History of the Claddagh Ring
An original symbol of the Galway town of Claddagh, Ireland, (pronounced “klahda”) was first fashioned into the traditional ring back in the 17th Century during the reign of Mary II.
Legend has it that an Irish young man, Richard Joyce, bound for the West Indian slave plantations – no doubt the Irish Caribbean island of Montserrat – was kidnapped himself in rough seas by a band of Mediterranean pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith who over the many long years of his exile helped him perfect the skills of a master craftsman.
When in 1689 King William III negotiated the return of the slaves, Joyce returned to Galway – despite, it said, the Moor’s offer of the daughter’s hand in marriage and a princely dowry of half of all his wealth.
Back in Ireland a young women had never stopped faithful waiting for her true love to return. Upon which time when he presented her with the now famous Royal Claddagh gold ring – a symbol of their enduring love. Two hands to represent their friendship, the crown to signify their loyalty and lasting fidelity, and the sign of the heart to symbolise their eternal love for each other.
They soon married, never to be separated again.
“Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III. from the following circumstance, on the accession of that monarch to the throne of England. One of the first acts of his reign was to send an ambassador to Algiers to demand the immediate release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery, the dey and council, intimidated, reluctantly complied with this demand. Among those released, was a young man of the name of Joyes, a native of Galway, who, fourteen years before, was captured on his passage to the West Indies, by an Algerine Corsair; on his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who observing his slave, Joyes, to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade in which he speedily became an adept. The Moor, as soon as he heard of his release, offered him, in case he should remain, his only daughter in marriage, and with her, half his property, but all these, with other tempting and advantageous proposals, Joyes resolutely declined; on his return to Galway he married, and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success” James Hardiman, The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway.
The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring
The Royal Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity. The hands are there for friendship, the heart is there for love. For loyalty throughout the year, the crown is raised above.
Wearing the Claddagh Ring
- Worn on the right hand, with crown and heart facing out, the ring tells that the wearer’s heart is yet to be won.
- While under love’s spell it is worn with heart and crown facing inwards.
- Wearing the ring on the left hand, with the crown and heart facing inwards, signifies that your love has been requited.
The Claddagh Tradition
The traditional wedding ring of the Irish since the 17th Century, the Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a universal symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity.
Traditionally handed down from mother to daughter the Royal Claddagh ring has also become a symbol of our ties with the past and generations gone by. As Irish people we remember the many many of our people who had to leave Ireland with nothing but their lives during the Great Famine of the 19th Century – many leaving from here in Cork harbour to make the long voyage across the Atlantic to America. The gold Royal Claddagh ring was to become for many the only enduring link with their home country and practically their only savings and family inheritance.
Further reflecting the troubled history of Ireland itself, a hundred years ago the Fenian ring, with two hands and two hearts, was distinguishing by its lack of a crown to represent the struggle for Republican Ireland – however the traditional Royal Claddagh ring has always remaining the Irish standard proudly wearing the crown as a symbol of loyalty, a remembrance of our ancient Irish Kingdoms, and of our own British heritage.
Notable wearers of the Claddagh ring have included Queen Alexandria and King Edward VII of Britain and Queen Victoria of Britain and Ireland as it was then – a woman for whom the streets of Dublin where lined with cheering people. And in the little principality of Monaco, the Claddagh tradition lives on in the Royal family of Monaco and the memory of the beautiful Irish princess – Princess Grace of Monaco.
“The Governor of New York, George Pataki, was accompanied by his mother, Peggy Lynch, among others, at last week’s annual fundraising dinner for the Flax Trust, which promotes economic development in the North, at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Pataki, addressing the guests, said that when Brian Cowen was in New York recently, visiting Ground Zero, he had told him that he was asked by the parents of a missing city firefighter to inquire of the chief of the NYPD if a claddagh ring had been found in the wreckage. “Minister,” the chief told Cowen, “we have found 200 Claddagh rings.”
The ring, by which they had hoped to identify the body of their son, depicts two hands clutching a crowned heart symbolising love, friendship and fidelity. It was designed by Richard Joyce in Galway three centuries ago. It is as popular on the other side of the Atlantic as it is here. The discovery so early of so many in the ruins underlined “the loss suffered here and in Ireland”, said Pataki.” Irish Times, Weekend Sat, Oct 13, 01.
Today in the twenty-first Century, however, perhaps the most famous wearer of the Claddagh ring is the famous Buffy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. A present to her on her 17th birthday from her vampire lover, Angel, the ring was to symbolise their enduring love for each other – in spite of the obvious difficulties and even one day call Angel back from Hell.
“My people – before I was changed – they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty … and the heart … Well, you know … Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this.” Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Episode “The Surprise”.