Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales from the Historical Cycle
The symbol of love in Ireland for centuries, Claddagh Rings
The Claddagh Ring is one of those well known emblems of Ireland that most people recognise, but how many know the stories behind it? Many's the young man has gifted one to his lady, giving his heart along with it, as did the ring's original maker.
Back in the seventeenth century there was a young Irish lad by the name of Richard Joyce, who lived in the Claddagh, then a small fishing village near to the city of Galway. He wished to seek his fortune abroad the better to provide for his love, so he took to sea, setting sail for the West Indies where it was said great wealth was to be had.
Well some people find their fortunes, and some peoples' fortunes find them! And so it was for Richard - as he travelled his ship was set upon by fierce and swarthy Barbary Pirates, cutlasses clenched in gold-studded teeth, Atlantic winds swelling sails given to them by the Dutch corsair Zymen Danesker, without which they'd never have been able to reach so far.
Richard's ship and crew were caught unawares, and he himself was almost killed, but instead he was captured and sold into a life of slavery. From the Arab slave blocks his new master bought him and for fourteen years he learned the trade of the goldsmith.
When King William III sent an ambassador to Algeria to demand the release of any and all British subjects who were enslaved in that country, which at the time would have included Richard Joyce, his master begged him to stay, captivated by his Irish charm, and offered him half his lands and his only daughter's hand in marriage to boot!
But Richard would have none of it and returned after his adventures to his love, who waited for him yet. There he crafted the first of the Claddagh rings, and as his story spread so did the symbol of his love and fidelity.
The meaning of the ring depends on who you ask, two hands and a crowned heart mean friendhsip, loyalty and love to some, the ancient Celtic gods Dagda, Beathauile and Anu to others, while yet others will tell you that it's a representation of the Holy Trinity, God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some even claim Richard drew his inpsiration from Roman friendship rings, and who knows but that he might have.
The men of the Claddagh, fisherfolk for the most part, would emblazon the ring on their sails and chase away any fishing boats that didn't bear their crest. The traditions of the Claddagh Ring spread further abroad during the 19th century, passed down mother to daughter or grandmother to granddaughter among those fleeing during the great hunger. It was the only ring made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII.
The manner in which you wear the ring also tells its own story, a handy guide for the amorous!
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is single and may be looking for love.
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is in a relationship.
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is engaged.
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is married.
There is another variation of the Claddagh ring which has no crown - it was used by Fenians to symbolise Ireland without British rule, and so was called the Fenian or Dublin Claddagh ring. These kinds of rings were made in the 19th century and are also associated with medieval Fede engagement rings, from "mani fede", hands joined in faith.
The village of Claddagh is indicated on the map below.
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