One of the most iconic and recognisable symbols of Ireland is the Claddagh Ring, or in Irish: fáinne Chladaigh, so named in homage to the flat and stony bay by the same name in Galway, Ireland. The Claddagh was once a busy port for merchants and noblemen alike and today still pulses with activity from locals, tourists, fishermen and even water polo players!
Where Did it Come From?
The Claddagh ring in its current form has been in use since the 1700s and as for its origin, that is a matter of great debate. What we do know is that the style stemmed from the European fede finger rings which used hands as a symbol of loyalty. However, the Irish Claddagh ring is unique in its usage of the hands, heart and crown. The hands symbolise friendship, the heart is for love and the crown is for loyalty, hence the reasoning behind it being a popular friendship and engagement ring since its creation. Nowadays it is worn by men and women alike, whether single, engaged or married as a tribute to their Irish heritage.
The Story of Margaret Joyce.
It is of no surprise that the tales telling of the origin of this ring come with a notable mythological weight and we’ll let you decide which one feels truer to your heart. The first tells of Margaret Joyce who was wed to a wealthy Spanish trader called Domingo de Rona in the late 16th century. Sadly, shortly after their marriage de Rona died and Margaret returned to her native Ireland. In 1596 she had found love again with the Mayor of Galway and they were married. Using the fortune left to her by her late first husband, Margaret funded the construction of several bridges in Galway and then one day, as she was reading in the garden, an eagle flew overhead and dropped the Claddagh ring in her lap as a symbol of gratitude for the love and loyalty she had shown to her beloved Galway.
The Story of Richard Joyce.
The second origin story tells of a Galway man, Richard Joyce. Joyce was engaged to marry a local woman and during the plantations of circa.1675, he sailed to the West Indies seeking fortune. It was an ill wind that carried him overseas as his ship was intercepted by pirates and he was sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith. It was here he learned the craft of goldsmithing and during his fourteen years in captivity, he fashioned the Claddagh ring as we know it today. Eventually, Joyce was released and upon his return to Ireland, found his fiancée waiting for him and gave her the ring he had carried with him all that time. They finally were able to marry and Joyce became a successful goldsmith in his own right.
In all of the stories about the Claddagh ring, there is an unbreakable thread of love, friendship and loyalty and it is this that has led to the ring being known across the world. Irish people have always been travellers and whether it was mothers giving it to their daughters when they set sail for America in the 1840’s or 1920’s or even today, or lovers separated who gave each other the ring as a sign of their fidelity when they would one day be reunited. It is a symbol of belonging, a symbol of place, history and connection to those before us and those who will follow us.