Donnie Brasco’s Claddagh Ring

Cover image of the book Donnie Brasco, My Undercover Life in the Mafia

Cover image of the book Donnie Brasco, My Undercover Life in the Mafia

In “Donnie Brasco”, the former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone recounts his undercover life as Mafia jewel thief. Where even the smallest detail of this undercover life was important, the author recounts how his simple Claddagh ring What is interesting, of course given the major contribution of Irish culture to American, is recognisability of the ring in American life; but also the personal insight into the agent’s commitment to the ring given to him by his wife: “The only time I take the ring off is when I work out lifting weights. I wore it during the whole operation”.

On the Fourth of July weekend Jilly had a cookout for everybody. He had a house down at the Jersey Shore, in Seaside Heights, a block from the beach, and he had all the guys down with their wives and girlfriends.

I went to Fretta’s, the Italian meat market in Little Italy, and bought sausages and cold cuts and cheeses and took it down there for the cookout.

I wasn’t married, of course. Supposedly I had a couple of girlfriends here and there, but I never brought any of them around. The guys used to get on me sometimes about never bringing a girl around, but I told them there wasn’t anybody I cared enough about.

I always wear an Irish Claddagh ring that my wife gave me. It has hands holding a heart, and a crown on it, symbolizing love, friendship, and loyalty. Nobody had ever mentioned the ring.

We were sitting outside at this picnic table, and one of the guys’ girlfriends says, “That’s a nice ring you go on, Don. That’s an Irish Claddagh ring, isn’t it?”

Yeah.”

Aren’t those rings for love? Aren’t they used as wedding rings?”

Yeah, sometimes,” I say. One of the guys asks about it, and I go into the history and so forth.

The she says, “Well, what are you wearing it for? I didn’t think you were married or anything.”

No, I’m not. But one of the few girls I was ever in love with gave it to me. Then a couple months later she jilted me. I keep wearing it because I don’t ever want to forget her.”

One of the guys looks puzzled. He says, “You sure you’re not married?”

Why?”

Because I just can’t figure it out. You mean, you loved that girl so much that you keep wearing that ring after she jilted you?”

Sure, why not?”

I just didn’t think you were of guy that could love anybody. You know, the way that you’re here, you’re there, you go no allegiance, no ties to anybody.”

Well, there always comes a time in somebody’s life when there’s a girl that you love, somebody that’s special, so I’d rather remember it than forget about it. I just want to wear the ring, that’s all. What’s the difference to anybody else?”

The only time I take the ring off is when I work out lifting weights. I wore it during the whole operation. And that was the only time anybody ever mentioned it.”

Joseph D. Pistone, “Donnie Brasco”, Signet, 1997, ISBN 0451192575.

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