This article on the Gold Claddagh Ring is part of an interview with Jonathan Margetts, jeweller and owner of the oldest license to produce this traditional ring. See his shop front on the photo below.
At some stage during the early to mid eighteen hundreds, the ring business exploded. It became a symbol for Galway. The Claddagh people started using it as a wedding band. The Claddagh became the main Connemara wedding ring, too.
People were very poor then, and the price of gold in relation to what their annual income would have been was huge, compared to today. Yet, they bought gold Claddagh rings for wedding bands. The rings were a piece of financial security I think, as much as a symbol of love and wedlock. They had to save up for it for a very long time, and often had to settle for cheaper gold.
But a ring was an investment that you could always keep safe because it was on your body. You could melt it down or cash it in if needed in hard times. This is the reason actually why there are so few old gold Claddagh rings left. Most of them got melted down. But if you managed to hold onto it, it then became a family heirloom passed to your eldest daughter.
Johnathan Margett's with our daughter, Tara, at his jewellery shop on Quay Street, Galway, Ireland.
The Claddagh symbol of the hands, heart and crown is nowadays used on all sorts of items, not just rings. You get other jewellery such as earings, cufflinks, pendants, and many non- jewellery items such a T-shirts and souvenirs bearing the Claddagh symbol. You also find it on signage and in company logos.
One Galway taxi company uses the symbol as a logo replacing the heart with a car.
In the last forty years, especially the Claddagh ring has become absolutely huge. Everyone loves it. I get a lot of Asian customers, Koreans, Japanese and Chinese, as well as Americans and some Germans. People love the investment of buying gold and silver. And I think what people respond to in the Claddagh ring is the symbolism of the image. It appeals to us all. Love, friendship and loyalty are what everyone wants in a relationship and hopefully the symbol will help people find what they are looking for.
Some of the contents at this quaint Galway shop on Quay Street.
Nobody knows who coined the term 'Claddagh' ring.
Funnily enough, the Claddagh people themselves don’t use that word. They call it ‘heart and hands ring’instead.
The ring was never made in the Claddagh. It was always made in the town of Galway, across the bridge. But virually everyone in County Galway wore it as a wedding ring from the 1750ies.
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Copyright 2014 by Colm Sweeney and Susanna Lambeck www.enjoy-irish-culture.com