Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The Claddagh Ring. The Irish Wedding Ring.
The Claddagh ring.
You know no matter where I go if I see a Claddagh ring on someone’s finger I instantly think “Ah, there’s one of us”. It is as Irish as a Shamrock, a Guinness or the glint in an Irish eye.
Traditionally, the ring can be worn in three different ways, all marking a different stage in the journey towards love. When worn on the right hand with the heart facing outward facing the finger nail, the ring shows that you heart is free. When the heart is facing inward, toward the knuckle of the right hand, it is saying that the heart is no longer available. Finally, if the ring is to worn upon the left hand with the heart facing towards your wrist or if you are really romantic you say “It is facing your heart”. In Connacht we wear it as our wedding ring. Gold for the lady. Silver for the man.
When worn with the heart facing outwards towards the finger nail we even call it a friendship ring. I was raised to believe the meaning of the ring to be in these few words that I said to my wife when I gave her my family Claddagh ring “I give you my heart with open hands and crown it with my love” you then place it on her finger with the heart facing towards her wrist/heart as a symbol of you giving your heart to your loved one, and for us in the west of Mayo that is what the ring means.
Below is the story of the Claddagh ring from www.galwayonline.co.
The tale of the ring is one of the greatest to be heard in Galway. It is said that by the year 1900 the Claddagh ring had become as important to the mythology of the city as the 14 merchant families, or tribes, that led Galway as a virtual city-state during much of the 13th through 17th centuries. Adding to the intrigue is the simple fact that no one can say for certain just where the ring originated, who made it first, or exactly what its connexion with the Claddagh is. Interestingly, through the mists of history and folklore, one name has become more associated with the origin of the ring than any other – Richard Joyes.
The story of Richard Joyes (his own variation of Joyce) is nothing short of remarkable. As it is told, after embarking on a voyage for the West Indies, Richard was captured by an Algerian pirate and subsequently sold into slavery. His purchaser was a wealthy and skilled goldsmith who, noticing Richard to be clever and adroit, trained him as an apprentice. Richard became marvellously skilled at the trade earning the lasting respect of his master. Meanwhile, King William III had ascended the throne of England and as a matter of first action he sent an ambassador to Algiers to demand the immediate release of all British subjects. Upon learning the news of Richard's imminent release, the Moor offered Richard the hand of his only daughter in hope that he might stay. Richard declined and shortly thereafter departed for Galway where he began a new life as an independent jeweller, his most famous creation being the Claddagh ring – some of which, bearing Joyes distinctive jeweller's mark, still exist today.
Another account of the ring's origin attributes the ring to Margaret Joyce, the wealthy widow of a Spanish wine merchant who returned to Galway and married the city's governor somewhere around the year 1600. It is said that Margaret, being fond of philanthropy, built the greater portion of the bridges of Connaught with her own money. One day while overseeing the construction of the bridges an eagle flying overhead let the original Claddagh ring fall to her in reward for her extraordinary generosity.
As for the ring's association with the Claddagh, it might well have been an accident. Although the people of the Claddagh, which were known for their dislike of new things, astoundingly adopted the ring in a nearly universal fashion, there is little to suggest that the rings themselves first originated with the people of that small fishing community. Remarkably, the association may have come from the coincidental printing of a picture of the ring (then referred to as the 'Galway ring') and a description of the Claddagh on the same page of a British travel publication by Anne and Samuel Hall during the 1850's. But as with all things of this nature, there may well be far more to the truth than the evidence that we have, and anything is possible.
So it is that the true history of this, the most famous of Irish rings, remains elusive – always obscured by the cloak laid softly upon it by myth and folklore. But we would be wise to remember that this is precisely what enthrals our imagination the most. If we are lucky enough to look down upon a Claddagh ring on our own hand someday, we might capture a fleeting glimpse of the mystery and wonder that has decorated the saga of the ring with such poetic grandeur.
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