The Irish culture is actually a unique one. First, the Irish history is full of amazing tales that keep it alive. One more thing; the Irish have their very own traditions and customs. They barely resemble those of their counterparts. However, they sure share some similarities with the world surrounding them. Not only that you get to know amazing tales, but you’ll also learn about loyalty and allegiance. How is that? Well, among the Irish traditions, you will cross path with what is known as the Claddagh Ring. Love and fidelity is actually a language that the whole world speaks. On the other hand, when it comes to the Irish Claddagh Ring, the voice gets louder and clearer. You may think it’s only a ring, but there’s actually more to it than being just a finger wrapper. Take a quick tour of the little world of the Irish faithfulness.
WHAT IS THE CLADDAGH RING?
Basically, it is a ring; however, it is not a regular one. The Claddagh Ring, as we previously stated, belongs to the Irish culture. It is a traditional ring that represents loyalty and love. By love, we do not only refer to the romantic type, but also that found in friendships. According to history, the origin of the ring dates back to the 17th century. The ring comes in three different shapes and each shape carries a meaning. The latter depends on several factors, be them traditional or religious ones.
This ring was very popular and has always been so. However, during the last years of the 20th century, it gained more popularity. People showed interest in the ring as both an icon of the Irish identity and as a regular jewelry. In our modern times, people have shown interest in those rings. They are found in brand new designs and ones that are combined with different Irish symbols. The whole world has become familiar with the Claddagh Ring as part of the identity of Ireland.
The Fede Rings
In the European culture, there is a group of finger rings that embraces the Claddagh Ring as one of them. They are the Fede Rings and they date back to the Roman times. The word “fede” is a derivation from the Italian phrase “mani in fede.” The literal meaning of this phrase is “hands joined in faith or in loyalty. People in ancient Roman used to use the ring during pledging the vows. The sign of the clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows; that is why they used the ring. Over and beyond, those rings were also ones for weddings and engagements. That was the tradition during the medieval times as well as Renaissance Europe.
THE ORIGIN OF THE CLADDAGH RING
With the existence of a custom, there is always an origin to go back to. Learning about the origin of something gives you a further insight into it. You learn more about its symbolism and meaning according to the culture from which it originates. Thus, let us take a moment to learn about the reason behind the existence of the Claddagh Ring. Since the 1700’s, Galway- a city in the West of Ireland- kept on producing those rings unceasingly. However, people did not refer to it with a specific name. It was only a ring to most of the people. A century or so later, people started referring to the ring with a specific name. Before 1830, people were not familiar with the term, Claddagh Ring.
Jewelers of Galway
William Dillon was a jeweler based in Galway who wrote an account in 1906. In this account, he claimed that people in Connemara and Aran Isles wore the Claddagh Ring. During the Victorian period, people around Ireland and Britain became aware of the ring and its existence. People established the name of the ring and it became one of the culture’s prevalent customs. Being part of the culture’s identities, the jewelers in Galway started to market the ring. In the 19th century, they began marketing for the ring beyond the local areas. All the way through the 20th century, people recognized the ring as a very beautiful one.
Long before Dillon came into being, Bartholomew Fallon started the journey of marketing and promoting the ring. He was an Irish goldsmith who lived in Galway and existed during the 17th century. People learned about Fallon from a will that Dominick Martin wrote. Martin was also a jeweler and in 1676 he willed his tools to Fallon. He made use of the tools and kept working as a goldsmith until 1700. The jewels he used to create were significant ones and some of them even survived. Among the oldest jewels that survived was the Claddagh Ring and some of them bear his own signature as well.
The Claddagh Ring in Books
Old books have mentioned the ring in their contexts, declaring the prevalence of them. Moreover, those books have made it clear that the notion of the ring traveled beyond the borders of Ireland. George Frederick Kunz was an American mineralogist whose name appeared in the book Rings for the Finger. The book showed up in 1911 and in it, Kunz stressed the significance of the gold wedding rings in Ireland. However, he did not address the Claddagh one directly, but he included a picture. The photo belonged to the ring and even the caption says the ring’s name. Either way, people are not sure and still confused about the method that the ring reached the United States.
“Rings for the Finger” was not the only book that emphasized the significance of the ring. Finger Ring Lore is another book to mention it. The author of the book was a Victorian antiquarian, Sir William Jones. He used the Chambers’ Book of Days as a source, stating that the Galway community cares about the ring. Jones also stated that one of its styles was the most prominent when it comes to the fashion scene.
THE SYMBOLISM AND MEANING OF THE RING
Every ring in the world usually carries the meaning of loyalty and commitment. That is probably why people wear them when they get married or engaged. Likewise, the Claddagh ring is one of those rings used for engagement and weddings. On the other hand, some people use it as a ring of friendship instead of intimate love. Over and beyond, the ring plays a great part as a meaningful symbol in Ireland. It is as well one that mothers hand down to daughters. Mothers usually give this ring to their daughters when they reach a mature age. The cycle of handing down keeps going on in order to keep highlighting the prominence of the ring.
Well, what is the meaning of the ring? Or what does it symbolize, right? This depends on the shape of the ring. Interestingly, the Claddagh ring comes in different shapes and designs. Each of them has its own meaning. So, let’s check them out.
The Different Designs of the Ring
This is one thing that makes the ring very unique. It has different designs yet people get to recognize them easily. One of the most distinctive designs is the two hands that clutch together and form a heart shape. Usually, the hands have a crown surmounting them. People claim that each shape is a symbol of something. For instance, the shape of the heart is the symbol of love. On the other hand, the two hands symbolize friendship or companionship. At last, the upper part, which is the crown, symbolizes loyalty and fidelity.
There is another Irish ring; people refer to it as the Fenian Claddagh ring. It quite resembles the regular Claddagh ring; however, it has no crown. It has a bit different design, but it is as inimitable as its counterpart regular ring. However, the popularity of the Fenian ring is not as big as the regular one. The one with the crown is much more popular, especially among the non-Irish cultures. Ireland’s communities are the ones familiar with the Fenian rings more than the other cultures.
The Significant Uses of the Ring
Mainly, people use the ring for engagement and wedding purposes. However, there are certain ways in which people wear the ring that convey the relationship status of the wearer. Colin Murphy was an Irish author; he claimed the methods that show the marital status of whoever wears the ring. Murphy said that the wearer can put the ring on either the right or the left hand. Each side has its own meaning.
For example, wearing the ring on the right hand has two meanings. If the heart faces the fingertips then the wearer is open to a new relationship. Conversely, if the heart faces the wrist, the wearer is already in a relationship, but neither married nor engaged. Getting to the other side; a ring on the left hand always conveys either marriage or engagement. If the heart faces the fingertips of the wearer, then he/she is engaged. On the contrary, if the heart points toward the wrist, it means the wearer is married.
THE HISTORY OF THE CLADDAGH RING
The ring dates back to the old times of Ireland. It has been around for almost around three centuries. As we previously mentioned, the first appearance of the ring’s tradition was in an Irish fishing village. That village used to have winding streets and houses with muddy roofs. The word Claddagh itself comes from the term in old Irish ‘A Cladach.’ The literal meaning of the term is “a flat stony shore.” Interestingly, the village still exists, but it has undergone several modifications that make it more modern. Despite the alterations that the village has witnessed, the tradition of the ring remains still.
The Joyce Family
The first appearance of the ring has always been related to a small fishing village. However, there are also two different theories that tell us tales about how it first appeared. Both theories have to do with the Joyce family. The two tales sound a bit visionary, but you may find one of them sound realistic for you.
Margaret Joyce- The First Theory
The association of the ring with the Joyce family starts with Margaret Joyce. In fact, legend has it that this family was the ones behind the design of the ring. Margaret was the wife of a wealthy Spanish merchant. His name was Domingo de Rona. When he died, he left a big fortune for his wife. Later, she married the Mayor of Galway, Oliver Og French. She used the money left from her first husband in charity. Margaret built a lot of bridges in the Province of Connacht. That woman did a lot of good deeds, thus her reward was the Claddagh Ring. An eagle flew right over her and dropped the gold ring into her lap.
Richard Joyce- The Second Theory
The second tale revolves around Richard. He was on a journey to the West Indies when the Algerians caught him. They sold him to a Moorish goldsmith and he took the responsibility of teaching and training Richard. In 1689, William III of England declared that all slaves should be set free. Gladly, Richard Joyce was one of the slaves who retained their freedom once again. The Moorish goldsmith offered him his daughter for marriage and a major portion of his wealth in order to stay. However, Richard refused all of the tempting offerings and insisted on going back to his hometown. He returned to his native city with the Claddagh ring in his hands.
The story of Richard Joyce may seem a bit more realistic than that of Margaret’s. But, how he got to the Claddagh ring seems to remain mysterious, for it was not mentioned.
The Popularity of the Ring
Claddagh was the city where the ring became popular. The popularity of it extended beyond the border of the Claddagh during the middle of the last century. Ireland witnessed only that unique ring during that time and that was why it became prominent in no time. Royal figures wore it, making it even more popular and that includes Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, and King Edward VII.
THE IRISH WEDDING TRADITIONS
The Irish culture has its very own identity. Consequently, it is not surprising to learn that it has a unique set of traditions and customs. Well, every culture has its own identity, but when it comes to weddings, most of them are similar. The wedding in Ireland shares a lot of traditions of those of the European world. On the other hand, there are some that make up the Irish individuality. These traditions include the Claddagh ring. It is actually a vital part of an Irish wedding.
Knowing that the ring is a symbol of marriage and romance, it is easy to realize its importance in weddings. It is a tradition that people use the ring even the groom use one. As surprising as it may sound, males use this ring too. In fact, the male rings are heavier than the ones created for the ladies. However, men are not very concerned with jewellery as much as women are. Designers who sell these rings give the opportunity to order a pair of Claddagh rings for both genders. In Ireland, there is a tradition that makes it improper for you to buy a Claddagh ring for yourself. It is more common that you earn it as a gift or inherit it. The other traditions that the Irish wedding embraces include the magic hanky and the ringing bells.
To learn more about those traditions, Click Here.
Ireland seems to be one of the interesting cultures that you will ever learn about. The Irish heritage includes a lot of fascinating tales alongside enthralling traditions. And, did we mention the legends of the Irish mythology? They are one more thing that you don’t want to miss. Oh, and the Irish food; there is just a plenty of delicious dishes that you should try.