An amazing story of love is what makes the Claddagh ring such a powerful symbol of loyalty. Legend tells the story of silversmith Richard Joyce from the Irish city of Galway. In 1675, on a trip to the West Indies, Joyce was captured by Algerian Corsairs who sold him into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith. While in captivity, Joyce perfected the craft he was learning from his master.
It was during this time that Joyce kept the sweetheart he left behind in Galway in his heart. With hopes of eventually being together with her again he designed what we now know as the Claddagh ring. The design featured clasping hands and a crowned heart. The hope of being reunited with his beloved kept Joyce’s spirits high and after fourteen years of captivity he was released.
The release had nothing to do with the ring, though. It was King William II who sent an Ambassador to Algeria to demand that all British subjects who were in captivity in that country be given their freedom. That allowed Joyce the opportunity to return to his home in Ireland and to be reunited with his old sweetheart.
As the legend goes, she had not married and was actually waiting, hoping to one day see Joyce again. When that moment happened he presented her with the ring and they got married. Joyce became a goldsmith who had “considerable success” during his career.
The undying love that came from the loyalty of both of them is the main symbolic meaning still attached to the Claddagh ring along with friendship which has made the ring a popular gift used as a ‘promise ring’ as well as an engagement or wedding ring. The story behind the ring has also turned the item into an heirloom that has been passed down from one generation to the next in Ireland, the United States and Canada.
Typically the ring will be passed down from a mother to her eldest daughter or from a grandmother to one of her granddaughters. The rings also signal relationship status when worn in certain ways. For example, the wearer is either single or available or in a relationship if the ring is on the right hand depending on which way the tip of the heart is pointing. The same thing goes for wearing the ring on the left hand as it can indicate the wearer is either engaged or married depending on which way it is facing.
Regardless of whether or not those are the reasons for wearing a Claddagh ring, there is no denying they are popular and continue to be a perfect gift for a young person in modern times. In fact, it is not uncommon for both partners in a relationship to exchange Claddagh ‘promise’ rings as an outward act of publicly acknowledging the relationship. This also shows that the tradition of just giving the ring to the female half of a couple is no longer the case as many males have received a Claddagh ring from their sweethearts.