Before coming to Ireland, I knew that I wanted to get a claddagh ring. It wasn’t until I got here that I started learning little by little more about its history. When I mentioned my quest to get one to my roommate, she recommended holding off until we travelled to the west of Ireland to get one. Upon further research, I learned that the claddagh ring is thought to have started in a village close to the shore of Galway Bay. The word “shore” is synonymous with “Claddagh” which gives some insight to the name of the ring.
The claddagh ring itself depicts a crown resting on a heart, which is encompassed by two hands. This is thought to reflect the saying, “Let Love and Friendship reign.” There is also a certain way to wear the claddagh ring (if the wearer so chooses). If the crown is pointing outwards, or towards the wearer’s fingernail, that symbolizes that he or she loves or is committed to another person. If, however, the crown is pointing towards the person’s knuckles, it symbolizes that that person is single. I have also heard that this is true when it is worn on the right ring finger, however when it is worn on the left, an outward pointing crown means marriage and an inward facing crown means engagement.
There are multiple stories that depict how the claddagh ring came to be. Though we may never know with one hundred percent certainty its true origins, love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown) are always recurring themes in the various tales. I wanted to learn not only the history of the claddagh ring, but also how it relates to Irish Americans. Though both genders can wear it, the ring is more commonly found on Irish American females than males. It also serves as an immediate way for an Irish person’s culture to be recognized by others. It is especially exciting when another knows the origins and meaning of the ring as well, which serves as both a great conversation and an immediate bond. Irish Americans (as well as Ireland inhabitants) also use the ring in marriage. This is a way for a married couple to proudly display their culture and be reminded daily of the importance and pureness of love, friendship, and loyalty. These are also three extremely important qualities for a marriage to have.
Perhaps the most romantic story I’ve read about the origin of the claddagh ring, and also my personal favorite, was that of Robert Joyce. It is said that he was kidnapped by pirates when he took to the sea, leaving Galway. He was then sold into slavery and worked as a goldsmith. He was held there for years, in which time he created the claddagh ring in honor of his true love, who resided in Galway. King William III released all the slaves, and Joyce was finally free after being kept away from Margaret (the woman he loved). His previous master was so impressed with him that he did not want to see Joyce go, so offered him riches and his own daughter to marry. Joyce turned him down so he could return to Margaret, who faithfully awaited his return and they were finally able to make their life together. He presented her with the claddagh ring, which she wore for the rest of her life. Various other stories are along these lines, mostly centering around the pureness of the ring and it proving a man’s true love for a woman. Learning more about the background of the claddagh ring only makes me appreciate mine more. The emphasis it puts on love, friendship, and loyalty make it even more meaningful to me and I hope everyone who owns one has an appreciation for its history.
Among Irish Americans, the claddagh ring can also serve as a family heirloom. It is sometimes passed down from mother to daughter, especially when the daughter is getting married. This is something Irish Americans do in remembrance of their ancestors who lived and had these traditions in Ireland. I think this is a wonderful way to preserve memories of ancestors and strengthen family ties. Having gotten my own in Galway makes me feel as though I am partaking in this tradition even more closely than I would be if I had gotten it in America. Of course the story is equally as meaningful, but something about having gotten it near Galway makes me feel closer to my ancestors.
Though the claddagh ring is thought to have originated in Galway (or at least very close), it has particular connections to the Joyce family (who was a Tribe of Galway). It took a long time for the claddagh ring to become so popular outside of Galway and Ireland. This can, at least in part, be attributed to Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, and King Edward VII who all wore the ring and aided in spreading its popularity. Its popularity in America can be attributed to people such as President John F. Kennedy, Bono (from U2), and it even made an appearance in the television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as a storyline. The latter particularly got the attention of many Americans because it revealed some of the potential origins of the ring and gave it a mysterious history.
What I like most about the claddagh ring is its simple yet meaningful design, and that whenever I glance down and see it I’ll be reminded of the three months I spent in Ireland.
Thomas Dillons Claddagh Gold – History of the Ring. 2014. Thomas Dillons Claddagh Gold – History of the Ring. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.claddaghring.ie/content/7-history-claddagh-ring. [Accessed 15 March 2014].
By: Alyssa Ashleen Danilow