History of the Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh Ring​

The Claddagh ring is so called because it is believed to have originated in the Claddagh, Galway, and is unique in as much as it is the only ring in the world of a distinctive design used exclusively by a small community for over 400 years. “Claddagh” means a village situated near the seashore. In Galway the village was outside the walls and was divided from the city by the River Corrib. It was irregularly built but very extensive. It was the first residence of the Celtic settlers in this area. They were an exclusive community and strangers were never allowed to settle amongst them. From time immemorial the Claddagh was ruled by one of its inhabitants, periodically elected, who was called King. He administered their laws and settled all their disputes according to old age customs. His only distinctive mark was a white sail at his masthead when the fishing fleet put out to sea. The sole occupation of this colony was fishing; in fact, they were not allowed to use spade or hoe. The municipality compensated them for their fish by giving them sustenance in all their needs.


The Claddagh was used by these people as a marriage ring. Even to the present day the ring has associated with it special customs, for instance, it is not right for a Claddagh person to buy a ring – they must obtain it as a gift. If married, the ring should be worn with the crown nearest the knuckle. The rings consists of two hands holding between them, or presenting, a heart. Over the heart is a design representing a crown or fleur de lis. The phrase or posy, that usually accompanies the ring is: “Let love and friendship reign.” There are two interesting versions of the origin design used in the Claddagh, both of which are associated with the “Joyce” family, one of the famous “Tribes of Galway.”

The story

Margaret Joyce, surnamed Margaret of the Bridges, from the great number that she built, first married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant who traded to Galway, where he fell in love with her. Soon after departing for Spain, he died there and left her his immense property. She subsequently married Oliver Ogffrench, who was mayor of Galway in 1596. During his absence on a voyage she built most of the bridges of Connacht at her own expense. One day, when reviewing this work, an eagle dropped a gold ring into her lap. It was preserved by her family in 1661 and was considered as a providential reward for her good works and charity. This ring could well have been the original Claddagh ring.

The story of Richard Joyce is more factual. A native of Galway, he was captured by an Algerian corsair while on his way to the West Indies. At Algiers he was sold as a slave to a wealthy Moorish goldsmith, who found him tractable and ingenious in this trade in which he soon became an adept. In 1689, William III of England sent an ambassador to Algiers demanding the release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery, with which demand the Dey reluctantly complied. The Moor offered Joyce his daughter in marriage and half his wealth as an inducement to remain but this offer was refused and Joyce returned to Galway. Here he set up as a goldsmith and prospered. Some of his work, stamped with his mark, an anchor signifying hope and initials R.I., is still in existence. To Richard Joyes or Joyce, is attributed the Claddagh ring design. Some hold that he brought the design from Algiers, but could have also have obtained the unique and original design from his kinwoman Margaret of the Bridges.

This ring became popular outside the Claddagh about the middle of the last century, especially as it was claimed to be the only ring made in Ireland ever to be worn by Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII.

It is daily growing in popularity because of its unique design, its peculiar history, its sentimental appeal and its close association with the ancient Claddagh of Galway.






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