The Claddagh Ring is possibly one of the most culturally significant pieces of jewelery found anywhere in the world. It’s history, design, meaning and manner of wearing are all deeply rooted in Irish tradition. Two hands of friendship hold a heart of love beneath a crown of loyalty.
Love is in the air with Valentine’s Day fast approaching. What better time could there be to further explore this enduring symbol of Irish love?
1. The Claddagh Village
The ring is named after a tiny fishing village called The Claddagh, which lay just outside the city of Galway in olden times. Today it is part of the city. This village got its name from the Irish word for stoney beach – “An Cladach”. One of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland, it dates back to the 5th century. The people elected their own King, and lived by their own customs and laws separate from the people of Galway. It was an Irish speaking, thatch cottage community, that seldom welcomed strangers.
There are three different legends told to explain the origins of the ring. Who knows which one first found life in reality! Today all three tales have attained mythical status.
2. The Tale of Richard Joyce
The first story centers around a Galwayman, Richard Joyce and his enduring love for his sweetheart Margaret. Richard was captured by Algerian pirates and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith. Richard became his master’s apprentice and designed the ring, hoping someday to be reunited with his Claddagh love.
In 1689 William III demanded the release of all British subjects held as slaves. The Moorish goldsmith offered half his fortune and his daughter’s hand in marriage if the talented Richard would remain with them. Richard declined, returning once again to Ireland in search of Margaret.
She had remained loyal to him, never marrying another. They were reunited and wed. Richard presented her with his specially designed ring to symbolize their friendship, love and loyalty.
3. A Generous Widow
The second historical theory centers around another member of the Joyce family. Margaret Joyce married a Spanish merchant who traded with the people of Galway. When he died and left her his fortune she returned home from Spain. She married the Mayor of Galway, Oliver Og French. She spent her fortune building bridges around Galway. The first Claddagh ring was supposedly dropped by an eagle into her lap, as a reward for her generosity.
4. A Spanish Prince
The third and final theory tells the tale of a Spanish prince who fell in love with a young girl from the Claddagh village after the Spanish Armada went adrift off the coast of Ireland in 1588. The people of the Claddagh hid the Spanish sailors from the English. The girl’s father did not trust this royal prince, believing his attention and intentions towards his daughter to be dishonorable. To convince her father of his love and loyalty, the prince designed the Claddagh ring. Her father gave his blessing upon hearing the deep significance and symbolism of the ring.
5. A Symbol of Faith
Whatever the true origin of the ring, its deep meaning and message of love and loyalty, has put them into a group of European rings called “faith rings.” These “fede rings” date back to Roman times.
The message of the Claddagh ring can be summarized by the saying:
Let Love And Friendship Reign Forever!
6. How To Wear A Claddagh Ring
The manner in which a Claddagh ring is worn also holds deep significance. If a person is engaged or married the ring should be worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing inwards towards the wearer’s own heart. If a person is interested in finding love, the ring should be worn on the right hand with the heart pointing out. If unattached, but disinterested in attracting the attentions of a potential suitor, the ring should be worn on the right hand with the heart pointing in.
Today Claddagh ring designs use many different types of metals with gemstones often being seated in the middle of the heart. Wedding bands, embellished with the Claddagh design, encompass the tradition and romance of its deep rooted history.
This enduring symbol of love and fidelity has been in existence for over 300 years. It’s significance has spread far beyond the Claddagh village where it originated. These rings of friendship, faith, love and loyalty are admired throughout the world today.
Slan agus beannacht leat!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom