Claddagh Rings


"With my two hands I give you my heart and crown it with my love." It sounds like a line from a romantic period movie yet in reality this phrase is the literary interpretation of the claddagh ring's distinctive design: two hands holding a heart with a crown. The claddagh ring is considered a variation of the popular Roman ring design fede or faith ring. Faith rings are rings that feature the clasped hands design; the clasped hands symbolize trust or faith. Claddagh rings are distinguished from fede rings by the ubiquitous crowned heart. The hands represent friendship; the heart represents love; and the crown, loyalty.

The origin of the claddagh ring has been explained through various local myths. The two most popular myths are the Margaret Joyce story and the Richard Joyce story. Margaret Joyce was a member of the Joyce clan of Galway City; she acquired great wealth by way of inheritance from a deceased husband and shared her good fortune with her community. As a reward, an eagle gave her a claddagh ring. The second and more favored myth is the Richard Joyce story.

There was a young man named Richard Joyce who was set to marry his fiancée within a week. Unfortunately his boat was attacked by pirates and Joyce was sold to a rich Moor businessman. The Moor was a goldsmith by profession and took notice of Joyce's potential as a goldsmith. Joyce became his protégé and inspired by the fiancée he left behind, the first claddagh ring was fashioned by longing and skillful hands. When Joyce was released from slavery, the businessman offered his daughter and half his wealth in an effort to convince Joyce to stay. Joyce headed back to Galway and to his delight discovered his fiancée had never married. They were immediately wed and Joyce established a successful career as a goldsmith.

The claddagh ring has since been the traditional engagement and/or wedding ring design in Ireland; they are handed down through generations, usually by the mother to the daughter. In 1845, the Irish Potato famine caused widespread migration; as Irish families were spread over the four corners of the world, the claddagh ring gained international popularity and acceptance.

There are four traditional ways of wearing the claddagh ring. If worn on the right hand with the crowned heart facing away from the wearer, it means the wearer is single and available. If worn on the right hand with the crowned heart facing the wearer, it means he or she is spoken for or is in a serious relationship. When worn on the left hand with the crowned heart facing away, it means that the wearer is engaged. If the claddagh ring is on the left hand and the crowned heart is worn facing inwards, it means the wearer is married. Today, claddagh rings are worn as any other ring is worn – a piece of jewelry, a fashion accessory.

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