Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Romance of the Claddagh

by Susanne Dietze

As far as my heritage goes, I’m only marginally Irish. The Emerald Isle calls to me, nevertheless. After all, it’s a land of many things that appeal to me, like castles, lore, and Celtic saints.

I love a good Claddagh ring story, too.

How can I not? These traditional Irish rings are as symbolic as they are lovely. Through the years, they’ve been used to express relational commitment (from friendship to marriage) and they’ve come to represent pride in Irish heritage. Claddagh rings are also precious heirlooms, often passed down through the generations.

I’m a writer, so I love this sort of symbolism. Family, romance, culture all bound in one sentimental object—that’s romance-writing gold, and I’m not talking about the leprechaun kind. Claddagh rings are the whole package. No Irish-set chick flick worth its popcorn would (SPOILER ALERT!) dare leave one out of its big proposal scene.

(I don't care if it's cliche. I love it anyway.)

I don’t own a Claddagh ring, but I’m guessing we’ve all seen them before. Its unique design features two hands (symbolizing friendship) clasping a heart (love) topped by a crown (loyalty).

And when we see a Claddagh ring, we can tell something relationship-wise about the wearer.

When worn on the right ring finger with the heart pointing to the fingertip, the wearer is not romantically involved.

On the same finger with the ring pointing towards the wearer, it suggests he or she is romantically involved.

When the ring is on the ring finger of the left hand, it means the person is married or engaged.

Something this emblematic must have an ancient history, of course. The rings must be a tradition steeped in Celtic culture.

Well, not quite.

Claddagh rings were first created in Claddagh, Galway around 1700—supposedly in the silver shop of one Richard Joyce, whose mark appears on one of the oldest Claddagh rings known. According to legend, however, Mr. Joyce was a fisherman before he was a silver smith. He was minding his own business out at sea when he was captured by pirates. The cutthroats sold him as a slave to a Turkish goldsmith.

Poor Joyce was doomed. Would he ever return to Galway, or see his family again?

Despite his grief and fear, he must have made an impression on his master, because the Turk grew so fond of Joyce that he trained him in the craft. Joyce excelled, but he didn't forget the relationships and home he left behind.
Eventually, King William III arranged a release for captives, but the Turk begged Joyce to remain with him. He even offered his (surely attractive) daughter’s hand in marriage. Ever loyal to his homeland, however, Joyce declined, returning to Galway and the life he’d left behind. (Well, except the fishing part.)

View from Dún Aengus in Galway
Perhaps Joyce fashioned the symbolic rings to honor the things that kept him going during those years stolen from him by slavery: loyalty to his home, the bonds of family, and the joy of friendship. Perhaps Joyce didn’t invent the rings—which came to be known after the town of their origin—at all. Other rings of a similar style exist from the same time period bearing the marks of other smiths.

Their stories just aren’t as dashing.

Regardless of who fashioned the first Claddagh ring, they were slow to catch on until the mid-1800’s. By the time Queen Victoria received one in 1849, Dublin goldsmiths were also creating them. They served as heirlooms, passed from a mother to her daughter on her wedding day. Their popularity has increased exponentially, and today they’re worn the world over, by Irish and non-Irish alike.

Claddagh rings serve as a reminder that friendship, love, and loyalty are key components in our most important relationships. Like wedding and promise rings, they are tangible prompts that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we are bound to uphold our promises—to our spouse, to our children, to ourselves.

And through the legend, they remind me that despite the difficult circumstances I face in life, God is with me. Just as Joyce was inspired to make a pretty ring to honor the values he clung to while enslaved, God uses all of my dark days for His good, and I'm more mindful of His blessings.

Regardless of whether or not Mr. Joyce invented Claddagh rings, I like to think of him in his shop, working at his trade. In my imaginings, he’s toasty warm as he hovers around the forge, belly full and heart thankful. And he’s smiling as he creates something meaningful, inspired by a time of loss.

Have you seen how God has turned darkness to good in your life?

Susanne Dietze has written love stories set in the nineteenth century since she was in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she writes in the hope that her historical romances will encourage and entertain others to the glory of God. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne loves fancy-schmancy tea parties, travel, and spending time with family and friends. Her work has finaled in the Genesis Contest, the  Gotcha! Contest, and the Touched By Love Contest. You can visit her on her personal blog, Tea and a Good Book, http://www.susannedietze.blogspot.com/.

Photos courtesy of www.wikipedia.com


  1. I confess, I wrote a short story centered around a claddagh ring when I was in grad school.

  2. Cool, Dina. Any chance it will make its way into a new novel?

    I'd enjoy seeing an early version of a Claddagh ring, just to see if they've evolved at all.

  3. Hmm...well, clearly not a medieval novel :) Who knows?

  4. I really didn't know all that background of the Joyce story, Susie. I really enjoyed this I'm going to check out that movie as well

    This reminds me of how we can look at our "battle scars" as either a reason to stay bitter or as a reason to celebrate what we've survived.

  5. Nope, not a medieval, Dina, but there's still 300+ years of appropriate setting. Hmm, now I'm thinking of a story...potato famine...heirloom...:)

  6. Deb, I thought "Leap Year" was a cute movie. Rated PG, too.

    I have been studying the book of Acts, and seeing how God has used times of change and difficulty to accomplish His purposes. Joyce's story, in its own way, reminded me of the verse about "beauty from ashes." I am trying to get a different perspective on my battle scars!

  7. What a wonderful story! I think God makes us with a love and need for symbolism that points to a greater reality and with a yearning for a connection to a history greater than our own. Thanks for reminding us, too, that God works for good in the lives of those who belong to Him.

  8. Love the post, Susie.

    Hello Karl. Very nice to meet you. I checked your blogger profile to see if you were the Karl I'm thinking of but your profile is sadly lacking. :(

    And I'm with Dina in that I also wrote a story with a Claddagh ring in it. It's my contemporary, Charley's Saint where Pastor Henry Branigan offers the ring to the woman he's loved since childhood. My novel finaled in the mainstream contests where it was called a realistic novel of the current world. However, the CBA contests said it wasn't realistic for a Christian pastor to love - never mind offer to marry - a pregnant 'bad girl'. *sigh. So much for a current world view.

    Actually, I'd never heard of a Claddagh ring until I went searching for something special about Henry's surname and stumbled upon this fascinating Irish jewelry.

    However, I didn't know the significance of the heart pointing different ways, so thank you, Susie.

    Anita Mae.

  9. Hi Karl. I totally agree with you about symbolism serving to remind us of truths. But you know that already! Thanks for visiting.

  10. Hi Anita! Glad I could help with the Claddagh ring research. I think your story sounds great, btw. Are you thinking of marketing it as a sweet romance instead of an inspy?

    Karl is probably who you think he is. :)

  11. re Karl - yup, thought so. LOL

    I set Charley's Saint aside when I realized I was changing it so much to suit the CBA that I was in danger of losing my voice along with the special things that made it so attractive to the mainstream market.

    Since then, no one has mentioned it except at this last ACFW conference when my appt with an agent solicited this advice:

    - why work on a sequel to a book that hasn't sold (ie Emma's Outlaw and my Mountie story); and

    - if my mss aimed at the CBA market aren't working, why not go back to my contemporaries like Charley's Saint, fix them up, and submit them to the editors who didn't request them through the contests, but offered positive suggestions.

    For 3 hrs, I seriously considered her words. And then I had an appt with a CBA editor who showed tremendous enthusiasm for both the series mentioned above. So, we'll see. :)


  12. Aw Anita, differing advice...that's a lot to think about. Either way, I'm so excited for you--your stories have been so well received. Praying for favor!

  13. Hey, Susie, sorry I'm a day late on his. What a charming story. I've never heard it before. I want to see Dina's short story, Anita's contemporary, and the you're going to write. :)


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