|Irish Blessing design with Claddagh by Lois Winston,|
featured in The Cross Stitcher magazine, 2004
By Lois Winston
Writers are often told, “Write what you know.” As a designer, I often had to create needlecraft projects on themes I knew little about. The craft magazines I worked for featured holiday-themed crafts because crafters love crafting for the holidays. After Christmas and Halloween, one of the biggest crafting holidays is St. Patrick’s Day. Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day—or so marketers would have us believe.
I don’t have a drop of Irish blood in me, so when years ago I was tasked with creating a design featuring a Claddagh ring motif, I first had to learn about the Claddagh.
The Claddagh is a traditional Irish ring that dates from the 17th century in the village of Claddagh in Galway, Ireland. There are a number of legends surrounding its origin, but most people believe the Claddagh ring was first created by silversmith Richard Joyce. His maker’s mark appears on the earliest surviving Claddagh ring.
The story goes that while on his way to the West Indies sometime around 1675, Joyce was captured by Algerian Corsairs and sold into slavery. He was bought by a Moorish goldsmith in need of an apprentice. In 1689 King William III sent an ambassador to Algeria to demand the return of all British subjects. Legend has it that Joyce’s captor offered Joyce half his wealth and his daughter’s hand in marriage if Joyce would stay in Algeria. Joyce declined and returned to Galway where he set up a jewelry business. It was there that he created the Claddagh ring.
Joyce was not the first jeweler to create a ring with clasped hands. Known as fede rings, finger rings date from Roman times. The clasped hands were used as a symbol of pledged vows and were used as engagement and wedding rings in Europe during both medieval times and the Renaissance.
The distinctive design of the Claddagh features two hands clasping a heart. The heart has a crown mounted above it. The heart represents love, the hands represent friendship, and the crown represents loyalty.
Claddagh rings are most often worn by women of Irish heritage. They can be considered cultural symbols or used as friendship rings, engagement rings, or wedding rings. Mothers often give Claddagh rings to their daughters when they come of age or are handed down from a mother to her eldest daughter or a grandmother to her granddaughter.
There are a variety of ways to wear a Claddagh ring, depending on the message the wearer wishes to convey. If the ring is worn on the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is either not looking for a relationship or may already be in one. If the heart points toward the fingertips, the wearer is single and looking for love. The wearer is engaged if the ring is worn on the left ring finger with the point of the heart toward the fingertips and married if the point is toward the wrist.
Happy almost St. Patrick's Day!