Origin of the Claddagh Ring
August 18, 2010
The origin of The Claddagh ring is not as clear cut as I was hoping it to be. When I received mine for my 16th birthday from ex-boyfriend Justin, all I knew was that my older half-sister, Davina, had one when I was growing up and so I wanted one too in my effort to emulate her. Justin, being Irish himself, though the gift appropriate and presented it to me with clear instructions:
“When you wear it with the bottom of the heart pointed towards your knuckles, it means you’re in a relationship. When it’s pointed toward your fingernails, it means you’re single.”
That’s one variation of it, anyway. Further digging told me that it’s a popular Irish wedding ring and that to wear it on your ring finger on your left hand means you’re married or engaged and to wear it on your right hand ring finger, with the heart pointed towards your knuckles, means you’re open to love and pointed towards your fingertips means you’re closed to love. What confuses me is how you’re supposed to wear it if you’re in a serious relationship that’s not yet made it to the level of engagement. For me, I choose to wear it on my right hand with the heart pointed towards my knuckles, where some girls might wear a promise ring (that’s a whoooole other topic.. isn’t an engagement ring a promise ring, really?) But in reality, different books and websites all give different ways to wear the ring.
Let’s start with the meaning of the Claddagh ring which is, for the most part, inarguable:
The crown stands loyalty (fidelity), the hands for friendship and the heart for love. In essence, “Let love and friendship reign forever.”
History- taken from Fantasy-Ireland
The Eagle and Margaret Joyce
One legend in Claddagh history tells of Margaret Joyce (no relation to Richard), who married a wealthy Spanish merchant named Domingo de Rona. When her husband died, Margaret inherited de Rona’s fortune. Unlike most people, who would fritter away new riches, Joyce instead put them to good work in building bridges and performing many charitable works in Ireland’s western counties. To reward her for her extraordinary kindness and generosity, an eagle dropped the original Claddagh Ring into her lap.
Gods and Goddesses
Going back further, some believe Claddagh history began with the ancient Celts. The mythical Beathauile is said to represent the Crown. Dagda, father of the Celtic gods, represents the right hand of the Claddagh Ring. Anu, ancestral and universal mother of the Celts, represents the left hand. In a Christian version of this Irish legend, the crowned heart represents God the Father and the two hands signify Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The Fisher Kings
Claddagh history merges with tales of the sea in the town of Claddagh, which is said to be one of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland. For centuries, fishermen from the area took to sea with the Claddagh crest on their ships and sails. The crest was used for identification – fishermen from outside the area fishing in their waters were chased away or killed. So the Claddagh ring is also an original symbol of the “Fisher Kings” of the Galway town of Claddagh, Ireland.
Perhaps the most fantastic tale claiming to be part of Claddagh history involves a king who fell in love with a peasant girl. Because of class distinctions between the two, the king could not marry the girl he loved. His grief was too much for him to bear; and he killed himself. But his dying wish was for his hands to be chopped off and placed around his heart as a symbol of his undying love. How gruesomely charming!
Conventional Wisdom – The Real Truth?
The most common – and most believable – tale of Claddagh history begins with a young man from Galway by the name of Richard Joyce leaving his true love to make his fortune in the West Indies. As he sailed toward his goal, his ship was captured by a band of pirates and he was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith.
Through the many years of service to the goldsmith, Richard perfected the art of jewelry making himself, eventually becoming a master craftsman and earning the respect and admiration of his master. When King William III negotiated the freedom of the slaves in 1689, the Moor offered Richard the hand of his daughter and a healthy dowry on top of that. But Richard refused….for his heart still lay in Ireland.
Returning to Galway, Richard found that his sweetheart had remained true to him through all those years. In a fitting tribute to his true love, he fashioned the Claddagh ring. The two hands represented their friendship. The crown signified their loyalty. The heart symbolized their love. Richard wedded his beloved and presented the first Claddagh to her as her wedding ring. And the two lived happily ever after….never to be apart again.
This legend of Claddagh history is not entirely without basis. Indeed, the earliest examples of Claddagh rings bear Richard Joyce’s initials. So it makes sense that most scholars and everyday people believe the legend of Mr. Joyce to be the true origin of Claddagh history.
To me, it’s not so much where the Claddagh originated from or even how to wear it, but that you bring to every relationship the values that the ring embodies- love, friendship and loyalty.