Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Claddagh Ring

This may be the most well-known symbol of love in Ireland. It is said tha this ring, a crowned heart held by two hands, is a symbol of love, friendship, and loyalty, best explained in the phrase, "Let Love and Friendship Reign." It was the traditional marriage ring of the fishermen of Claddagh, a small village on Galway Bay. Legend has it that the ring was developed for sailors to wear as a means of identifying their heritage in case they went overboard, were lost at sea, or were washed ashore on foreign soil.

A more romantic legend is the story of Richard Joyce, captured by Algerian pirates on his way to the West Indies, he was forced into slavery working for a Moorish goldsmith. Joyce became a master goldsmith and handcrafted this ring design for his ladylove back home. He was released in 1689 and returned to the village of Claddagh, to his true love. He gave her the ring and she used the Claddagh as a wedding band when they married. Joyce set up a goldsmith shop, his ring design became popular, and examples of his handiwork still exist.

The ring grew in popularity, outside of this local region, spread by the help of vast exodus out of Ireland diring the Great Potato Famine in the mid 1800s. Claddagh rings were kept as heirlooms with great pride and passed from mother to daughter for use as wedding bands.

Today, this ring is worn extensibely across Irleland, either on the right hand with the heart pointing towards the findertips to signify that the wearer is "fancy free," or on the left hand with the heart pointing towards the wrist to indicate that the wearer is "spoken for."

Copyright © 2005 by Anne Roos, excerpt from the liner notes to "Haste to the Wedding" CD, available on the Cambria Master Recordings Label. All rights reserved.

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