an inhabited island, there are now just remnants of the thriving community and homesteads that had lived there up until 40 years ago. Exploring the island, meeting people, distant family members with whom I now know I share a Dernish heritage, a heritage that has disappeared within living memory, has given me a new insight into the beauty and fragility of human connections” 

An iron coupling loop linked a draw horse to a plough. I found this one in the field at the back of my ancestral home on Dernish island on my first visit, It was another connection, another link in the chain for me. 

“It was rough weathered iron mooring rings on the wall at Milk harbour helped me begin the collection. These simple rings were used to tie off the boats that linked island life to the mainland. They had caught my eye as we prepared to cross to the island on a November morning and right away seemed to suggest themselves as links to the island, perhaps to a lost element of my past, but more so to the future, how my own future would change thanks to the discovery of my island heritage". 

"Later on, out on the island  I watched the tide coming in, and watched it beginning to cut us off from the mainland, with looping channels of ocean water forced in around the north and south edges of the island. There was a feeling of having being removed  The encircling water inspired me to introduce an almost liquid-like finish to the new collection”.  

Dernish Island from the mainland at Milk Harbour County Sligo. 

“I would love this link collection to hold the possibility of “story” for the wearer; that the natural simplicity of my different links and forms will invite the wearer to create their personal narrative around the elements of the whole piece, that it might embody new links to loved ones, links to family and friends, to the past and to the future. ”

Sligo (Sligeach in Irish) means the shelly place. The Sligo coastline has inspired Martina’s work for many years in many ways and she enjoys weekend beach combing trips, finding shapes, shadows, textures and colours to weave into her award-winning jewellery. The Shore Collection, another very recent addition is a prime example. The design is most immediately related to the elegant Scallop shell which is of course part of the Sligo County crest. But the scallop shell is also a symbol for somebody who travels, for a journey taken or yet to be taken. For example, it’s used for the world famous Camino pilgrimage in northern Spain. “Sligo is such an historic place, there are shellfish middens found around the Sligo coastline dating back thousands of years to Neolithic and Mesolithic times proving our county is among the oldest human inhabited places in Europe. It makes you keenly aware as you walk along Sligo’s shell strewn beaches, or watching your children making sandcastles that melt in the tide, how beautiful and valuable your finite piece in that journey is. With the Shore collection I wanted to create a collection that was an exuberant celebration of the journey we are on, and the simple lines of the scallop shell which are both radiant from and also convergent towards a point, seemed to embody this idea immediately.”

Sligo, Sligeach in Irish, where I live  means the Shelly place. The scallop shell is part of the the borough of Sligo crest. 

But there is also a striking contemporary oriental feeling, reflective of Martina’s travels in Japan and China in recent years. So the collection is a fusion of cultural influences from the edge of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. “As with my Island Link collection, the designs come to me over time. Traveling in China and Japan, where language and symbolism are new to me, your sensibilities begin to pick out the common threads, the things that make us the same, that can draw us towards understanding each other across cultures. The beautiful and elegant formality of symbolism in Japanese and Chinese cultures informs the geometry that is at play in my shore collection, while the collection is textured, indeed animated more with my own West of Ireland sensibilities. With my Shore collection I believe I have created a collection that is quite timeless, in that it is quietly reflective of cultural impulses that have existed for centuries and will exist for centuries to come.