Short story: The origins of the Claddagh ring

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Ali Isaac, author of Grá mo Chroí and The Tir na Nog Trilogy celebrates St Patrick’s day with our readers by sharing some background information and history on the Claddagh ring.

The Claddagh ring is a symbol of Ireland that we all know and recognise. It is often used in place of a wedding ring, but in Ireland, is just as often given and worn as a sign of friendship, as of love.

The design takes the form of a crowned heart nestled within two hands. It symbolises the intention, ‘let love and friendship reign’. It is thought that originally this ring was an heirloom belonging to a family from the fishing village of Clauddagh in Galway.

The Claddagh is a variation of a type of ring known as a fede. The fede dates back to Roman times, when the gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows, and represented faith and trust.

Queen Victoria was said to have worn a Claddagh ring. It was only then that the crown was added to the design, and the ring gained popularity as a wedding ring.

There is a lovely story concerning the origins of the Claddagh ring. Richard Joyce, a silversmith from Galway was captured by Algerian Corsairs around 1675 while travelling to the West Indies. He was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft.

He was freed fourteen years later, when King William III sent an ambassador demanding the release of all British subjects who had been enslaved. Joyce then returned to Galway, taking the ring he had made while in captivity, which he gave to his sweetheart upon their marriage.

Tradition dictates that the ring must never be bought for oneself, but only given as a gift. The people of Clauddagh were said to have handed them down through the generations of their families as heirlooms.

The way the Claddagh is worn can reveal a lot about the wearer; if you are single, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing outward from your body. If you are in a relationship, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing inwards. If you are engaged, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing outwards, and if you are married, you should wear the ring on your left hand on the third finger with the heart pointing inwards.

Who knew the wearing of a ring could be so complicated! Only in Ireland…

Copyright Ali Isaac, 2015

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