Monday, February 2, 2015

Family History Object Number 1: My Claddagh Ring

The claddagh ring is probably one of the most well know symbols of Irish heritage. 

This is my Claddagh ring. It was given to me as a Christmas gift when I was about 13. I cannot remember the exact year but I got it from my mom. She said I was old enough then to own a real piece of jewelry.

The ring represent love, loyalty, and friendship. Love is represented by the heart, loyalty by the crown, and friendship by the two hands coming together.

My ring happens to be tricolor which I do not often see on other Claddagh wearers. The hands and the band itself are gold, the heart is rose gold and the crown is silver in color. I don't know if the crown is white gold or silver but the band is marked "10K 6" and thus I'm pretty certain it is all 10 karat gold because I know the 6 represents the ring size. I have little fingers; this is big on me.

The way one wears their Claddagh ring also has its own meaning. If someone is single then the ring should be worn on the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips. If someone is in relationship the ring will be place on the right hand with the heart pointing to the wrist. If one is engaged then the ring should be worn on the left hand with the heart pointing to the fingertips. If it is worn on the left hand with the heart pointing towards the wrist then it means the person is married.

I don't prescribe to those wearing rules. I wear mine on my left hand simply because I cannot stand jewelry in my right hand. It bothers me when I write and yes, I still write with a pen or pencil. It's not all typing you know.

I wear it on my middle finger, though. As cynical as I am about marriage, I still believe the left ring finger should be reserved for wedding and engagement rings. And because I am not currently in a committed relationship, I do wear the heart pointed outward towards my fingertip. Tradition is the one who makes the commitment to you should turn your ring around; if not actually give you the ring.

My DNA ethnic profile shows that I am 44% Irish. I have Irish ancestry on both my mother's and father's side of my family. Family lore on my mother's side, though, is that I am descended from the man who invented the Claddagh ring, however, there is more than one person given that credit and I have not been able to trace myself family back to either of them. 

One of the men credited with the design was named Richard Joyce. I do have the Joyce name in my family tree but it is a very common Irish surname. Although, my Great Aunt Ann did say the Joyces were from Galway which would jive with the story of Richard Joyce. Claddagh is a town in Galway County, Ireland where Richard Joyce returned to after his enslavement.

Oh yeah, Richard Joyce was captured by pirates in 1675, according to multiple online sources. He was on his way to serve as an indentured servant when pirates capture the ship. He was then enslaved to a man in Tangier, Morocco which is where he learned to be a goldsmith. In 1689, King of England, William III, managed to get the enslaved people back to Ireland. Among them was Richard Joyce who took his skills back to Galway, settled in the town of Rahoon, not far from Claddagh, married, had kids, and might have invented this ring design. He undoubtedly made rings of this design. Researchers just aren't sure if he invented it.

Like I may never know for sure if I am descended from him but I have Irish Joyce ancestry all the same and so it speaks to me just fine.

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