Symbols have defined humans’ emotions and character for millenaries; tattoos, jewellery, even emoji are all used for self-expression. How did, then, a Roman ring become one the most iconic attribute of Ireland?
Despite its vast directory of genius poets, idyllic landscapes, legendary fairy-tales and enchanting Celtic rituals, Ireland does not have the reputation for being a romantic nation. With sayings such as “Would you like to be buried with my people?” or “There is no cure for love but marriage,” locals do have some unique ways to propose their better half. Irish are, alternatively, notorious for being proud, welcoming and having a big heart.
The secrets behind the Claddagh ring measures up to the Emerald Isle’s reputation: authentic, quirky and amusing. Over in Ireland has dug for information and listed 20 interesting facts, just for you.
First thing first: What is a Claddagh Ring and how to wear it?
A Claddagh ring is both an Irish traditional engagement/wedding ring and a cultural symbol. The way you put it on was a customary definition of your relationship status. Despite its new purpose to display one’s Irish heritage, many natives still follow the ensuing rituals:
- If you are willing to start a romance but haven’t found your Prince/Princess Charming yet, wear the circular piece of jewellery on the right ring finger. The signal to attract singles comes from the heart facing out (rather than in).
- The heart facing in means that you are engaged in an affair but that there is no official recognition of your status. Even though you are madly in love, men and women might still try their luck.
- When the question is finally popped (congrats!), it is time to switch hand! The heart facing out implies your betroth. An excellent technique to restrain most flirting approaches (most).
- When in, you are happily married, and no one can replace your better half. You reject any form of flirtation.
When worn as the emblem of Ireland, there is no particular finger to have the ring on; even a chain will do the trick. Some even use the ring as a charm.
20 Interesting Facts:
#1 ‘Mani in Fede’
Claddagh Rings belong to the family of Fede Rings and, comes from the Italian ‘mani in fede,’ translated as ‘hands in faith.’ The object illustrates two intertwined hands that symbolise either love, companionship or proof of troth. Dating back to the Roman Empire, its popularity reached its peak beyond borders, in the 12th century.
#2 Roman or Irish?
The traditional Claddagh band, Fáinne Chladaigh, is an Irish version of its predecessor. Its roots remain the same, but the design evolved as it adjoins both a heart surmounted by a crown top. Those additions, primarily appended nearby the village of Claddagh in the 17th century (Galway), respectively stand for love and allegiance. The hands, emblem of friendship, don’t clasp anymore and both converge toward the heart instead.
Ancient Egypt was the first to use rings as an emblem of union, but Ancient Rome marketing actions made the symbolism more popular.
#3 The “Heart and Hands Ring”
Fun fact: The only people not calling the jewel the Claddagh Ring are the inhabitants of Claddagh. They call it “the heart and hands ring”.
#4 The legend of Margaret Joyce
A legend lies behind the ring. Margaret Joyce, the new wife of Galway Mayor Oliver Ogffrench, built bridges all over Connaught with the money she inherited from the decease of her previous husband, a wealthy Spanish merchant. One day, while sitting outside, she received a heaven-sent gift for her generosity. An eagle flying above her released the earliest Claddagh ring.
#5 The Tale of the King and the Peasant
Another myth narrates that a king fell madly in love with a woman of a much lower rank, a peasant working nearby. Unauthorised to officialise his passion, he did not see any purpose in living any longer. He could not bear seeing the one he loved without being able to approach her, so he took away his own life. Before going to the other world, he arranged a unique set up to show the greatness of his love: he had his hands wrapping his crowned heart.
#6 The folklore behind Richard Joyce
Records of goldsmith Bartholomew Fallon and silversmith Richard Joyce also appear historically. Truth is: no one knows who was at the origin of the creation of the Irish Ring.
Captured by Algerian pirates when he left Galway in the mid-17th century to discover the New World, Richard Joyce was sold to a Moorish jeweller. The latter instructed him how to manipulate the gold and the talented Richard successfully created multiple pieces of adornment (including the Claddagh Ring).
He was liberated after 14 years of detention, when William II of England asked Algerians to set free any enslaved British subjects. The slave’s master offered both his daughter and half of his fortune for the Irish to stay, but he refused and went back to his hometown. When he got married, he granted his wife-to-be with the masterpiece he created when captured. His wedding unveiled his handiwork to the world; the success of the design had just started. The Claddagh Ring was born.
#7 The Claddagh Ring Song
Many singers honour the Claddagh ring! Holy Kirby tells the story of Richard Joyce with her enchanting voice and the acclaimed ‘Ould Claddagh Ring Song’ by the accordionist Dermot O’Brien sings as below:
“The old Claddagh ring
Sure it was my grandmother’s
She wore it a lifetime and gave it to me
All through the long years, she wore it so proudly
It was made where the Claddagh Rolls down to the sea
With a crown and a crest to remind us of honour
And clasping the heart
That God’s blessing would bring
A circle of gold always kept us contented
With true love entwined in the old Claddagh ring.”
Andy M. Stewart, Hugo Duncan, Shawn Cuddy alongside many others also serenaded the ring.
#8 What’s the Fenian Claddagh Ring?
The Fenian Claddagh Ring is an unpopular variant, which presents without the crown. Some theories state that it was born in Dublin in the 19th century as a mean to express the eagerness of freedom from the British rulers. Others that its creation dates from years before the famous Claddagh band.
#9 As an Heirloom
When transmitted as a legacy, the mother tells her daughter “With these hands, I give you my heart, and I crown it with my love.” When leaving to America, the emigrants (both sexes) would receive this family heritage their day of departure. The latter was one of the reasons the ring acquired such identity importance.
#10 Can you buy yourself a Claddagh Ring?
The Claddagh Ring should not be a personal purchase. If you bestow one upon yourself and wear it, consider it bad luck! Legends say it should be either a gift (from a lover, a friend or kin member) or a family legacy.
Creation or true belief? Many people (Irish included) keep buying themselves the ring nowadays. Superstitious spirits can comfort themselves with t-shirts, keychains, handbags (etc.) representing the Irish gem.
#11 Do you have to be Irish to own a Claddagh Ring?
You don’t have to be French to eat baguette or Maori to get Ta Moko tattoos, well the same applies for the ring. Love, loyalty and friendship are universal principles. If its meanings genuinely speak to you, you don’t have to be Irish to own, wear or purchase it.
#12 Did you say, Jim Morrison?
For his Celtic inspired wedding, the rock star from ‘The Doors’ bought himself, and his wife Claddagh rings. His was gold and hers, silver. A Celtic handfasting ceremony (see the end of the article) concretised their union on Summer solstice day, the 21st of June; an important date of the Pagan calendar. In his movie ‘The Doors,’ Oliver Stone depicts the singer’s wedding in an authentic, yet theatrical, cinematographic adaption.
Other celebrities such as Sienna Miller, Liam Gallagher, Mia Faro, Bono and John Wayne have been proudly seen with the band on.
Video of the movie ‘The doors’/Pagan ceremony https://vimeo.com/159347359
#13 Buffy and the Irish Vampire
Who hasn’t heard or watched Buffy and the Vampire Slayer at least once in their life? In an episode, Angel offers a Claddagh Ring to Buffy as a birthday gift. When the Galway vampire, also the owner of a ring, hands it over to her, he says “My people, before I was changed… They exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty… And the heart… Well, you know… Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody.”
#14 Leap Year Movie (Spoiler Alert!)
A Celt tradition grants women with the right to propose to the man they love, on the 29th of February of every leap year and, they can’t refuse.
Leap Year, an Irish/ American romantic comedy, retraces the (fictional) story of a woman travelling to Ireland to apply the custom to her Irish lover. Things, of course, don’t go as planned and he ends up proposing to her with the illustrious Claddagh Ring.
#15 A President Ring
To honour their Irish roots, both President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jackie received paired jewellery as gifts during their visit to Galway. Indeed all four of JFK’s grandparents were from Ireland, so he (and his wife) travelled through the county for a few months to discover his heritage.
Clinton, Reagan and Churchill also possess the precious jewel.
#16 Walt Disney’s Statue
Known as “The Partners,” the famous statue at the entrance of Disney World Florida, created in 1993 by Baine Gibson, depicts both Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse holding hands. It also shows the Claddagh band moulded on the American entrepreneur’s right ring finger.
Walt and wife Lilian purchased one each when travelling in Ireland and never removed them since then. (Keep it as a secret, but the ring points the wrong way… Not sure if his better half would have appreciated)
#17 Diamond Ring
Diamond rings are not customary Claddagh rings. However, as the future owner of the ring, the choice of adding a gem or not is entirely yours. Some jewellers, deeply rooted in ancestral customs, might refuse to add a stone but many others won’t see an issue.
#18 T. Dillon’s and Sons
Officially licensed since 1750, T. Dillon’s and Sons are the oldest Claddagh ring makers in Ireland (and in the world). Hundreds of shops sell the notorious item but Jonathan Margetts, today’s owner (2019), proudly keeps traditions alive. All are handmade and stamped with proof of their authenticity.
You can visit Jonathan’s dedicated free museum during the shop’s opening hours. You’ll find wonders such as the world’s smallest Claddagh Ring, some of the earliest customary bands and even watch craftsmen work before your eyes!
#19 What about widowers?
A widower should wear the ring following his/her state of mind. Those who are ready to start a new relationship should show their eligibility (as stated at the beginning of the article). For the others, no need for change.
#20 Prince Albert Ring
Before anything: do you know what a Prince Albert ring is?
Also known as a PA Ring, it is a piercing done in the male genital area (ouch!). It first appeared in the 19th century when fashion required men to wear very tight trousers. To create some discretion, they had to place their organ one way or the other. To do so: the piercing was done, and a ring was set to hold the hook placed within the pants. It was called “the Dressing Ring.’ Tailors would always ask if a man dresses left or right.
Beyond the clothing trend, new sexual arousing came along the practical ornament.
Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, is notorious for having himself pierced before his wedding. Rumours state that it happened in a Galway Claddagh shop.
How to pop the question like Ancient Celts?
If you are looking for inspiration for him/her to say “yes!”. Pagan and Wiccan rituals are familiar sources of inspiration in Ireland. There are two Celtic engagement practices.
The first requires a menhir with a hole carved in it such as Caherurlagh Standing Stone in Ballyroon, County Cork. The pledge to marry involves the passage of both hands (one per person) through the circular aperture. Once the couple holds each other, the commitment is legitimate.
The other custom, known as handfasting, implies the duo initiating the ceremony to hold each other’s hands. A third party, also called the High Priest, will wrap a cord around and tied a special knot to symbolise oneness. The length of the ribbon and choice colours vary as each have unique meanings.