Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney
The history of the Claddagh Ring dates back roughly to the 1600s. In Galway, the village of Claddagh was one of the first areas of settlement by the Celtic invaders from southern Europe.
These newcomers were an exclusive community and strangers were never allowed to settle among them. As far as recorded history is concerned, the “Claddagh” was ruled by one of its inhabitants, who was called “King” and was elected for a specific political term. He was almost akin to the early Biblical prophets in that he administered the laws, judging all disputes according to age-old customs and traditions. But his was not a kingship of proud castle and noble throne, surrounded by an entourage of politically-motivated sycophants. His only mark of rulership was a white sail, flying at the top of his masthead when the fishing fleet put out to sea.
Legend then moves from the settlement of the Claddagh to the life and work of a traveling Galway man, one Richard Joyce. While aboard ship in the Mediterranean (perhaps), Algerian Corsairs, under the piracy flag, captured Richard and sold him into slavery to a wealthy goldsmith who began to train him in the intricacies of his specialized craft. With his winsome nature and ability in goldsmithing, his master took a great liking to him, and incorporated him into the family business. When the King of England in 1689 managed to secure the freedom of all slaves, the Moor offered Richard the hand of his beautiful daughter in marriage if he would only stay and maintain the work he had been doing. But Richard’s heart lay far across the sea and still belonged to the girl from whom he had been snatched so painfully. During his time with his captors, Richard had developed the concept of the Claddagh ring and now, his freedom secure, he returned to Ireland and, finding his lady love still waiting for him, presented her with this symbol of his devotion and faithfulness.
Settling down in the ancient village of Claddagh, just outside Galway City, he designed and produced other Claddagh rings, which soon became very popular with local people as an engagement ring or wedding band.
Today, the legend of the Claddagh ring has enhanced its attraction to lovers everywhere. The story behind the Claddagh ring and its appeal began to move outside the local area about the middle of the 1800s. Another legend (perhaps verifiable) claims that the Claddagh is the only ring made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII.
Today, people’s fascination with the Claddagh ring is growing exponentially, partly because of its unique design, its legendary history, its sentimental appeal and of course the massive exposure it receives on many of the “Shop-At-Home” TV channels.
The correct method for wearing a Claddagh ring is as follows:
Worn on the ring finger of the right hand, with the crown turned inwards, it tells all prospective suitors that the wearer’s heart is not yet taken. Worn with the crown turned outward demonstrates that a new love is being considered.
Worn on the left hand the crown turned outward shows everyone that the wearer’s heart has already been spoken for.
The hands are there for friendship,
The heart is there for love,
For loyalty throughout the year,
The crown is raised above.
The true Irish Claddagh bears a mark of authenticity, which cannot be imitated. A genuine Irish Claddagh is one that is handcrafted in Ireland, assayed in Dublin Castle and hallmarked by the Irish Assay master.
The assay and hallmark in a Claddagh can tell the owner the karat of gold or fineness of silver as well as the year in which it was made and most important it proves it is Irish.
The Claddagh ring is known as a Faith Ring. In this beautifully crafted design, a pair of hands gently hold a perfectly formed heart. Atop the heart is an unmistakable crown. It is said that the heart is for love, the hands for friendship, and the crown for loyalty. Its symbolism is a touching example of one man’s love for his beloved.
Celtic rings are as intricately designed as the history behind them. As the stories of old are woven into the hearts of man and woman, so too the rings bear the delicate complexity of geometric designs woven into them. One such artistic arrangement is the Celtic knot ring. Some of these rings have triple knots, Triskeles, on the sides of them. Others are in a triangular pattern and still others appear as a braided knot.
Please click here for more about Claddagh jewelry from Irish Celtic Jewels.