Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant from Bridgeport, CT. She learned the tradition from her parents and observed it multiple times at her four brother’s weddings.
Context: The piece was collected in a casual, in person interview, inside the informant’s home.
The following is a summary of the conversation, rather than a transcription for the sake of brevity and clarity.
The informant discussed a modification to traditional American wedding ceremonies and the exchange of wedding rings that is practice among some Irish-American groups. Whereas the traditional American ceremonies involve the couple exchanging wedding rings after they profess their vows, in my the informant’s family and community, the bride and groom exchange both wedding rings and Claddagh rings following the exchange of vows. The Claddagh ring is an Irish ring that features two hands holding a heart between them with a crown atop the heart. The wedding ring goes on the left ring finger and the Claddagh ring goes one the right ring finger with the heart pointing toward the individual wearing the ring. The informant relayed that there are multiple interpretations of the symbolism of the Claddagh ring, but that she was taught that, “it’s the hand of Mary and the hand of Joseph holding the heart of Jesus, but a lot people believe it’s Love, Faith, and Hope.”
Analysis: The practice seems to be a way of integrating Irish heritage into the American wedding ceremony through jewelry. The Claddagh ring has been an important symbol in my family as a celebration of both our Irish heritage and Catholic faith, although I do not believe that the ring is not necessarily widely interpreted as a Catholic symbol. I was surprised to hear that the ring was worn on the right hand of the individuals because I was taught while in Ireland that one wears it on the left hand when married. I was also taught that if one wears the ring with the heart facing outwards on the right ring finger, it signifies that the person is single, whereas pointed in on the right ring finger indicates that the person is currently in a relationship. Similarly, if worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing outward, the ring indicates that the individual is engaged, whereas pointed in on the left ring finger signifies that one is married. I have worn a Claddagh ring for just over two years that is inscribed with the words, “Faith, Love, and Friendship,” indicating yet another potential interpretation of the symbolism around the ring. It is important to note each interpretation I have heard of, interprets the two hands and heart as a trinity of either virtue or faith.