Some 400 years ago in a
fishing village called Claddagh overlooking Galway Bay, close to
the city of the Tribes, lived Richard Joyce a Master Goldsmith.
It was he who crafted this now famous design that has become part
of the IRISH heritage.
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.
The ring worn on the
right hand, crown turned inward tells your heart is yet
unoccupied, worn with the crown turned outwards reveals love is
being considered. Worn on the left hand the crown turned outward
shows all, your heart is truly spoken for.
W. Dillon in his
publication on "The Claddagh Ring" in the Galway
Archaeological Society Journal, Vol. IV, 1905-6, defines the
limits over which the ring is worn as roughly from the Aran
Islands on the West, and through all Connemara and Joyce Country
to Galway, and then eastward and southward for not more than 12
miles at most. The whole district is the one served by fisherfolk
of the Claddagh village just outside the city of Galway, but
became known as the Claddagh ring probably because of the
proximity to the city of the large Claddagh fishing community
using the ring alone.
Huge numbers of
Claddagh rings were left with a Mr. Kirwan following the Great
Famine 1846/7 which finally had to be consigned to the melting
pot as there was nobody to redeem or purchase them, hence the
difficulty in ascertaining their origin.
Dillon describes some
early rings, one with a mitre-like crown, rings made from coins,
an analogous ring from Brittany, a "Munster" ring, also
Spanish rings with some similarities. He tells us that the
Claddagh ring was the only ring ever made in Ireland worn by
Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII.
Their rings were made by Dillons of Galway, established in 1750,
to whom the Royal Patent was granted and the tradition has been
carried on at Dillons to this day. Prince Rainier and Princess
Grace of Monaco in 1962 were presented with gifts embodying the
Claddagh ring motif set in Connemara marble.
In 1984 when Galway
celebrated its Quincentennial as a Mayoral City, the people of
Galway presented a specially commissioned 18 carat gold Claddagh
ring to President Ronald Reagan.
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.
Some Marks on Claddagh
Rings from the latter part of the 17th to the early part of the
The Origins of the
Claddagh Ring even yet remains a matter for conjecture, both
popular stories of its origins attribute it to the Joyce family
of Galway City. The two stories are as follows.
The first story says
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 second story says
that a Richard Joyce of Galway was captured by Algerian corsairs,
sold to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him in the craft. In 1689
he was released from slavery as a result of a demand from King
William III. The Moor offered him his only daughter in marriage
and half his wealth, if he would remain in Algiers, but Joyce
declined and returned home. He brought with him the idea of the
Claddagh ring. The earliest Claddagh rings to be traced bear his
mark and the initial letters of his name, RI (Richard Joyce).