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by Ed Micheau, IrishAbroad.com
The famous Claddagh Ring is much more than a beautiful piece of jewelry.
Many Celtic traditions have a story to tell. In the case of the Claddagh
Ring, there is not one but many stories told. Symbolism has long played
an important role in Irish heritage and culture, and symbolism lies at the
heart of the Claddagh Ring.
The Claddagh Ring has long been associated with romance, fidelity
and Irish culture. Think of the Claddagh Ring and romance springs to mind.
A girl meets a boy and falls in love. Claddagh Rings are exchanged, symbolic
of the fidelity and mutual affection between the two lovers.
The tradition behind the ring signifies love and friendship. The hands
on the ring are believed to represent friendship, the crown loyalty, and
the heart love.
Equally symbolic, is how the ring is worn. A ring worn on the right hand
with the heart turned outwards is thought to be a sign to the world that
your heart has not yet been won. The ring worn on the right hand with the
heart turned inwards signals that the wearer has found someone to give their
heart to. Finally, the ring worn on the left hand with the heart turned
inwards means the wearer is bound forever to their true love.
The Claddagh Ring is thought to have meanings other than romance. There
are religious connotations: the heart representing God, the hands symbolic
for Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
Finally, the Claddagh Ring is also worn by people who simply wish to
identify themselves with Irish culture. In this sense, it is a cultural
icon – instantly recognizable as a item of jewelry worn by people with a
sense of romance and a sense of Irishness. The Claddagh Ring has become
an expression of romance, kinship, identity and attachment.
ORIGINS, MYTHS & HISTORY:
The Claddagh Ring is believed to date back centuries. Its origins are
most widely credited to the 17th century and to a young Irishman named Richard
Joyce, a native of Claddagh, a tiny fishing village on the coast of Galway.
It is a romantic tale. On a ship bound for the West Indies plantations,
Joyce and his fellow shipmates were captured by Algerian pirates and ferried
to the African country. Joyce was sold to a Moorish goldsmith, who trained
the young Irishman in the craft.
In 1689, an amnesty was declared. Won over by the young Irishman's charm
and craftsmanship, his Moorish master offered Joyce half his wealth and
the hand of his only daughter in marriage. But Joyce's heart belonged in
On returning to his native Claddagh, Richard gave a ring to his sweetheart.
They married and Joyce set up a goldsmith shop from where the first Claddagh
Rings, bearing his inscription RI (the initial letters of Richard), were
But like many other elements of Irish culture and heritage, the precise
source of the Claddagh Ring is in dispute. Another story tells of a Margaret
Joyce (no relation to Richard), who married a wealthy Spanish merchant by
the name of Domingo de Rona. The Spanish husband died, bequeathing the Irish
woman a large fortune. Joyce put the new riches to good work, doing many
charitable works and building bridges in the western counties. She was supposedly
rewarded for her kindness when an eagle dropped the original Claddagh Ring
into her lap.
Others ascribe the origins of Claddagh Ring to ancient Celtic times.
The mythical Beathauile is supposed to represent the Crown. Dagda, father
of the Celtic gods, represents the right hand of the Claddagh Ring. Anu,
ancestral and universal mother of the Celts, represents the left hand.
Claddagh is also believed to be one of the oldest fishing villages in
Ireland. For centuries, fishermen from the area took to sea with the Claddagh
crest on their ships and sails. The crest was used for indentification purposes
– fishermen from outside the area fishing in their waters were chased away
Another mythical tale is told of an ancient king who became besotted
with a peasant girl. Class distinctions stood between the two and the king's
love went unrequited and unfulfilled. In the depths of depression, the king
took his own life. His dying wish was for his hands to be chopped off and
placed around his heart as a symbol of his undying love and affection for
the true love.
Unsurprisingly in a Christian country, there are also religious references
to the Claddagh Ring. It is linked with the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus Christ
and the Holy Ghost. Similar to the way the shamrock is supposed to depict
this Holy Trinity, the Crown on the ring is said to represent The Father,
the left hand represents The Son, and the right hand represents the Holy
Far from being from exclusively Gaelic or Celtic origins, the Claddagh
draws on inspiration from Europe, according to others. The similarities
between the Claddagh Ring and a popular group of finger rings, called Faith
Rings or Fede, has been noted. Fede rings date back from Roman times and
were popular in Europe in Medieval times These rings also took the form
of two clasped hands, symbolizing faith, trust or brotherhood.
Whichever tale you choose to believe, there is no doubting that the Claddagh
Ring is as popular today as it ever was. Ironically, the mass exodus from
Connemara during the Great Famine 1845-49 to North America contributed to
its enduring legacy. Kept as heirlooms and passed on from generation to
generation, the Claddagh Ring gain currency in the USA and Canada in the
late 19th century.
Nearer home, the Claddagh Ring was the only ring made in Ireland ever
worn by Queen Victoria. Later King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra would
each wear one. In 1962, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco were
presented with gifts emblazoned with the Claddagh Ring motif set in Connemara
The Claddagh Ring as both a concept and a practical way of displaying
love, loyalty, affection and identity has survived – a proud Irish symbol
sitting comfortably in the 21st century.