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Anyone familiar with Ireland is sure to know the Claddagh ring. And while Ireland no longer is part of the U.K., its famous ring is popular with tourists around the world and often is sold in stores throughout the U.K. Its design is simple and poignant — the band depicts two hands holding a heart, the ring’s centerpiece, upon which lies a crown.

The ring is meant to celebrate friendship and togetherness, and the direction in which it’s worn denotes what the ring means to the bearer, according to www.galway.ie, a Web site devoted to the city of Galway and its history.

When worn on the right hand with the heart facing out toward the nail, the ring signifies one whose heart is free, according to the site. When the heart is facing inward, toward the knuckle on the right hand, it indicates the heart is no longer available. And if the ring is worn on the left hand, it traditionally means that love has already been offered to another — and accepted.

The ring is named for the Claddagh, an ancient fisherman’s village on the stretches of Galway Bay. Exactly why it was named for that village or who first crafted the design remain a mystery, according to the Web site.

Two tales endure, however. One centers on Margaret Joyce, the widow of a Spanish merchant trading in Galway who used her inherited wealth to build many bridges in the area. She was rewarded for her generosity when an eagle dropped the ring into her lap.

The other story involves a native of Galway named Richard Joyce who was captured by the Algerians and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith. When Joyce was freed, he returned to Galway with the first Claddagh ring, according to the site.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at: uknews@estripes.osd.mil

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