The Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh Ring is one of Ireland’s most romantic and enduring traditions. Where the clear crystal waters of the River Corrib meet Galway Bay there once was a small fishing village called The Claddagh. It is therefore not surprising that this beautiful village rich in folklore and tradition gave to the world a wonderful symbol of love, friendship and loyalty – the Claddagh Ring.
There are many stories about the Claddagh ring. The ring has a design of a heart being encircled by a pair of delicate hands with a crown above the heart. In earlier times this design was the symbol of the “Fishing Kings of Claddagh” meaning ‘in love and friendship let us reign’. In the 17th century the symbol was first depicted on a ring which became the fashionable exchange of friends or lovers. In marriage the heart was worn towards the wrist otherwise towards the fingertips.
It is believed that the first maker of the ring was Richard Joyce around 1690. Up to this date, Joyce had been captive in Tunis where he acquired his noted skills as a goldsmith. When William III came to the throne of England, he concluded an agreement whereby all his subjects who where held in captivity by the Moors were to be allowed return to their homes. Joyce returned to Galway and is said to have crafted the first Claddagh Ring.
From this beginning the ring grew to be very popular in the Claddagh Village and then throughout the County of Galway. It became customary for the ring to be worn as a wedding or engagement ring and the rings were handed down from generation to generation.

There are many modern versions of the Claddagh Ring. Here are some folk legends about the Claddagh.
Way back in the sandy mists of time, so the story went, it seemed as there was this king. This king was madly in love with a peasant woman, but as she was of a lower class the love had to go unrequited. In dread despair the king killed himself and had his hands lopped off and placed around his heart as a symbol of his undying love for the woman.
It symbolizes love (heart), friendship/faith (hands) and loyalty (crown). Two hands Joined together in love and Crowned by the Glory of Christ.
There was a Dublin version of this Ring that appeared some 100 years back with two hands and two Hearts but No Crown Some call this Version the Fenian Claddagh.
The Crown to The Father, The Left hand to the Son, and the Right Hand the the Holy Ghost. This Explanation is directly Correlative to the Shamrock, one of the Earliest Symbols of the Holy Trinity among the Irish.
Some will say Beathauile is the Crown, Anu is the Left hand, and the Dagda Mór is the Right hand and the Heart is the Hearts of all mankind and that which gives the everlasting music to the Gael.
As legend has it, the town developed the ring (originally a sigil to be painted on ships and sails) to be worn by sailors of Claddagh. When these sailors would run into other fishermen in their waters, they would check for the sigil, and if they did not find it, they would kill them.
The original Claddagh ring is generally attributed to one Richard Joyce, a native of Galway, who while being transported as a slave to the plantations of the West Indies was captured by Mediterranean pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him in his craft. In 1689 he was released and returned to Galway and set up his shop in the Claddagh. (The Claddagh is said to be the oldest fishing village in Ireland). By tradition the ring is taken to signify the wish that Love and Friendship should reign supreme. The hands signify friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart love. The ring has become popular outside Connamera since the middle of the last century- its spread being helped by the vast exodus from the West during the great Famine in 1847-49. These rings were kept as heirlooms with great pride and passed from mother to daughter. Today, the ring is worn extensively across Ireland, either on the right hand with the heart turned outwards showing that the wearer is “fancy free” or with the heart turned inwards to denote that he or she is “spoken for”. The pride of place is on the left hand, with the heart turned in, indicating that the wearer is happily married.
- submitted by Bob Jensen