Tuesday, February 12, 2008

With Heart and Hands: The Claddagh Ring


Being an usual combination of both French and Finnish, I have been strangely fascinated by my own love of all things Irish. I love Celtic music, imagery, and most of all their beautul iconic crosses. I believe that we all carry deep symbolic or archetypal images in our collective subconscious and those images speak and call to us.

Such is my emotional connection to the Heart in Hand image and such is my love of all things that sing my own heart's song in symbol, meaning or intent. I am fascinated by the meanings behind the Claddagh (Claddaugh, Clada) ring...especially with its 'heart and hands' symbolism.

The claddaugh is a traditional Irish ring, given in friendship or worn as a wedding ring. It's history dates back to the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, located just outside the old walls of the city of Galway. The ring was first produced in the 17th century during the reign of Queen Mary II, though symbolic elements of the design are much, much older.

The Claddagh's distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown). The expression which was associated with these symbols in the giving of the ring was: "Let love and friendship reign."

The way that a Claddagh ring is worn on the hand is usually intended to convey the wearer's romantic availability, or lack thereof. Traditionally, if the ring is on the right hand with the design facing outward and away from the body, this indicates that the person wearing the ring is not in any serious relationship, and may in fact be single and looking for a relationship. When worn on the right hand but with the design facing inward toward the body, this indicates the person wearing the ring is in a relationship, or that "someone has captured their heart".

A Claddagh worn on the left hand ring finger, facing outward away from the body, generally indicates that the wearer is engaged. When the ring is on the left hand ring finger and facing inward toward the body, it generally means that the person wearing the ring is married.

There are many stories told and passed down through the ages to explain the designing of the Claddaugh, and most involve lost or unrequited loves then brought back together again with the ring. With the joining of both their hearts and their hands and with the loyalty to love represented by the crown, they are then not only forever united but crowned with the higher power of loyalty to that love.

The symbolism of the Claddaugh is not limited to jewelry and sentiment alone. Many of the creative needlecrafts and other hand made arts have also incorporated the symbolic heart in hand and/or hearts and hands symbology into their patterns.

In a week when I am still seeking recuperation from my extended work session in Alaska, and my on-going work, here in Salem, I look at the those clasped hands and truly think of what to means to lend another a hand or reach out with your own hands to give aid or nourishment.

The giving of one's heart, like the giving of one's hand is truly a priceless gift. It is no wonder that so many exchange Claddagh rings for weddings, anniversaries...or even Valentine's Day.

2 comments:

  1. Another wonderful post...

    I cannot help but believe that we are indeed kindred spirits!

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  2. Oh Michele! I have one of these rings that belonged to my grandmother - it has a small ruby set in the crown, (or maybe it's in the heart, I forget and the ring is in a safe deposit box) and the story goes that it belonged to her father who was "black Irish". Gee - I have all but forgotten about that ring - but that might explain my immediate 'connection' to you!! I'm passing this on to my Mom, right away.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.