There’s an Irish love story that has touched people for hundreds of years, from Queen Victoria to Buffy the Vampire Slayer & her vampire lover Angel.
It’s the tale of the Claddagh ring, and the telling of it spans oceans, just as wearers of the rings can now be found worldwide. It is a story of love, loyalty, and hope rewarded.
Our story begins in Galway during the late 1600s, in a seaside fishing village of thatched cottages much like this one.
The village was called Cladach, an Irish word meaning shore. Here lived Richard Joyce, of the Galway Joyces clan. It seems that Richard was an apprentice silversmith, and had a sweetheart who we shall call Dílis (faithful in Irish,) as we don't know her name.
Tempted perhaps by a desire to seek his fortune in order to secure the hand of Dílis, Richard decided to join a ship sailing for the West Indies. The West Indies were then under British rule, as was Ireland, and sugar cane was starting to create riches. Richard was full of hope that he could spend a year there earning well and then either send for Dílis or return to Ireland a wealthy man. Dílis was worried, but Richard eased her fears, convincing her that it was all for the best; it meant that that they could start life together on a solid footing.
When the day of sailing came, Richard gave Dílis a posey of wildflowers to remember him by, and through many tears both promised to be faithful. A year would pass quickly enough, they said, and then they would have their whole lives together. Richard and Dílis clasped hands tightly until the last call to board came, and when they finally parted each could still feel the warmth left by the others' hand in theirs.
Unfortunately, that warmth, along with the belief that they would ever see the other again would start to fade away, just as the colours gently fade on flowers as they die.
The ship Richard sailed on never made it to the West Indies. It was captured by Algerian pirates off of the coast of Africa, and he was enslaved. It could have been worse; luckily Richard was purchased by a Moorish goldsmith who recognized his smithing talent. For what seemed endless years he honed his goldsmithing skills in Algiers as a slave. Whenever he could salvage a tiny bit of gold, Richard secretly tucked it away, and when everyone else was fast asleep he crept to the work bench and crafted a beautiful gold ring for the woman he loved in Ireland. Maybe one day, he silently hoped, I will once again feel the warmth of her hand in mine.
This hearth from the late 1600s would be very like Dilis' own.
Meanwhile, time passed slowly for Dílis. The year's wait grew into 2, 3, a decade, and beyond. She wasn't sure what had happened to Richard. There were rumours that the ship had been taken by pirates, and for all she knew, Richard was dead. Every day after her household chores were done, she walked to the sea's edge and gazed out, praying that a ship would sail in with her Richard aboard. After nearly 14 years, she didn't really believe he would return, but still she continued, just in case...
No weather deterred her, and winter or summer, Dílis watched, hoping against all odds that Richard might return. She shunned all other men, and for her main companions she chose the seabirds and wildflowers- they never chided her for her 'foolish' watching as the villagers did.
As Dílis waited far across the sea, Richard was finding more and more favor with his captor. He admired Richard's skill and his steadfast personality. When King William demanded the release of all British subjects captive in Algeria, Richard's master didn't want him to leave. He offered him half of his wealth and his daughter in marriage if Richard would stay. But Richard's love of Dílis was unwavering, and his longing to return to her meant that her refused all riches. Finally, after 14 years of slavery, Richard boarded a ship to return to Dilis. With him he brought just one thing: the special ring.
Richard fretted and paced as the ship neared the Irish shore-- would Dílis already be married, or even worse, perhaps be dead? What if she was still unmarried, but time had cooled her love for him? It had been so many years.
Dilis never gave up, watching, hoping
Dílis was standing along the shore as she always did in the late afternoon. The sky was heavy and the wind was starting to howl when she saw a new ship approaching. Her heart gave a little leap. It was silly, she knew, but...but... maybe...
We will leave Dílis and Richard to have their happy reunion away from prying eyes. The tale that comes down to us over the years says that they did live happily ever after, and that Richard had quite a successful career as a master goldsmith in Galway. Some of the earliest Claddagh rings found bear his goldmith’s mark. There are other versions of the story of the Claddagh ring, but Richard's is the most widely accepted.
The Claddagh's symbols are the heart of love, the hands of friendship, and the crown of loyalty.
Depending upon how it is worn it can signify different things:
On the right hand with the point of the heart outwards: single.
On the right hand with the point of the heart towards the wearer's heart: in a relationship.
On the left hand with the point of the heart outwards: engaged.
On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wearer's heart: married.
Aside from Queen Victoria and Buffy, other famous wearers of the Claddagh ring were John F. Kennedy and Jackie, as well as Walt Disney, and a host of others. But you needn't be famous! You can get a variety of Irish crafted Claddagh jewellery from our store here, with pieces from under €50 to wedding rings a little over €1000.
In addition to rings, we also have Claddagh cufflinks available here
For more on our collection of Claddagh Jewellery click here , Claddagh Pendant, Claddagh Earrings
About the Author
Susan is an enthusiastic ‘adopted Irishwoman’ with a grá for arts, craft & culture, the outdoors, food, and travel. An American who fell in love with Ireland on a visit many years ago, Susan returned to the States, sold her car, gave away her things, and moved to Ireland to start a new life. She is still deeply in love with Ireland and passionately writing about it. You can read more about Ireland's events, culture, food & places to stay on Vibrant Ireland
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