Celtic & Claddagh Jewelry


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The History of Symbolism, Legend & Lore

History of Claddagh Jewelry

Claddagh jewelry is modeled after the claddagh ring, which first surfaced in Ireland more than 400 years ago. The claddagh ring has a rich history; if you aren't familiar already, the claddagh ring is shaped to resemble two hands grasping a heart with a crown on top. Legend & lore has several explanations for the creation of this unique and popular pattern.

One legend is that a man named Richard Joyce while on a voyage to the Mediterranean was captured by Armenian pirates, and spend years in captivity as a result. While held captive he learned the skills necessary to become an artificer of precious metals. Joyce eventually was returned to his homeland, despite protests from his owner, who had wished he would marry his daughter. Joyce pursued a career in crafting gold and silver jewelry.

Many myths abound as to how Joyce came up with the symbolism he used in his claddagh jewelry, but the true origins are not known.

Yet another legend follows a similar story; it tells the tale of Richard, a young man who was kidnapped by Spanish pirates one day while fishing with other men in his family. Richard and his family were sold into slavery off the North Coast of Africa. Just before being captured Richard had met his true love, and lived in fear that he would never see her again. Richard longed for his beloved, and each day to remember her he stole a minute amount of gold from the slave masters shop where he worked. After years had passed he was able to create a ring with the gold he gathered. Richard's hope was that one day, if freed, he could present the day to his love. One day Richard was able to return to Ireland, and found his beloved awaiting him. He offered her the claddagh ring for her devotion and patience.

The second story regarding the origin of this style ring and other claddagh jewelry is much more highly regarded, because among other things claddagh jewelry has come to symbolize love and devotion.

Claddagh jewelry has become very popular in Ireland over the centuries, and many of the pieces fashioned after this style are often kept as heirlooms among family members. At the time of Joyce there was a Claddagh village, which remained as a self contained community until about 70 years ago. Jewelry fashioned in the claddagh style is considered part of Irish legend & lore, and remains an important part of Irish history. Today claddagh jewelry is worn as a symbol of Irish heritage, friendship, unity and love among people in all cultures.

Tradition has it that if a claddagh ring is worn on the right hand, with the crown turned inward the wearer is still searching for love; if the crown is worn facing outward love is in the air. For those that wear the ring on the left of course, a person is said to be spoken for.

Celtic Jewelry Traditions

Celtic jewelry, like claddagh jewelry is rich in history and tradition. The term “Celtic" typically refers to people who are descendants of different provinces of western Europe, who lived during the time around the birth of Christ. Most Celtic history, legend & lore have been passed down from generation to generation via word of mouth, or through artwork and symbolism. Much celtic jewelry displays symbolism that represents life, death, the change of seasons, love and human spirit. Celtic jewelry is often embedded with many symbols that have been passed down from as early as the 8th century B. C.

Each of the symbols used in celtic jewelry have different meanings. Some were created by artisans, whereas others were created by tribal members.

Knotwork Designs

Celtic knotwork designs are perhaps the most well known celtic symbols; crafted by artisans these designs are woven into rings, bracelets, earrings, pendants and wedding bands. Symbols may reflect power and unity, and more commonly spiritual belief and kinship among people and eternity.

Other common designs crafted by Celtic craftsmen included:

  • Triskeles - The Triskele represented the importance of the number three, which symbolized the Threefold Sister Goddess worshiped by the Druids.
  • Spirals - This symbol was often found on Dolmans and gravesites; the true meaning of the symbol isn't quite known though many believe it represents the outer soul or higher spirit forms, the idea of growth and expansion and higher energy. A double spiral represents equinoxes.
  • Animal Motifs - Animal motifs represent a variety of different traditions; Birds were thought to represent death transitions; Boars symbolized masculine power; Bulls represent virility and wealth; Cats represented guardians; Cranes suggested punishment or deception; Deer represented profound changes in life; Dragons represent magic and power; Eagles were linked to God; Serpents the cycle of life, particularly when it shed its skin.
  • Crosses - The cross evolved in the British Isles, with the earliest form dating from the 9th century. Legend has it that St. Patrick created the first Celtic cross by drawing a circle over a traditional Latin cross. The circle is thought to represent eternity and God's love which is endless. The four arms of the cross have been used by other cultures to denote the four elements and the four parts of man (mind, body, soul and heart).
  • Chevrons - These symbols, resembling arrowheads linked together, represent power.

The oldest and most recognized of these symbols is the single spiral. Growth, expansion, cosmic energy, all of these ideas could be represented by the single spiral. The tightly wound symbol has been used by many other cultures since the time of the Celts. Many believe a spiral spinning in a counter clockwise direction is representative of the larger summer sun.

Celtic knots are considered the most ornamental pattern associated with the Celtic people. Celtic knotwork patterns were discovered all over Ireland in early settlements and at burial grounds. The idea that life is never ending, and that people are re-born at death is incorporated into the idea of loops or knots with no beginning and no end. One of the more well known celtic knots is the Trinity Knot, which is actually a combination of Celtic and spiritual heritage.

Whether purchasing claddagh jewelry or celitc jewelry, you can be assured that you are investing in gems that are rich in symbolism and tradition. Celtic and claddagh jewelry have been around for centuries, and will continue to be popular in many cultures and regions of the world.

About The Author:

With more than 10 years professional experience, freelance writer Antigone Arthur has completed a number of informative articles providing valuable insight for consumers on such topics as celtic jewelry , antique celtic engagement rings , and celtic wedding rings .


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