Most of you have heard of, worn or seen a Claddagh ring. (If not, then you obviously haven’t read my explanation of the popular Irish ring here!)
But do you know why this ring has spread like wildfire around the world? It all started in Galway, Ireland, down the street from my apartment…
Of course my apartment didn’t exist back then. But a little village called the Claddagh did.
For centuries, the ring was used as a wedding ring in the Claddagh village which perched just outside the Galway city walls. (It wasn’t called the “Claddagh ring” until much later.)
But where did the humble fishermen of the Claddagh village get this quirky little ring?
A native named Richard Joyce.
Now, like any legend, Richard Joyce has many rival legends. One of these includes an eagle dropping the first Claddagh ring into a woman’s lap.
But visit Galway today and you’ll see, the story the locals perpetuate is that of Richard Joyce, a member of the powerful Galway tribe, the Lynch family.
The story goes that Richard was on board a ship that was attacked by Algerian pirates. Poor little thing was sold into slavery and found himself the servant of a Moorish goldsmith, very far from home.
But the goldsmith noticed that –
Richie was good at this goldsmith crap!
So, when Rich’s freedom was eventually obtained by the English king, William III, the Moorish goldsmith knew exactly what he was going to lose.
His solution? To offer Richie half of his goldsmith business and his daughter’s hand in marriage.
The story goes that Ricky had a sweetheart back in Galway, a woman he loved even after all those years. So he returned to her, just like he had said he would years ago. And there, in Galway, all his friends were waiting.
Ah, look at that!
That’s a neat little story, but there’s little evidence to back it up. There were several goldsmiths, in addition to Rick, whose initials mark early Claddagh rings from the same time period.
Thomas Dillon in Galway city, operating since 1750, claims to be the oldest jeweler in Ireland still making the original Claddagh ring.
There’s even a tiny museum at the back of the shop that any Claddagh enthusiast must visit. (It’s actually just a room. But a free, packed-with-knowledge room!) In this “museum” sits a ring supposedly made by Richard Joyce (RJ) himself, as well as rings by other potential Claddagh inventors (area goldsmiths).
Also of interest: The world’s smallest Claddagh, on the tip of a tailor’s pin!
Some scholars believe the Claddagh ring is a variation of the Roman fede rings. These were rings popular in the Middle Ages that depicted two clasped hands. They were also used to symbolize loyalty and fidelity, often used in marriage. Sound familiar?
We’ll probably never know the true origin of the Claddagh ring, but that doesn’t taint the beauty of the ring or what it means to each owner or even the legend of Richard Joyce and his sweetheart.
I’ll leave you with a poem to help you remember the symbols of the Claddagh ring: