Legend Has It
With St. Patty’s Day so near, let’s look at an Irish jewelry tradition — the Claddagh Ring. It traces its humble origin to Claddagh, a small sea-faring village in western Ireland. Said to be the oldest fishing community on the island, Claddagh sits on the banks of Galway Bay, right outside the city walls of Galway. Rumor has it that Richard Joyce, a 17th century Galway native, designed the Claddagh ring. According to folklore, Joyce left his true love on a journey to the West Indies intending to marry her upon his return. Instead, pirates seized his ship and peddled him as a slave to present-day Algeria. Joyce’s owner, a Moorish goldsmith, saw his potential and trained him as a craftsman. After many years, King William III ordered all British captives freed from the Moors. Richard Joyce finally returned home with a ring he created that symbolized his enduring love and commitment. He presented the token to his lady-in-waiting, and they wed after countless years apart.
The Claddagh Ring: An Heirloom
Since then, the Claddagh Ring has stood as a symbol of Irish heritage. Traditionally gifted by a lover, friend, or family member, the Claddagh conveys a deep personal connection. When a girl comes of age, she may receive an heirloom Claddagh ring. It can pass from mother to daughter or from grandmother to granddaughter. During the Great Famine of the 19th century, masses emigrated to escape their country’s peril. In most cases, Claddagh rings were the only items of value families could bring to their new home. Even today, the style rules across much of Ireland and has garnered worldwide popularity.
Loyalty, Love & Friendship
The design itself is a variation of Roman fede rings, featuring two clasped hands to signify faith and trust. Similarly, the Claddagh shows two hands holding a crowned heart.
• The Crown – Symbolizes Loyalty
• The Heart – Symbolizes Love
• The Hands – Symbolize Friendship
The style has grown to express Irish identity and symbolizes friendship, along with adaptations as engagement and wedding rings.
Right Hand with the tip of the heart facing outward, the wearer’s heart is open. This means they are single and possibly searching for true love.
Left Hand with the tip of the heart facing outward, the wearer is engaged. We see this style worn the least.
Left Hand with the tip of the heart facing inward, toward oneself, the wearer is married with their heart paired with their partner’s for eternity.
Did You Know?
The buzz about the Claddagh style has erupted in recent years. Designs have grown increasingly ornate, embellished with jewels and fancy metals. The basic style, however, remains the same. You may have seen the ring on the popular series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where Angel presented the ring to Buffy for her birthday. Our late President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie also owned a pair of Claddagh rings after visiting Galway in the 1960s. Finally, the Partners statue in the Magic Kingdom depicts Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse perched in front of Cinderella Castle. Interestingly enough, Walt Disney is sculpted with a Claddagh Ring on his right hand with the tip of the heart pointed outwards (wrongly worn, considering Disney’s marriage). This iconic statue sets in stone the popularity and prevalence of Claddagh Rings representing Irish heritage and culture.