The Claddagh ring
The Claddagh ring
A beautiful piece of jewellery which went onto become a symbol of love and friendship for many years in Ireland; the Claddagh ring, which shows two hands clasping a crowned heart, has now become its own symbol of the Emerald Isles.
The origins of the Claddagh ring
Rings with two hands coming together were known as fidelity rings, and they were popular in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages.
The version associated with Ireland though, is famous for the crown, which appears above the heart. This was an innovation that we believe was introduced between the 1690s and 1700 by a Galway goldsmith named Richard Joyce. Joyce himself had a stunning life story; being captured by pirates in the West Indies and then sold as a slave to a Turkish jeweller, who trained him as a goldsmith and set him on his future path.
The reason for Joyce putting the crown there is unknown, but many people believe it’s because he was freed from slavery in North Africa by King William III.
The ring became associated with Claddagh when the people of Claddagh, a small fishing village that is crammed with small thatched cottages and maze-like paths, began using his version of the ring as wedding bands.
By the 1800s, the association with the village was so strong that the ring took on the village’s name.
Why people wear Claddagh rings
Whilst the ring’s are associated with maintaining one’s purity, they are also thought of as symbols of great passion. There is a story that when Joyce returned to Galway, he married the sweetheart who had waited for him through all his years of captivity, and this is why he created a fidelity wedding ring with a crown above the heart.
Whether it is true or not, the crown being held in the grasp of two loving hands has become thought of as a fiercely romantic image.
They are now worn by almost everyone. For example, Eleanor O’Toole, a fifth-year student at Sancta Maria College in Louisburgh said, “One day I was in a cafe with four of my friends and I looked down at our hands and we were all wearing them!”
Whilst they have a great history, the rings are also used as an indication of your relationship status. If a girl wears it with the crown facing up towards their knuckle, that means they are single. If however you are in a relationship, you would wear it with the crown pointing down towards your fingernail. Whether or not prospective lovers take notice is another matter.
Where they can be found
In Galway, Claddagh rings have become a tradition and are heirlooms, passed down from mother to daughter, father to son. But they are also popular across the world.
Their popularity outside of Ireland was most likely spurred by migration from Ireland during the Irish famine. When the potato crops failed, a huge exodus of over 2.5 million Irish men and women left the country. These people would have kept their precious rings as a memory and connection to their homeland.
To give you a perspective of how ubiquitous they are, after the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York, more than 200 Claddagh rings were found in the rubble of the Twin Towers.