The origin of the Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh Ring is believed to have originated in the fishing village situated near the shore or “Claddagh” of Galway Bay. The Claddagh outside the city walls and separated by the River Corrib, was an exclusive community of fishermen and their wives, who were ruled by a King.
The ring shows two hands holding a heart which wears a crown. This design is explained by the phrase: “Let love and friendship reign,” which was an ideal meaning for a wedding ring which was worn by this community for over four hundred years.
The distinctive design is associated with one of the Tribes of Galway, the Joyce family. Margret Joyce married a wealthy Spaniard, Domingo de Rona, who left her his fortune when she died. She used this inheritance to build bridges in the province of Connacht. Margret then married the mayor of Galway 1596, she was then rewarded by her good works and charity as an eagle dropped a gold ring, known as the Claddagh into her lap. However this farfetched legend had a more factual opponent from Richard Joyce.
Richard Joyce was another native of Galway who was heading to the West Indies to work. While on his journey, his ship was captured by Algerian corsairs and he was sold as a slave to a Moorish Goldsmith who trained him. Richard was released from slavery in 1689 at the demand of William III of England to release all British prisoners. The goldsmith had a great amount of respect for Richard that he offered him his daughter and half his wealth, Richard refused his offer and he returned to Galway with the intentions of marrying his love who was awaiting his return and he set up as a goldsmith. His work marked with an anchor signifying ‘hope’ with the initials RJ still exists.
During Richard Joyce’s time as a goldsmith for Moors he forged a ring as a symbol of his love for a woman in Galway and presented it to her when he turned home. The Claddagh Ring’s design is attributed to him.
The Claddagh ring became popular around the middle of the 20th century, especially as it was the only ring made in Ireland and has been worn by Queen Victoria, Queen Alexander and King Edward VII.
What does the Claddagh Ring mean?
The Claddagh ring’s distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart wearing a crown. The design symbols the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands) and loyalty (the crown).
Traditionally, if the owner of the ring wears it with the crown pointing towards the finger nail, he or she is said to be in love or married. To wear the ring with heart pointing to the finger nail, he or she is said to be unattached to anyone.