There are many stories associated with the creation of the first Claddagh rings. Many of these stories are based in myths or folklore. Other stories are closer to what most believe to be the truth, although no one is one hundred percent positive about who originally created it. One of these myths involves a woman by the name of Margaret Joyce.
Margaret was the wealthy widow of a merchant from Spain named Domingo De Rona. As his widow, Joyce inherited the merchant's fortune and was quite wealthy. She went on to marry the Galway mayor. Using her inheritance, Margaret Joyce paid for the construction of a bridge. In return for her generous use of her wealth, she was given the first Claddagh ring. The ring did not come to her in a conventional manner, however; instead it is said that the ring was suddenly dropped into her lap by an eagle.
The story that is most likely to be the true origin involves another Joyce. In this well-known telling, an Irish man named Richard Joyce is thought to have created the first ring of this type. It is said that he was captured and sold by pirates as a slave. During his time spent as a slave, his goldsmith master taught him the skills necessary to work as a goldsmith. This was a skill that Richard took to and became very proficient at.
After years in slavery, Richard was granted freedom in the late 17th century. His freedom was given when King William III was able to negotiate the release of his subjects from slavery. The goldsmith, who did not want to lose Joyce, offered him his beautiful daughter as a wife in efforts to entice him to stay.
Declining the offer, Joyce returned to his home in the town of Galway in Ireland. Upon his return to Ireland, he became a jeweler and created the Claddagh ring. In fact, some of the earliest versions of the ring bear Joyce's mark and initials, which lends to the belief that he originally created the first rings.
Another more romantic version of the story exists. In this version, Richard James had been engaged to be married when he was taken as a slave. Throughout his captivity, his fiancée waited for his return, never to marry another. Joyce, who was trained as a goldsmith by his master, created the ring for his love. When he was freed, he returned to Galway and to his bride-to-be. He then presented her with the first Claddagh wedding ring.
Regardless of who was the first person to create the actual Claddagh ring, the style originates back to the days of Romans and a style of rings called the Fede Rings. These rings were extremely popular during the Middle Ages and featured clasped hands that represented both trust and loyalty.
Love, Loyalty and Friendship
The universal values that the ring represents are symbolized by the three stand-out features of the ring. Love, friendship, and loyalty are represented by the heart, the hands, and the crown. The heart symbolizes love, while the two hands holding the heart are symbolic of friendship. Above the heart is the crown. The crown represents the loyalty of the person giving the ring. The combined meaning of these symbols is part of what makes the Claddagh wedding ring worthy. There is a less traditional version in which the Irish Claddagh rings have two hearts and are crafted without the crown. This ring was created in Dublin as a symbol of the Irish Republic struggles and pride. It is known as the 'Fenian ring'.
Claddagh wedding rings are a tradition for many, but they are not the only tradition associated with this type of ring. Irish Claddagh rings were also traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. Today they are given for numerous reasons, and are also worn by men as well as women. How a person wears the ring illustrates what type of relationship, if any, she or he is in. This can be determined by which hand the ring is worn on, and which way the heart is facing.
When a person wears the ring on their right hand, it is a sign of being unmarried. If the person is not in a relationship, the ring is placed on the finger so that the point, or tip, of the heart is facing toward the tips of the wearer's fingers. If the person is in a relationship the ring is placed on the finger with the tip of the heart facing inward, toward the person's body. Once a person's status changes to engaged or married, the ring is placed on the left hand. This time, when the tip of the heart faces the fingertips, the person is engaged. When the heart's tip faces inward, the person is married.
One of the primary reasons for the Claddagh rings presence outside of Ireland was the Great Famine, or as it is commonly referred to, the Potato Famine. During this period which ran from 1845 to 1852, many Irish traveled from Ireland to the United States and Canada, leaving everything behind. Claddagh rings were often the only property and symbol from home that many would have and it was worn with a sense of pride.
Now the Claddagh is popular the world over with those of Celtic heritage and those who simply admire and respect its symbolism. When shopping for a special ring or Claddagh wedding ring for a loved one, look no further than Celtic-WeddingRings.com. We have over 25 years’ experience creating authentic Celtic jewelry. You'll find that much of our jewelry, including our silver and white gold wedding rings are handcrafted right in Ireland. Our large Claddagh collection honors this most romantic of all Celtic symbols.
Last modified by Eoin Kavanagh