Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Relics 'n' Cultures : The Claddagh Ring

Hi Snoopers! This new article is the first of a brand new section of the blog called Relics 'n' Cultures. As you can imagine, it will talk about particular objects and symbols from all over the world, with particular meanings and interpretations. Today I'm gonna start with an object very well known in the Irish country, in fact I'm talking about the Claddagh Ring.

The hands are there for friendship,
the heart is there for love.
For loyalty throughout the year,
the crown is raised above.

The Claddagh ring (Irish pronunciation : fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring which represents love, loyalty, and friendship. The design and customs associated with it originated in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh (Gaelic word meaning the rocky sand typical of that area), located just outside the old city walls of Galway, now part of Galway City.The ring, as currently known, was first produced in the 17th century.
The first examples of this ring (gold, silver and bronze) are real masterpieces, some of them are now at the "National Museum of Ireland" in Dublin, and the "Victoria and Albert Museum" in London.

According to the tradition, The Claddagh's distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown). A "Fenian" Claddagh ring, without a crown, is a slightly different take on the design. Claddagh rings, with (more commonly than not) or without the crown, are relatively popular among the Irish and those of Irish heritage, such as Irish Americans, as culture symbols and/or as symbols of engagement, marriage, or love.

Claddagh rings are often used as friendship rings but are most commonly used as engagement/wedding rings. Mothers also give these rings to daughters when they come of age. When the hands that hold the heart are angled towards the girl, that means she is taken, when the heart faces out, the girl is single. This has become common largely due to the sentimental motto: "This is my heart which I give to you crowned with my love." Also associated with the ring is this wish: "Let love and friendship reign." In Ireland, the United States, and other places, the Claddagh is handed down mother-to-eldest daughter or grandmother-to-granddaughter. According to Irish author Colin Murphy, the way in which a Claddagh ring was worn with the intention of conveying the wearer's relationship status:

  • On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is single and may be looking for love.
  • On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is in a relationship.
  • On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is engaged.
  • On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is married.

There are other localised variations in the traditions involving the hand and the finger upon which the Claddagh is worn. Folklore about the ring is relatively recent, not ancient, with "very little native Irish writing about the ring". Hence, the difficulty today in finding any source that describes or explains the traditional ways of wearing the ring.

And where does each symbol that forms the Claddagh Ring come from? To find it out, we must go far back in time, at the time of the Celtic gods: Dagda, the father of the gods (photo), was a powerful being with the ability to make the sun shine; According to legend the right hand ring belongs to him. Anu (then known as the goddess Danu), was the ancestor and universal mother of the Celts, and it is her who seems to be the left hand of the Claddagh Ring. The crown is Beathauile (the name means "whole life"), which does not seem to be a person or a god, but it appears to be the principle of life and life itself. Finally, the heart represents the hearts of every member of humanity.
Another interpretation of the meaning of the ring is closely related to clover, one of the oldest symbols of Ireland. This interpretation has it that the crown is the Father, the Son, the left hand and the right hand the Holy Spirit, all focused on the heart in the center, symbolizing humanity.
Through all symbolism, however, the most used interpretation of the ring is connected with love, loyalty and friendship (or, in Gaelic, "Gra, Dilseacht agus Cairdeas" - pronounced "graw, dealshocked Ogis cordiss").

There are many legends surrounding this ring. One of these, not very reliable but still popular and known, speaks of a king in love with a peasant girl, but the feeling was unrequited. The poor king could not handle the pain and killed himself, asking that on his grave were represented both hands around a heart crowned as a symbol of his undying love for the woman.

Two of the most popular explanations have to do both, even if a century separates these, with members of the Joyce family (or Ioyce), native of Galway. Some models of Claddagh rings still exist with the initials "R. I. "or" R. J. ", attributed to Richard Joyce / Ioyce. The oldest legend dates back to the sixteenth century, saying that the first Claddagh Ring was a wonderful and well-deserved gift for Margaret Joyce. Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant whose business often took him to Galway, met Margaret in one of his visits to the Irish and fell in love. The two got married shortly but, unfortunately, their happiness was short-lived. Immediately after the wedding, Domingo died and Margaret inherited his enormous wealth. In 1596, she married Oliver Og French, Governor of Galway. The man didn't marry her for her great wealth, and this is demonstrated by the fact that he left the use and administration of its assets totally in her hands. But she didn't squandered  money, donating much of it to the city to build many bridges. One day an eagle dropped a gold ring on Margaret's womb , the first Claddagh Ring. This event was considered a true gift from God, to reward his generosity. Well, the ring would fell from Heaven, in the true sense of the word. 

The second legend is much more realistic.  This tells us how, during the second half of the seventeenth century, a native of Galway, Richard Joyce, was captured by pirates while he was travelling to the West Indies. They sold him as a slave to a wealthy goldsmith Arab, who taught him the craft and made ​​him an excellent engraver. In 1689, King William III of England obtained the release of the British captured, including Joyce. In all the years spent together, the goldsmith was fond of Joyce and begged him to stay with him, promising him his daughter's hand and half of his estate. Richard, however, was eager to return to his native country. So he brought with him the  knowledge acquired in jewellery. A very important thing, an idea that came to mind during those years: the creation of the Claddagh Ring. According to some, he created the first of these rings as a symbol of gratitude for the king. For others, however, it forged it for a Galway girl who, waiting for the return of his one true love, had never ceased to love him and be faithful to him: using the ring, Joyce conquered her heart, succeeding in marrying her.

Ireland is personally one of my most favorite countries, with magical atmosphere, fantastic legends and incomparable classic music. And even this small object has very interesting back stories. Maybe some of you now want this ring, unless you already have it. And believe me... this can be a very romantic present ;)  

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