Celtic Culture

 

 

The Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh's distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown).

The expression which was associated with these symbols in the giving of the ring was: "With my hands I give you my heart, and crown it with my love."

Symbolism

The way that a Claddagh ring is worn on the hand is usually intended to convey the wearer's romantic availability - or lack thereof.

Traditionally, if the ring is on the right hand with the heart pointing outward and away from the body, this indicates that the person wearing the ring is not in any serious relationship, and may in fact be single and looking for a relationship.

However, when worn on the right hand but with the heart pointing inward toward the body, this indicates the person wearing the ring is in a relationship, or that "someone has captured their heart". A Claddagh worn on the left hand ring finger, pointing outward away from the body, generally indicates that the wearer is engaged.

When the ring is on the left hand ring finger and pointing inward toward the body, it generally means that the person wearing the ring is married. For more about Celtic Wedding rings to the article on "Celtic Wedding Rings".

Origins

The Claddagh ring belongs to a widespread group of
finger rings called “Fide Rings". These date from early Roman times.

Note: Fede or "Faith rings" date from Roman times and were popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe. Early examples are on view at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

They are distinguished by having the bezel cut or cast in the form of two clasped hands, symbolizing faith, trust or “plighted troth”. Fide (Latin for “faith”) rings were popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe, and there are examples from this time period in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

The Claddagh ring is a particularly distinctive ring. It has two hands clasping a heart surmounted by a crown. There are also many legends about the origins of the ring.

One tale is about Margaret Joyce, a woman of the Joyce clan. She married a Spanish merchant named Domingo de Rona.

She went with him to Spain, but he died and left her a large sum of money. She returned to Ireland and, in 1596, married Oliver Óg Ffrench, the mayor of Galway

With the money she inherited from her first marriage, she funded the construction of bridges in Connacht All this out of charity, so one day an eagle dropped the Claddagh ring into her lap, as a reward.

Another story tells of a Prince who fell in love with a common maid. To convince her father his feelings were genuine and he had no intentions of "using" the girl, he designed a special ring for her.

It had hands representing friendship, a crown representing loyalty, and a heart representing love. He proposed to the maid with this ring, and after the father heard the explanation of the symbolism of the ring, he gave his blessing.

Another legend, that may be closer to historical truth, is of a man named Richard Joyce. He was another member of the Joyce clan and a native of Galway.

He left his town to work in the West Indies, intending to marry his love when he returned. However, his ship was captured and he was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith.

In Algiers, with his new master, he was trained in his craft. When William III became king, he demanded the Moors release all British prisoners.

As a result, Richard Joyce was set free. The goldsmith had such a great amount of respect for Richard Joyce that he offered Joyce his daughter and half his wealth if Joyce would just stay. 

However, he denied his offer and returned home to marry his one true love who awaited his return. During his time with the Moors, he forged a ring as a symbol of his love for her. Upon his return, he presented her with the ring and they were married.

Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III from the following circumstances, on the accession of that monarch to the throne of England. One of William III's first acts, of his reign, was to send an ambassador to Algiers. The Ambassador was to demand the immediate release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery.

Intimidated by his power the dey and council reluctantly complied with the King's demands. Among those released was a young man of the name of Joyes. He had been a native of Galway, who had been captured fourteen years before on his passage to the West Indies by an Algerian Corsair. When he arrived at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk who was a goldsmith.

Observing his slave, Joyes, to be tractable and ingenious he instructed him in the trade of making fine gold jewelry - which he became very adept at in record time. The Moor, as soon as he had of Joyce's release he offered him his only daughters hand in marriage and her half of all his property.

Although it was a most tempting and advantageous proposal, Joyes declined it without hesitation. On his return to Galway he married and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success.

Yet another legend of the ring states that if you are wearing the ring on the right hand and the band breaks, the person you are with is destined to be your one true love.

Worldwide Popularity

The Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) caused many to emigrate from Ireland, and the Claddagh ring spread along with the emigrants to the United States and elsewhere. Now the design is worn worldwide. These rings are often considered heirlooms, and passed on from
mother to daughter as well as between friends and lovers.

A "Fenian" Claddagh, without the crown, was later designed in Dublin for the Irish Republican community, but that is not an indication that the crown in the original design was intended as a symbol of fidelity to the British crown. The Fenian Claddagh, while still being made, has
not approached the popularity of the ancient design.

Claddaghs continue to be worn, primarily by those of Irish heritage, as both a cultural symbol and as engagement and wedding rings. At their Celtic Pagan handfasting Scottish American Jim Morrison The Doors Irish American author Patricia Kennealy-Morrison exchanged Claddagh rings.

A picture of the rings was included on the cover of Kennealy-Morrison's memoir, Strange Days: My Life With and Without Jim Morrison, and the Claddagh's can be seen in most of her author photos as well.

Claddagh rings have made periodic appearances in movies and television. Often as a plot device to indicate the ethnic origins or relationship status of a character, to illustrate wedding scenes, or to subtly indicate that the relationship of two characters has changed.

In a scene loosely based on the above wedding ceremony, Val Kilmer and Kathleen Quinlan, as fictional versions of Morrison and Kennealy-Morrison, are seen exchanging the rings in Oliver Stone's movie, "The Doors".

Side note: Great movie! Ever since I first watched "The Doors" I have been a Major fan of Val Kilmer.

Sometimes authors of fiction and fantasy works have given the ring a somewhat altered or fanciful symbolism to better suit their purposes. An example of such was writer/director Joss Whedon's use of the ring as a recurring plot device in the television series, Buffy The Slayer.

Whedon reinterpreted the meaning of the ring - when worn on the left hand, facing in, in the usual "married" configuration - as meaning, "the wearer is destined to be with his or her love forever."

While the actual meaning ascribed to the ring in this instance is incorrect, it is used in much the same way as Claddaghs have been used in more traditional roles in fiction: to provide an ongoing visual reference to the type of relationship that exists between two of the lead characters, Buffy and Angel.

How To Wear The Claddagh Ring

Claddagh rings were originally worn in the village of  Claddagh in Galway, Ireland. Their traditional purpose was to show marital status.

  1. If one was courting, the Claddagh ring would be worn on the right hand with the heart facing outwards.
  2. Once a betrothal had been decided the Claddagh ring would be turned so the heart faced inwards. However, it was still worn on the right hand.
  3. Upon marriage, the Claddagh ring was worn on the left hand with the heart turned inwards and would serve as a wedding ring.

Over time the popularity of the Claddagh design has grown. Now people from around the world wear the Claddagh ring and also give them to friends and those they hold dear. So the age old message of Love, Friendship & Loyalty is passed on to others.

When you wear the Claddagh ring on your right hand with the heart facing outwards it tells the world your heart has not yet been won. Claddagh Ring Right Hand outwards
When you wear the Claddagh ring on the right hand with the heart facing inwards, it shows you have love under consideration. Claddagh Right Hand Down
But if worn on your left hand with the heart turned inwards the world now knows that two hearts have forever joined. Claddagh Showing Married

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