What is the origin of the Claddagh ring?

There are 2 legends surrounding the Claddagh. The first one seems to be more legend than fact, but it goes like this. A great Irish Prince fell in love with a commoner in his realm. Her father was not pleased about the relationship, fearing the Prince would simply have his way with the young woman and then leave her in disgrace. The Prince wanted to prove his love and devotion to his maiden’s father. So he designed a ring. The hands to represent his long held friendship with his maid and her family. The crown to represent his undying loyalty and devotion. The heart to represent his ever lasting love. The Prince traveled to the home of his maiden, and presented the ring to her in front of her father. Asking for her hand in marriage. Upon seeing the ring and hearing the proposal, the father gave his blessing and all lived happily ever after. The second legend holds more historical fact in it’s story. Claddagh itself refers to a small fishing village just near Galway city. The Claddagh ring supposedly originated in this area. The original Claddagh ring is generally attributed to one Richard Joyce, of Galway. Joyce departed from Claddagh, a small fishing village where the waters of the River Corrib meet Galway Bay, on a ship enroute to the plantations of the West Indies. That week he was to was to be married, but his ship was captured by Mediterranean Algerian pirates and the crew were sold as a slaves; Richard Joyce was sold to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him in his craft. He soon became a master in his trade and hand crafted a ring for the woman at home he could not forget. In 1689 he was released after William III came to the throne of England and concluded an agreement whereby all his subjects who where held in captivity by the Moors were to be allowed return to their homes. The Moorish goldsmith offered Richard his only daughter in marriage and half his wealth if he would remain in Algiers. He declined and returned to Claddagh to find that the woman of his heart had never married. He gave her the ring and they were married and he set up a goldsmith shop in the town of Claddagh. By tradition the ring is taken to signify the wish that Love and friendship should reign supreme. The hands signify friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart love. These rings were kept as heirlooms with great pride and passed from mother to daughter. The ring is worn extensively across Ireland, either on the right hand with the heart turned outwards showing that the wearer is “fancy free” or with the heart turned inwards to denote that he or she is “spoken for”. The pride of place is on the left hand, with the heart turned in, indicating that the wearer is happily married and the love and friendship will last forever, the two never separated.

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