Table of Contents
- 1 Irish Claddagh Ring
- 2 Claddagh Ring Design
- 3 Claddagh Ring Meaning
- 4 Can you wear a Claddagh ring if you’re not Irish?
- 5 How to wear a Claddagh Ring
- 6 History of the Claddagh Ring
- 7 Claddagh Ring Origin
- 8 The Claddagh Ring in Pop Culture
Irish Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh ring (pronounced klad-ah) is one of the most well known of Irish symbols and is steeped in Irish cultural tradition.
While the Claddagh ring is its official name, it is easily identified as the Irish heart ring, or the Celtic heart ring or even the Clatter ring (based on how the name Claddagh sounds).
Its classic arrangement of two hands, holding a crowned heart signifying love, loyalty and friendship is as fitting now as it was in the 17th century, when it was first created.
This iconic design is popular not only in Ireland, but also abroad and jewelry adorned with this motif is often used as a symbol to represent Irish heritage.
Claddagh Ring Design
The design of Claddagh ring (or fáinne Chladaigh in the Irish language) consists of a band with two hands cupping a heart that wears a crown.
There are distinct similarities between the Claddagh ring design and that of the ancient fede rings that were present in Roman times.
Fede rings consist of a band with two hands clasped together and were quite popular during the Medieval period. It is quite possible that fede rings, which were often associated with friendship, love or marriage, were a source of inspiration for the Claddagh ring design.
Claddagh Ring Meaning
The three distinctive symbols of the hands, heart and crown of the Claddagh ring each have a unique meaning that can be interpreted separately.
- The hands represent friendship
- The heart symbolizes love
- The crown serves as a symbol of loyalty or fidelity
Given the simplicity, yet universal application of the Irish Claddagh ring meaning, it is easy to understand the enduring popularity of the Claddagh ring design as a symbol of commitment to a relationship or friendship.
In fact, Claddagh rings are thought to have been used as wedding rings in Ireland since the early 18th century.
Some reports indicate that it was customary for Claddagh rings to be passed down through the female line of the family from a mother to her daughter on her wedding day. However, the rings in existence that were made prior to about 1840, appear to be for men, which may cast some doubt on this custom.
Today Claddagh wedding rings and Claddagh engagement rings are still a popular option to mark that special occasion with a loved one. The symbolism behind the Claddagh ring makes it a very thoughtful design choice.
Modern designs in silver, gold, white gold or platinum are often based on variations of the original Claddagh ring design of the hands, heart and crown.
For example, Celtic jewelry designs, such as intricate Celtic knots or imagery can be etched into the bands of Claddagh rings resulting in stunningly unique Celtic wedding rings and Celtic engagement rings. (Read our articles on Celtic Symbols and Celtic Knots to discover more about Celtic art.)
Alternatively, precious stones can also be set in the place of the heart, giving the ring a dainty finish and possibly putting extra emphasis on the Claddagh heart meaning.
While Claddagh rings may traditionally be more associated with marriage, they are often used to symbolize a special friendship between people outside of a romantic relationship.
Depending on the interpretation of the Claddagh ring, the hands can represent support, the heart can stand for a shared bond and the crown can act as a symbol for fidelity and reliability. In this way, the Claddagh design in the form of a ring or other form of jewelry can be an ideal, thoughtful gift.
For others, the Claddagh ring and its meaning is deeply connected with Irish culture and may remind people of their Irish heritage, or a memorable visit to Ireland.
The beauty and simplicity of the Claddagh design allows for versatility regarding its meaning and of course, the meaning behind the Claddagh ring may always have a special interpretation depending on the wearer.
Can you wear a Claddagh ring if you’re not Irish?
Yes, of course. Claddagh rings are a popular item of jewelry for both men and women. They can be worn by anyone, in any relationship status, and are certainly not just confined to use in marriage or engagement.
How to wear a Claddagh Ring
While there is no right or wrong way to wear Claddagh rings, this short guide will help you if you would like to follow the traditional approach.
If the ring is worn in the manner of the traditional Irish ring, the relationship status of the wearer may be determined depending on the hand the ring is worn on and whether the ring is worn with the heart facing inwards or with the heart facing outwards.
Claddagh Ring worn on Left Hand
In many countries, including Ireland, a wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand. Claddagh rings that are worn as wedding rings or engagement rings are also typically worn on this finger on the left hand.
If the Claddagh Ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand:
- with the heart pointing inwards towards the wrist, then the person is married
- with the heart pointing outwards towards the finger tip, then the person is engaged
Claddagh Ring worn on Right Hand
Claddagh rings worn on the right hand generally indicate that a person is either single or in a relationship. In this regard, the direction of the heart is used to show whether you are open for love (point of the heart facing outwards) or that someone has a claim on your heart (point of the heart facing inwards).
If the Claddagh Ring is worn on the ring finger of the right hand:
- with the heart pointing inwards towards the wrist, then the person is in a relationship
- with the heart pointing outwards towards the finger tip, then the person is single
Whichever finger or hand you choose, most importantly, you should feel comfortable with how you wear your Claddagh ring.
History of the Claddagh Ring
There are several tales about how the Claddagh ring design came into being. While some are based on myths, others are based on more reliable historical sources.
Although it cannot be said with 100% certainty, it is quite probable that the renowned goldsmith Richard Joyce from Galway can be credited with creating the first Claddagh ring design. The story of how Richard Joyce became a goldsmith is a tale in itself!
Richard Joyce was born about 1660 to one of the fourteen ancient merchant tribes of Galway (Galway is still known as the City of the Tribes). En route to the West Indies, he was captured by Algerian pirates and enslaved. An Algerian goldsmith bought Joyce and after recognising Joyce’s natural talent, the goldsmith decided to have him work as his apprentice.
Joyce learned the trade and became a skilled goldsmith and was clearly a valuable asset to his owner. So much so, that when King William III decreed that all of his enslaved subjects should be released, the Algerian goldsmith tried to bargain with Joyce to stay and not return to Ireland.
As it turns out, Joyce did not stay in Algeria, but returned to his native Galway with his impressive goldsmith skills and set up his own goldsmith business. At some point after this Joyce is thought to have created the Claddagh ring design.
Very few examples of early Claddagh rings exist to this day. One golden Claddagh ring, made by Joyce and thought to be the one of the oldest in the world, will be exhibited in the new Atlantic Museum in Galway in 2023.
Interestingly, the goldsmith Thomas Meade who was a contemporary of Joyce and based in Kinsale, County Cork created a similar design to the Claddagh around the same time. Three of his rings dating from about 1700 are still in existence. It is not certain if there was any connection between these two men.
The Waterford based goldsmiths Richard and Thomas Dillon started to produce Claddagh rings from about the 1840s after they were popularized by the now discredited account of the origins of the Claddagh in publication by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall. The brothers even produced a Claddagh ring for Queen Victoria in 1849.
Thomas Dillion moved to Galway after this point and set up a family-run jewelry shop that is still in existence today. As the goldsmith was awarded the Royal Patent for the design of the Claddagh ring, they are officially the original makers of the Claddagh ring.
Certainly from about 1850 onwards the popularity and demand for Claddagh rings grew not only within Ireland, but also abroad. Many Irish emigrated during this period and for them, the Claddagh symbol was a fond reminder of home.
Several goldsmiths in and around the Galway area helped to further promote the Claddagh symbol design and turn it into the icon design it is today.
An Alternative Origin of the Claddagh Ring
One of the other main legends about the origin of the Claddagh ring involves a fanciful tale of a young woman. You might think that Richard Joyces’ extraordinary story about pirates and slavery on the high seas may be a little far fetched, but this alternative version for the origin of the Claddagh ring is even more so!
Margaret Joyce from Galway (apparently no relation to Richard Joyce) became a widower when her wealthy Spanish husband, Domingo de Rona, died. It is thought that she used her remaining fortune to build bridges throughout the province of Connaught on the west coast of Ireland. In return for her great efforts, an eagle rewarded her by dropping a golden Claddagh ring in her lap.
Claddagh Ring Origin
For many, the name Claddagh is synonymous with the ring, but in fact Claddagh is also a colorful and picturesque village on the mouth of the River Corrib on the western side of Galway City.
Claddagh has a rich history as a fishing village that dates back to about the fifth century. The village is thought to have had a strong tradition of being independent and even had its own king to settle disputes.
It is thought that the famous Irish ring was designed in or around the area of Claddagh and hence became known as the Claddagh ring. However, it is difficult to verify this completely.
In fact, it was not until about the 1840s that the rings became known as “Claddagh Rings” based on the the aforementioned account of Claddagh ring by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall.
Certainly by about 1820, the rings Claddagh women wore displayed this hand, heart and ring motif according to the History of Galway by Hardiman (1820). On a practical note, due to the manual labor involved in fishing, it is less likely that the fishermen of Claddagh wore these rings.
The Claddagh Ring in Pop Culture
There is no doubt that Claddagh rings make for very suitable gifts for lovers, friends and family and even acquaintances. Down through the years, Claddagh rings have been worn on some very famous fingers!
While Queen Victoria may have been the first well known person to have received a Claddagh ring on her visit to Ireland in 1849, many other recognisable faces have since been gifted Claddagh rings or Claddagh symbol designs on visits to the country including American President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie, Prince Rainier of Monaco and his wife Grace Kelly, Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton.
Well known actors such as Gabriel Byrne, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julia Roberts and Jennifer Aniston are all known to have worn Claddagh rings at some point in the past.
Walt Disney also wore a Claddagh ring and it can be seen on his statues in the Disney parks.
The musician Jim Morison from The Doors often wore a Claddagh ring and even exchanged Claddagh rings with his girlfriend Patricia Kennealy as part of a wedding ceremony.
The Claddagh ring has also made an appearance in several film and television shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Days of Our Lives.