As with all the nations of the world, the Celtic people have their own style and history of jewelry. The Celts, who were the ancestors of the Irish among other nationalities, used jewelry to identify families and clans, to forge alliances and show wealth and social stature. As with all things Irish, Celtic jewelry comes with stories, symbols and lots of history.
The Claddagh Ring
The most recognized piece of Celtic jewelry is the Ring of Claddagh. It is in the shape of a heart held in two hands with a crown on top. The traditional version comes from Galway. The two hands symbolize friendship, the heart is love and the crown stands for loyalty.
There are several stories that explain the origin of this famous Celtic jewelry. Probably the most romantic is about a Prince who falls in love with the daughter of a farmer. The woman was aware that her father would believe that the Prince was only interested in a dalliance. The Prince designed the Claddagh ring as an engagement ring to symbolize his devotion, love and friendship and proposed to her. When her father understood the meaning of the ring, he gave his blessing. This shows that nothing says “romance” like Celtic jewelry.
Another story is about Margareth of the Joyce clan. In 1569, she married the Mayor of Galway after losing her first husband. She used her inheritance from her first marriage to have bridges built to Connacht, benefiting the people of Galway. To reward her generosity of spirit, an eagle flying overhead dropped the first Claddagh ring into her lap. This shows that nothing says “thank you” like Celtic jewelry.
Another version, perhaps the most historic, is about Richard of the Joyce clan from Galway. One day, he sailed to the West Indies on business, promising to return to marry his fiancée. His ship was overtaken and he was sold as a slave to a goldsmith in Algiers. He learned the craft from his Moorish master. When William III ascended the throne, he demanded the release of all British slaves from the Moors. The goldsmith offered Richard his only daughter’s hand in marriage and half of his possessions if he would stay and work with him. Richard decided, instead, to return to Galway and find his love. He took with him the first Claddagh ring which he had forged while working as a goldsmith. He gave it to his fiancée who had waited and hoped for his return throughout the fourteen years of his servitude and they were married. This shows that nothing says “fidelity” like Celtic jewelry.
If this seems like a lot of stories and meanings for one piece of Celtic jewelry, a little look at Irish history will reveal that this is only average for Celtic jewelry.