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The more I travel about in Ireland, the more I come to realize that this country is full of stories about love. These stories may all start off in a face-off between good and evil in times of war and heartbreak but it seems that all the myths about leprechauns, fairies, and the underworld tie back to romantic notions of love conquering all. I could go on and on about these mythical tales but it seems making my way through County Galway is where I’ve heard most of them and this in turn, is the birthplace of the Claddagh ring.
There are as many versions of the legend about the origin of the ring as there are different takes of the distinctive design with 2 hands holding onto a heart that’s wearing a crown. The legend I like to believe as truth is about an Irish man named Richard Joyce who was bound for the West Indian slave plantations during the week he was supposed to wed his sweetheart. While sailing the rough seas to the slave plantations, he was kidnapped by a band of Mediterranean pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith. This goldsmith helped Richard perfect the skills of a master craftsman and offered him his daughter’s hand in marriage when King William III negotiated the return of the slaves. Back in Ireland, his sweetheart had never stopped faithfully waiting for the return of her true love. When Richard Joyce was freed, he declined the Moorish goldsmith’s offer and returned to Ireland and gave his true love the now famous Royal Claddagh gold ring. The two hands represented their friendship, the crown to signify their loyalty and lasting fidelity, and the sign of the heart to symbolize their eternal love for each other. They soon married and were never separated again.
It sounds like a plot from a Jane Austen novel or at the very least a brilliant marketing scheme to sell rings but nevertheless, I was sold. As a singleton wandering around Galway – I couldn’t help be drawn to the idea of purchasing this ring and soon realized that most of the shops in Galway were full of hoards of people looking to do the same. The way the ring is worn reveals a person’s romantic status and if the band breaks while you’re wearing it, the person you’re with is destined to be your true love! Sadly, the missing piece of folklore information that I was unaware of at the time of purchase is that its said to be very bad luck for a person to purchase a Claddagh ring for themselves as it must be given or received as a gift. With the ring sitting by my side, I’m now wondering if I’m managed to curse my love life for eternity?