The titular bauble--a pair of hands clasping a crowned heart with the motto""Let love and friendship reign""--is a traditional Irish emblem passed from mothers to daughters and granddaughters, exchanged by betrothed couples or given to friends, and worn by Queen Victoria, Jennifer Aniston and the rock band U2. McCourt (Danny Boy) is wary of the subject's potential to evoke""dreary sentimentality, enough to make a person vomit,"" but he steadies himself and gives a pleasant rundown of associated lore--a classic Irish mixture of improbable legend and historical tragedy. Drawing on scholarly and literary accounts, he explores the history and eccentric folkways of the fishing village of Claddagh, whose taciturn inhabitants""had long been an enigma, even to the people of Ireland."" One origin myth has the prototype ring dropped by an eagle into the lap of a saintly benefactress, and a second says it was forged by a goldsmith for his faithful fiancee after he returned from captivity among Algerian corsairs. Another tale recounts how scores of Claddagh natives pawned the gold rings for passage to America during the potato famine, while modern myth alleges that hundreds of the rings were recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center, a testament to the heroism of Irish-American firefighters and cops. McCourt traces the development of Celtic jewelry, ponders the symbolism of the ring's motifs and generally celebrates Irish culture with frankness and warmth. Perhaps the most pertinent material to the book's likely female readership is in a long section on traditional Irish wedding rites that is sure to give be-ringed colleens plenty of ideas.
Reviewed on: 08/01/2003 Release date: 08/01/2003 Genre: Nonfiction