The True Folkloric Tale of the Claddagh Ring

A tale taken directly from the ancient oral tradition of Ireland as recorded in the many ancient sources.

Please! Be strong! You may have been provided inaccurate information in order

to sell a ring or by those who have been likewise mis-lead by cute tales which have

been perpetuated over the years.

Rest Assured that the tale below comes direct and unadulterated from the folkloric

sources of Ireland. It is the most Ancient version! It is correct.

It is sometimes hard but we must at times harken to the truth!

The story begins long ago back before the 1641 in the busy seaport of Galway City-Ireland. A place of sailing ships from and bound for exotic ports. A place of the men of the sea and of pubs. A time when life at sea tested every shred of a man's being and for which the town provided preparation and then in gratitude offered its worldly rewards....

As in all mercantile seaports of the time Galway City was filled with the seafaring classes.

Men going away and returning from their rough lives on the high seas. Along with the men

the city was home to the many country girls. Those who were born to the life of the farm with

no chance to inherit -girls who if they could not be married off were faced with certain re-location

to Galway City where they were forced to make their way as best they could in service to the

city, its ships and.....its sailors.

It often chanced that a young lady making her way in the city far away from the protection of

home and hearth would loose her course in life and find herself without vocation and means of

support adrift from pub to pub down by the docks, by the Spanish Arch in the low part of the

town. Suddenly, amidst the bustle of the departure of seamen and the triumphant homecoming

rants of the many men of the sea the young girl would be escorted arm in arm with Jack Tar

throught the portals leading to the oldest profession. Her vocation becoming that of the flash

girl-the woman of the evening. But Galway, the great port, looked after all of its citizens both

great and small and it did not forget the women who kept the sailors in their prime.

The ancient texts of the charter laws of Galway city once recorded that it was the solemn obligation

for the first customer of one of these fallen children-the one who had escorted her through the

portal of disrepute to present the girl upon her first act of employment with certain payment

in the form of a solid pure gold Claddagh Ring.. It was decreed that no man should ever

employ a girl for the first time without first obtaining at great cost, this special ring!

Ring shops lined the High Street of the town along the district of Galway (now no longer there)

called the Claddagh -a village of jewelers either from Spain or trained in the special Spanish

arts of metallurgy. The ring was of great importance to the girl.

As it goes with age and time we can not the clocks reverse. After a handful of good years

beauty sometimes leaves with the years. With time the girls too, found their beautiful skins

wrinkled their skin, with the spots of age ,and their hair gray -beautiful no more. What would

they do? How would the city deal with those deprived by age of their employment-and in

such great numbers? That is why they turned to the ring. It was decreed that should a girl

no longer find Jack Tar able to provide for her livelihood by his constant custom and employ ;

that bankers and jewelers in the city would be obligated to purchase the Claddagh rings of gold

from the girls. The rate paid being set as the "flash price" in the ancient account books. It

was to be paid promptly and was set at a rate commensurate with the reputation of the girl

for service to the seamen so that she would be maintained till death in the style to which she

was accustomed.

Should the girl climb out from her moral abyss and find the way and the true path back from

the portals of Harlotry to the lite of Christ and the Christian path it became her solemn duty

to track down the sailor where ever in the country or across the high seas he had gone and send

him back his ring wrapped in a figleaf or set into a large fig (the symbol to all of fertility and new

life), or wrapped in parchment sealed with a wax seal into which a fig stamp had been set. The clerk

of court kept, recorded in the city annals strict records concerning these men and their whereabouts

were recorded.

Likewise the ring was also returned when as so often was the case in the days of the

ignorance of disease and of medicine, the girls fell prey, in their risky business to the hand of death.

In this case the symbol of the dying flower was utilized. A stamp of the wilted rose or a bouquet

of dead flowers accompanied the ring. Many a strong sailor was found weeping on the ships deck

on receipt of such bad news-the equivalent of the black spot -which perhaps, foretold his own demise

via the disease of the shared moments. Which brings me to the application of the Claddagh design.

One day a ships chandler and jeweler one Fintan McCorracle received at his place of employment

an ominous packet. The small packet was sealed weakly stamped with the sign of the wilted rose

as if stamped by an infirm grasp unsteady and partially blurred. Retiring to a back room shaking

desparately Fintan, with the careful hands of a jeweler setting a troublesome stone, and with great

determination of will overcoming certain fear, opened the packet. His worst suspicions were

correct. The girl he had engaged only two evenings before to play with him in her chambers had

returned the ring. On a bed of dried flowers. Her fever had been more than that of lust her burning

heat would now live on with him. Fearing his own impending death and before the illness could have

its way Fintan rushed to his jewelers bench and did not retire for the evening until he had accomplished

his mission.

A mission that would change the world of Galway forever.

If only Fintan thought, If only men of the sea and of the port could be warned from the rocks

which spelled their impending doom as they interviewed the sirens of the ale house and alley way.

The could be saved from the rampages of the diseases which from the lips of the girls had felled so

many a bold seafaring man. So Fintan worked carefully over the golden ring. He melted it down and

cast it once again into a new form. One with a heart and a crown and two hands.

*The heart symbolized the inner tenderness of the flesh so open to disease as to pleasure.

**The hands symbolizing the intimacy between customer and girl linked in pleasure through the heart.

***And the crown as a protection for the heart. The shield for its tenderness and eventually the

protection of the client by law and government. The crown having always stood for the power

of the state.

Fintan worked into the night and waking in the first hours of the morning already feeling the

fever of the portal of darkness he hastened to the home of his son who that day was about

to make his first sea voyage and would certainly head to the Spanish arch to make his first

transaction with a fallen girl from the country. Fintan found his son selecting his best clothes

-preparing for the evening. He took the boy aside and brought out the newly made ring.

He explained to him that this should be the ring of his first woman of the evening that to be

sure that she was pure and from the country.

Fergus the son was to present the girl with the ring and to instruct her concerning the

rules for its use.

Should the girl be free from disease and thus safe for the pleasures of the evening (symbolized by the

hands) and, if the time of the Moon was right for her,she was to turn the symbol of the tender and

open body outwards. The warm and beating heart outward for a warm evening and its inspiration.

Should however, the girl be infected or should her time not be right, the heart should be protected.

Protected by the crown! Turning the crown to face outward there would be a symbolic barrier

protecting the tender body and warning Jack Tar not to enter here.

This all Fergus did as he was told and his proud father whilst weakening from his own fever waved

him good by for his night on the town.

The next day Fergus headed to sea and Fintan rested at home resolved to bravely meet his fate

knowing that he may have protected others.

No sooner had he taken to his bed when a commotion erupted outside his doorway which noise

caused him to get up and investigate.

With great suprise he saw at his door all of the Ladies of the evening of the city of Galway!

All dressed in their alluring gowns of the night even though it was the middle of the day.

Each brought with them a packet of apothecary cures a very costly assortment of remedies.

With them was the Mayor of Galway and the city council.

The women presented Fintan with their cures which he consumed forthwith. They had come

to thank him for the wonderful new design for the Claddagh ring. Now men would be warned

from the rocks of disease and woman for which it was not the right time would be spared from

their advances.

The council presented Fintan with a proclamation in his honor and gave him a copy of their

new legislation. From that time on, it read ,all Claddagh rings were to bear Fintan's design

and upon severe penalty all girls were to wear it according to Fintan's rules. They asked

Fintan for his permission to use the design and he willingly gave it. They then asked how

they might honor him.

Long a man of the sea with chandlery being the business of outfitting ships Fintan had only

request- that if possible he should be buried beneath the newly erected Spanish arch-the

symbol of the city and port. He was always a quiet man and requested that the stone- in the

center on the sea side in front of the arch be left un-marked. The mayor and council agreed and

issued a proclamation to that effect.

After consuming their cures and potions and with hugs and kisses from the girls

Fintan was left in peace. Something must have worked fore after suffering a long

illness with fever and pain Fintan eventually recovered. The girls of the city were

delighted and paid him many visits waving the customary fee. It is said of the

beautiful girls of Galway to this day that their brown hair is unmatched- you see

Fintan had beautiful dark brown hair and when he grew older many brown haired

children played in his large garden.

At the old age of 89 Fintan passed away to another shore another place. His wishes

were carried out and he was laid to rest as he had requested standing up looking

out to sea on the sea side of the Spanish Arch. No inscription was placed on his


Sometimes during the night a woman of the evening returning home will be seen

pausing by the Spanish Arch and on the seaward side she will inscribe with chalk, upon the

central stone the design of the Claddagh which has protected so many over the


So now as You put on the ring please know the truth of the story from the Folkloric

tradition. Women! Always take care how you wear that famous ring and keep those safe those

it brings to you.

And when you go to Galway town and with your Claddagh ring upon your finger;

do not for get to inscribe in chalk upon the stone the heart and the crown- for Fintan.

Remember men what it means- when you give a girl this ring. Do not attempt to go past that


Thus endith that which was once written into the ancient annals of Galway City. Reflect upon these words and maintain the tradition free from abuse and comercialization. Pass on this tale to all who inquire of the Claddagh.

Fergus Fintan Mc Corracle
(aged 91,Interviewed by GZT, Galway City,Ireland 1829- Great Grandson of Fergus (the son) mentioned above.Placed into the public domain.

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