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The Claddagh

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There are many stories about the Claddagh ring. Claddagh itself refers to a small fishing village just near Galway city. The Claddagh ring supposedly originated in this area. 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. In marriage the heart was worn towards the wrist otherwise towards the fingertips. There are many modern versions of the Claddagh Ring. Here are some folk legends about the Claddagh:

•It symbolizes love (heart), friendship/faith (hands) 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 Correlative to the Shamrock, one of the Earliest Symbols of the Holy Trinity among the Irish.

•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 near the city of the Tribes, on a ship enroute to the plantations of the West Indies the week he was to was to be married to be sold as a slave. The ship was captured by Mediterranean Algerian pirates and the crew sold as a slaves with Rihcard Joyce being 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 him 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).

•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 re-married 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.

•The earliest examples of Claddagh rings that can be dated are stamped with RI, the mark of Richard Joyce, a goldsmith working in Galway circa 1689-1737, of the Joyce Tribe, one of the renowned "Fourteen Tribes of Galway" City. 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.

•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.

•The Claddagh Ring belongs to a widespread group of finger rings called Fede or "Faith rings" which date from Roman times. They are distinguished by having the bezel cut or cast in the form of two clasped hands, symbolising faith, trust or "plighted troth". Fede rings were popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe, and there are examples from this time in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin. The "Claddagh" ring is a particularly distinctive ring; two hands clasp a heart surmounted by a crown.

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Nicholas I Ward
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