Margaret Joyce of Galway marries Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant who is actively trading on the West Coast of Ireland. She moves to Spain to begin her new life, but her husband passes away after a few short years of marriage. Now a rich widow, she returns to Ireland.
In 1596 she marries again, this time to Oliver Óg Ffrench, the Mayor of Galway. She uses her inheritance to fund the construction of many improvements to the locality, especially bridges and trading facilities. One day, whilst she sits outside, an eagle flies overhead and drops a gold Claddagh ring into her lap. Everyone considers this miraculous event to be a heaven-sent reward for her benevolence!
In Genealogy forums, Margaret’s modern-day ancestors tell how her providential ring design was to influence Richard Joyce nearly one hundred years later.
This uniquely Irish design combines three distinct elements:
The Heart in the centre means Love (Grá)
The Crown, that sits above all, means Loyalty (Dílseacht)
The Hands, holding the heart, mean Friendship (Cairdeas)
Since Roman times, hand and heart motif rings are being made for marriage ceremonies. Some are known as “Fede” rings, from the Latin “mani in fede” meaning “hands in faith”. Interlocking pairs of rings are known as “Gimmels”, again from the Latin “gemellus” or twins. You can view an early example from the British Museum here.
The addition of the crown symbol takes this ancient design and makes it uniquely Irish.
With these hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my loyalty.
The Irish custom is to wear your Claddagh ring to signify your romantic status:
Are you in love? You should wear your Claddagh ring with the heart pointing towards your body.
If you are not yet fully committed, wear your ring with the heart pointing outward.
Married or engaged? Then wear it on the third finger of your left hand.
Still single? You should wear it on your right hand.