Claddagh Ring needs no introduction as most people are aware of the history of it’s origin. This distinctively beautiful and innovative impressive design excels in its poetic meaning and popularity. In a nut shell, Claddagh Ring symbolises (Love, Loyalty and Friendship). Two hands said to signify friendship, the heart representing love and the Crown symbolising loyalty. The essence of the Claddagh Ring Richard presented was for Love and Friendship to reign forever. The bearer of the Claddagh Ring has important options on how to wear it. If worn on the right hand with the crown facing inwards you are declaring that your heart has not yet been won. If worn on the right hand with the crown facing outwards reveals your love is being considered. If worn on the left hand with the crown facing outwards you are declaring that your heart is forever taken.
Today, the Irish Claddagh symbol is used in a large number of items whether it is jewellery, belt buckles or door knockers. It has grown in popularity due to it’s symbolic design, unique history and Irish pride.
There are many legends about the origins of the Claddagh Ring. Perhaps the closest to the truth is a tale of Galway native Richard Joyce.
Claddagh is said to be the oldest fishing village in Ireland and is located where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay, just outside the old city walls. With the walls now long gone the village has merged with the rest of the city however the area still retains its old unique character and identity.
Not far past the cobbled streets of Galway City, across the Wolfe Tone Bridge and upon the stretches of Galway Bay, lies the Claddagh. Today this ancient fisherman’s village is little more than a memory of the unique and idiosyncratic people who maintained a sovereign settlement here until the death of their last King, Martin Oliver, in 1972. Remarkably, the story of the Claddagh will likely be carried into posterity by the ring that bears its name.
The celebrated Claddagh ring, as we know it today, stands as a monument to love and friendship. The design is striking and unmistakable, two hands joined together to support a single heart, and upon it a crown. Its motto, not surprisingly, is ‘let love and friendship reign’. Traditionally, the rings can be worn in three different manners, all declaring a different status in the quest for love. When worn on the right hand with the heart facing outward toward the nail, the ring signifies one whose heart is free. When the heart is facing inward, toward the knuckle of the right hand, it indicates that the heart is no longer available. And finally, if the ring is to appear upon the left hand, it traditionally means that love has been plighted.
The tale of the ring is one of the greatest to be heard in Galway. It is said that by the year 1900 the Claddagh ring had become as important to the mythology of the city as the 14 merchant families, or tribes, that led Galway as a virtual city-state during much of the 13th through 17th centuries. Adding to the intrigue is the simple fact that no one can say for certain just where the ring originated, who made it first, or exactly what its connexion with the Claddagh is. Interestingly, through the mists of history and folklore, one name has become more associated with the origin of the ring than any other – Richard Joyes.
The story of Richard Joyes (his own variation of Joyce) is nothing short of remarkable. As it is told, after embarking on a voyage for the West Indies, Richard was captured by an Algerian pirate and subsequently sold into slavery. His purchaser was a wealthy and skilled goldsmith who, noticing Richard to be clever and adroit, trained him as an apprentice. Richard became marvellously skilled at the trade earning the lasting respect of his master. Meanwhile, King William III had ascended the throne of England and as a matter of first action he sent an ambassador to Algiers to demand the immediate release of all British subjects. Upon learning the news of Richard’s imminent release, the Moor offered Richard the hand of his only daughter in hope that he might stay. Richard declined and shortly thereafter departed for Galway where he began a new life as an independent jeweller, his most famous creation being the Claddagh ring – some of which, bearing Joyes distinctive jeweller’s mark, still exist today.
Another account of the ring’s origin attributes the ring to Margaret Joyce, the wealthy widow of a Spanish wine merchant who returned to Galway and married the city’s governor somewhere around the year 1600. It is said that Margaret, being fond of philanthropy, built the greater portion of the bridges of Connaught with her own money. One day while overseeing the construction of the bridges an eagle flying overhead let the original Claddagh ring fall to her in reward for her extraordinary generosity.
As for the ring’s association with the Claddagh, it might well have been an accident. Although the people of the Claddagh, which were known for their dislike of new things, astoundingly adopted the ring in a nearly universal fashion, there is little to suggest that the rings themselves first originated with the people of that small fishing community. Remarkably, the association may have come from the coincidental printing of a picture of the ring (then referred to as a ‘Galway ring’) and a description of the Claddagh on the same page of a British travel publication by Anne and Samuel Hall during the 1850′s. But as with all things of this nature, there may well be far more to the truth than the evidence that we have, and anything is possible.
So it is that the true history of this, the most famous of Irish rings, remains elusive – always obscured by the cloak laid softly upon it by myth and folklore. But we would be wise to remember that this is precisely what enthrals our imagination the most. And if we are lucky enough to look down upon a Claddagh ring on our own hand someday, we might capture a fleeting glimpse of the mystery and wonder that has decorated the saga of the ring with such poetic grandeur.