The Claddagh Ring
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.