The Claddagh ring

Claddagh was once a fiercely independent
fishing village outside Galway City in the west
of Ireland. Since 1934 it has just been a suburb
of the city. However one tradition lives on
- The Claddagh Ring.

As legend has it, the town developed the ring
(originally a sigil to be painted on ships and sails)
to be worn by sailors of Claddagh.
When these sailors would run into other fishermen
in their waters, they would check for the sigil,
and if they did not find it, they would kill them.

The original Claddagh ring is generally attributed
to one Richard Joyce, of Galway. Joyce departed from Claddagh,
a small fishing village where the waters of the
River Corrib meet Galway Bay, on a ship enroute
to the plantations of the West Indies.
That week he was to was to be married,
but his ship was captured by Mediterranean Algerian
pirates and the crew were sold as a slaves;
Rihcard Joyce was sold to a Moorish goldsmith
who trained him in his craft. He soon became
a master in his trade and hand crafted a ring for
the woman at home he could not forget.
In 1689 he was released after William III came to the
throne of England and concluded an agreement
whereby all his subjects who where held in captivity by
the Moors were to be allowed return to their homes.
The Moorish goldsmith offered Robert Joyce
his only daughter in marriage and half his wealth if
he would remain in Algiers. He declined and returned
to Claddagh to find that the woman of his heart
had never married. He gave her the ring and they
were married and he set up a goldsmith shop in the
town of Claddagh. (The Claddagh is said to be the
oldest fishing village in Ireland). The earliest
Claddagh rings to be traced bear his mark and
the initial letters of his name, RI (Richard Joyce)
.Claddagh rings were
traditionally worn by women on the West Coast

The ring has a design of a heart being encircled
by a pair of delicate hands with a crown above the heart.
In earlier times this design was the symbol
of the "Fishing Kings of Claddagh"
meaning 'in love and friendship let us reign'.

In the 17th century the symbol was first depicted on
a ring which became the fashionable exchange
of friends or lovers.

If the woman wore it on her right hand with the heart
pointing towards the nail it meant she was open to
offers of marriage. Worn on the left hand with the
heart pointing away from the nail means she
was engaged to be married.
Claddagh rings are still made in Ireland and
used as friendship rings, and are popular all
over the world.

Huge numbers of Claddagh rings were
left with a Mr. Kirwan following the Great Famine 1846-47
which finally had to be consigned to the melting pot
as there was nobody to redeem or purchase them,
hence the difficulty in ascertaining their origin.
According to Dr. Kurt Ticker in
"The Claddagh Ring - A West of Ireland Folklore Custom" (1980)
interest in Claddagh rings became dormant after
Richard Joyce ended his manufacturing career
in the 1730s, and it was revived a generation or more later,
probably by George Robinson
(Dillon in fact had attributed the earliest ring to Robinson).
From then on a number of Galway goldsmiths
and jewellers of Galway made Claddagh rings.
Their early manufacture was by cuttle-bone mould
casting, then the cire perdue or "lost wax"
process up to the 1840s, when manufacture became
commercialised. Dillon describes some early rings,
one with a mitre-like crown, rings made from coins,
an analogous ring from Brittany, a "Munster" ring,
also Spanish rings with some similarities. He tells
us that the Claddagh ring was the only ring ever made
in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by
Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII.
Their rings were made by Dillons of Galway,
established in 1750, to whom the Royal Patent
was granted and the tradition has been carried
on at Dillons to this day. Prince Rainier
and Princess Grace of Monaco in 1962 were
presented with gifts embodying the
Claddagh ring motif set in Connemara marble.

There are many modern versions of the Claddagh Ring.
Here are some folk legends about the Claddagh:

It symbolizes LOVE (heart),
and LOYALTY & FIDELITY(crown).

There was a Dublin version of this ring that appeared
some 100 years back with two hands and two Hearts
but no Crown. Some call this version the Fenian Claddagh.

The Crown to The Father, The Left hand to the Son,
and the Right Hand the the Holy Ghost.
This explanation is directly correlated to the Shamrock,
one of the earliest symbols of the Holy Trinity among the Irish.

Some will say that the crown represents Beathauile.
The left hand represents Anu who was the ancestral
and universal mother of the Celts and who later
changed her name Danu. The right hand represents
Dagda Mor, the father of the gods who was so
powerful he had the power to make the sun stand still.
The heart represents the Hearts of all mankind and that which gives the everlasting music to the Gael.

Way back in the sandy mists of time, so the
story went, there was a great king who was madly
in love with a peasant woman--but as she was of a
lower class his love had to go unrequited. In suicidal
the king killed himself and had his hands lopped off
and placed around his heart as a symbol of his undying
love for the woman.

Another version o the Joyce tale tells that a
Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona,
a wealthy Spanish merchant who traded with Galway.
They proceeded to Spain, where he died, leaving her
a considerable fortune. Returning to Galway she used
her fortune to build bridges from Galway to Sligo,
and married one Oliver Og French, Major of Galway 1596-7.
She was rewarded for her good works and charity by an
eagle who dropped the original Claddagh ring into her lap.

By tradition the ring is taken to signify
the wish that Love and friendship should reign supreme.
The hands signify friendship, the crown loyalty,
and the heart love. The ring has become popular outside
Connamera since the middle of the last century -
its spread being helped by the vast exodus from
the West during the great Famine in 1847-49.
These rings were kept as heirlooms with great
pride and passed from mother to daughter.
Today, the ring is worn extensively across Ireland,
either on the right hand with the heart turned outwards
showing that the wearer is "fancy free" or with the
heart turned inwards to denote that he or she is
"spoken for". The pride of place is on the left hand,
with the heart turned in, indicating that the wearer is
happily married and the love and friendship
will last forever, the two never separated.

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