True love is timeless. The beauty, mystery and ancient symbolism of Irish Claddagh rings evoke the precious never-ending quality of true love and friendship. The quintessential Irish gift features two hands joined together clasping a heart topped by a crown. The hands
symbolize friendship, the single heart symbolizes love and the crown is a symbol of loyalty. How you wear the ring symbolizes your availability. When worn on the right ring finger with the crown pointing away from the heart it signifies that you are open to love. When worn on the left ring finger with the crown pointing towards the heart, you are announcing to the world that you are engaged or married. An old Irish proverb, says, “What is nearest the heart is nearest the lips.”
The enduring motto, “Let love and friendship reign,” is associated with the Claddagh ring. Much like the enchanting Emerald Isle itself, the origins of the ancient Claddagh ring are steeped in mystery and legend that has become clouded by the passage of time. Still, the ancient tales make for a good yarn and contribute mightily to the unique appeal of the Claddagh.
1. Faith Rings
Although the striking design and cultural traditions associated with the Claddagh ring are truly unique to the small fishing village of Claddagh, Galway, parts of the design hail from Roman times. The clasped hands design was often used as an official Roman pledging symbol. Later, rings adorned with clasped hands, known as “fede rings” or faith rings, became popular in Europe and were exchanged as symbols of affection. Some European goldsmiths did occasionally add a heart or crown motif to jewelry of the time, but 17th-century Irish craftsmen contributed their own distinctive variations that have become synonymous with the rich culture of Ireland.
2. The Ancient Fishing Village of Claddagh
The Claddagh, one of the oldest Celtic fishing villages in Ireland, on the outskirts of Galway, existed at least as far back as the 5th century. Claddagh is derived from the Irish word Cladach, which means “the stony beach.” The small community of fisherman distrusted
outsiders. They fished the waters off Galway Bay for centuries, keeping to themselves, even electing their own king, who ruled the community of thatched cottages according to ancient customs. The now-famous Claddagh design has long been part of the cultural heritage of the Claddagh kinfolk. The Claddagh fisherman, known as the Fisher Kings marked their ships and sails with the Claddagh crest, as a warning to others to stay clear of their fishing grounds. Marauding fishermen entered Claddagh territory at their peril.
3. Passed Down From Mother to Daughter
The Claddagh ring is popular today for gift giving to a friend or loved one and to use as wedding and engagement rings. But the Claddagh folk used it as a treasured wedding ring. And its use is steeped in tradition. Custom dictated the ring should be received as a gift. Mothers often handed the rings down to their daughters, while reciting the verse, “With these hands, I give you my heart and I crown it with my love.” This tiny insular Irish community used the distinctive Claddagh ring to commemorate their love for centuries.
4. A Swashbuckling Love Story
Mystery surrounds the origins of the traditional Claddagh ring. There are two competing tales and both feature a member of the Joyce family, one of the famous “Tribes of Galway.” The more believable story recounts a swashbuckling tale of piracy, slavery and romance.
Richard Joyce set sail from Galway for the West Indies only to be captured by Algerian pirates and sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith. Joyce toiled away for fourteen-years under the tutelage of his master and became an expert craftsman. He was set free in 1689 after William III of England demanded the release of British subjects. The goldsmith was sorry to see Joyce leave. He offered his daughter and half of his riches to induce Joyce to stay, but Joyce refused.
Upon his return home to Galway, Joyce was overjoyed to find that his one true love had been waiting for him. He created the Claddagh ring to honour his everlasting love and presented it to her as a marriage ring. The tender Gaelic words of love surely passed from Joyce’s lips: “Mo grá thú,” meaning, “You are my love.” Joyce went on to live a healthy and happy life in Galway and he became a successful goldsmith. The earliest existing Claddagh rings are marked with Joyce’s initials. So, it’s indeed likely the origins of the Claddagh ring design can be attributed to Joyce.
5. A Gift From an Eagle
The competing Joyce tale concerns Margaret Joyce, known as Margaret of the Bridges. Joyce used her substantial inheritance from her first marriage to a wealthy Spanish merchant to build the bridges of Connacht. In 1596, Joyce married Oliver Ogffrench, the mayor of Galway. One fine day, an eagle dropped a ring that fell right into her lap. Joyce believed the ring was a gift from heaven, so to speak, for her generosity. Legend has it, that ring was the first Claddagh ring.
The Claddagh ring boasts a proud royal tradition. Queen Victoria of England wore a Claddagh ring after a visit to Ireland in 1849. Her son, King Edward VII, also proudly wore a Claddagh ring, as well as his wife Queen Alexandra. When their son, George V inherited the crown, he also donned the traditional Claddagh ring of the Emerald Isle. Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco wore Claddagh rings as well.
The Irish Store offers a lovely collection of Claddagh rings for gift giving for any occasion. Produced by the finest Irish craftsmen, available in gold and silver for ladies, gents and maids, The Irish Store’s fine Claddagh rings carry on the Emerald Isle tradition of timeless love and friendship.