History’s Gems: The Claddagh

History's Gems

CladdaghThe Claddagh design is one of my favourites and appears on several pieces of my personal jewelry collection.  Its romantic origins and significant symbolism had propelled this humble ring design into legend.  Initially found in rings exclusively, the Claddagh design has been adapted to include gemstones, knot-work and all types of jewelry and accessory pieces.

Ring
Women’s Gold Claddagh Ring on Etsy

The Legend

The story begins hundreds of years ago in the ancient, Irish coastal fishing village of Claddagh.  The people of Claddagh were eagerly anticipating the upcoming wedding between a young man named Richard Joyce and his true love, whose name has been lost to time.  Richard, like many of the men from Claddagh, was a fisherman.  One afternoon, a few days before the wedding, Richard and the other fishermen from the village were attacked and captured by Algerian pirates and sold into slavery.  Richard was sold to a Moorish goldsmith in the West Indies.  Richard worked in the goldsmith’s workshop, tending the fires of the forge.  After years of tending the fires, the goldsmith taught Richard the art of metalsmithing and jewelry making.

ring
Women’s Aquamarine Claddagh Engagement Ring on Etsy

Richard never lost hope that he would one day return home to his true love, and so each day he stole a tiny speck of gold.  At night while the goldsmith slept, Richard began to fashion a ring out of the stolen gold specks for his true love back home.  The ring featured a crowned heart being held by a pair of hands.  The ring he created is the design we now know as the Claddagh.  After 14 years of captivity and slavery, Richard was released when King William III of England interceded and demanded the release of all British citizenry.  After making the arduous journey home, Richard was stunned and amazed to find that his true love had remained faithful to his memory, never marrying another.  He gave her the ring and they were married, living the rest of their lives in the warmth of their love, loyalty and friendship.

necklace
Claddagh Necklace on Etsy

 The Symbolism

The Claddagh ring has three elements: a heart, a crown and a pair of hands.  The heart symbolizes love, the crown represents loyalty and the hands signify friendship.  The manner in which you wear a Claddagh ring is also drenched in symbolism.  If you wear the ring on your right hand with the heart pointing towards your fingertips it means your heart is uncommitted and you are available.  Wearing the ring on your right hand with the heart pointing towards your wrist symbolizes that your heart is taken and you are in a relationship.  If you wear the ring on your left hand with the heart pointing towards your fingertips, it denotes that you are engaged.  And finally, by wearing the ring on your left hand with the heart pointing towards your wrist, it means you are married.

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