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Claddagh Jewelry

The Legends of Claddagh Jewelry

Ireland is a land of magic and romance- rainbows, four-leaf clovers, leprechauns and fairies. Legends and myths abound in Eirie. The origin of the Claddagh ring is just one of the many threads in the rich fabric of Irish history and, as with any good legend, there is more than one version.

The most romantic and most likely version is the story of Robert Joyce, a fisherman from the village of Claddagh near Galway. In the late 1600s, he was kidnapped by pirates during a fishing expedition in the Mediterranean. The pirates took him to Algeria where Joyce was sold into slavery. A goldsmith bought him and eventually, taught him everything he knew about crafting gold and silver into beautiful pieces of jewelry. Joyce was freed in 1689 after William III took the crown and demanded all British slaves be released. Because their relationship had evolved over the years from master and slave to teacher and apprentice, Joyce's owner tried to entice him to stay by offering him riches and his daughter. Joyce refused and returned to his homeland where his beloved was waiting for him. Finally able to marry his betrothed, Joyce crafted what is known as the Claddagh ring for his bride.

Another more magical version also involves a member of the Joyce family of Galway. Margaret Joyce is said to have married a wealthy Spaniard who frequently traded his wares at the port of Galway. He carried her off to Spain when they were married and then left her very wealthy upon his death. Margaret returned to Galway and married the mayor in the late 1500s. She used her financial resources and public influence to benefit the town. Now, here's where the magic comes in: The legend says that the very first Claddagh ring appeared when an eagle delivered it to Margaret as a reward for her generous contributions and charitable works in Galway. So, while romantic, this story is not realistic.

To give more credence to the first legend, early discoveries of Claddagh Irish jewelry have Robert's initials engraved on the rings.

Claddagh Jewelry - The Claddagh Design

The Irish Claddagh is based on a popular design of the Roman Era. Fede rings, or faith rings, were common during that time and they were characterized by clasping hands. The most common Irish version of a fede ring is the Claddagh, though this design is anything but common. Its foundation is the clasped hands, but it incorporates other symbols as well. At the center of the hands is a heart and above this heart is a crown. Typically, this design is fashioned as silver Claddagh rings. Though sterling silver is most commonly used, this beautiful symbol of love can also be found in other precious metals such as gold. The ring is also the most common piece, but Irish Claddagh symbol can also be used on brooches, pendants and other pieces.

Claddagh Jewelry - Symbolism of the design

From the original fede rings of Rome, the clasped hands symbolize love, faith and trust. The Irish addition of a heart and crown further symbolize friendship, loyalty, love and fidelity. The symbolism and romantic legends attributed to Claddagh jewelry design are why these pieces are used as engagement and wedding bands as well as pieces that are passed down as family heirlooms.

How to wear Claddagh Jewelry

There is a right way and a wrong way to wear Claddagh rings. Just like wearing a gold band worn on the left ring finger signifies marriage in America, how the Claddagh ring is worn means differently things. It is important to know the significance because wearing it incorrectly can lead to confusion over the wearer's romantic status.

If the ring is on the right hand and the crown is facing inward, the wearer is single and available. Now, if the ring is still on the right hand but the crown is facing out, the wearer is considering a relationship, but not yet committed. If the ring is on the left hand and the crown faces outward, the wearer is off the market, engaged or married.

Claddagh Irish jewelry - A special piece for a special person

Robert Joyce designed and crafted a Claddagh wedding band for his betrothed who waiting along the shores of Galway for his return from slavery. She waited more than a decade for him. That is true love and the Claddagh signifies just that kind of devotion and love for anyone who receives it.

When the Irish traveled to America to make a new life, they brought the loving tradition of the Claddagh with them. Just as it was back then, it is still given as a token of friendship or as a promise of love. It is also passed down from generation to generation as a symbol of faith and family. From mother to daughter, father to son- these pieces are given as the new generation embark on their own journey of love and create their own families. There is true romance and magic held within the clasping hands of Irish Claddagh jewelry.