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Claddagh Ring Meaning: What You Need to Know

Claddagh Ring Meaning Feature Image
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The Claddagh Ring

Many people are fascinated about Celtic ring meanings, especially the meaning of the Claddagh symbol and what the direction of Claddagh rings can imply about the ring wearers.

This article explores the famous Irish ring meaning, its origin and the surprisingly epic tale of the supposed creator of the Claddagh ring design!

Ever wondered how to wear an Irish Claddagh Ring? Then the easy-to-follow Claddagh ring rules guide included in this post will make sure you are wearing Claddagh rings the correct way (according to Irish tradition).

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.

The Fenian Claddagh ring is another similar design, close in appearance to the traditional “Claddagh ring” design, but without the iconic crown.

Gold Claddagh Ring with precious stone in the heart.
The clasped hands of the fede rings from Roman times are similar to the Claddagh ring design. (Photo: © TheaDesign via Canva)

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.

Symbols of the Irish Ring Claddagh Meaning:

  • 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

Does the meaning of the Claddagh ring change depending on whether the wearer is male or female?

No, not at all the meaning of Claddagh rings does not change regarding the gender of the wearer. The male Claddagh ring meaning and the female Claddagh ring meaning are the exact same.

Wedding Rings Claddagh Ring Design

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

Wedding Rings Celtic Ring Design

Today, many people who wish to connect with Celtic heritage opt for a Claddagh Ring. Claddagh wedding rings and Claddagh engagement rings are still a popular design motif to mark that special occasion with a loved one. The symbolism behind the Claddagh ring design makes it a very thoughtful way of saying “I love you”.

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 Trinity knots or imagery can be etched into the bands of Claddagh rings resulting in stunningly 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’s meaning. 

Silver Claddagh Ring with Stone
Some of the Claddagh ring designs feature precious stones, like this silver Claddagh ring. (Photo: © TheaDesign via Canva)

Irish Claddagh Ring 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.

Claddagh ring Relationship – How to wear a Claddagh Ring?

“How do you wear a Claddagh ring” is the most frequently asked question when it comes to this topic. While there is no right or wrong way to wear a Claddagh ring, this short guide will help you if you would like to follow the traditional approach of how to wear the Claddagh ring.

What finger do you wear a Claddagh ring on?

If the ring is worn in the manner of the traditional Irish ring, the ring should be worn on the ring finger

Meaning of the Claddagh Ring Direction

The relationship status of the wearer may be determined depending on the hand the ring is worn on and the Claddagh ring direction, that is whether the ring is worn with the heart facing inwards or with the heart facing outwards.

Claddagh Ring worn on Left Hand

(Claddagh ring Married or Engaged Meaning)

In many countries, including Ireland, a wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand. Wearing a Claddagh ring on the ring finger of the left hand is regarded as a symbol that the wearer is married or engaged.

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 Ring Single or in a Relationship Meaning)

The Claddagh ring meaning on the right hand generally indicates 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 

Now you will never wonder which way to wear a Claddagh ring again! Whichever finger or hand you choose, most importantly, you should feel comfortable with how you wear your Claddagh ring

History of the Claddagh Ring

Claddagh Ring design as brooch
As well as rings, necklaces and brooches often incorporated the Claddagh Ring motif into their designs.(Photo: © Gamaruba via Shutterstock)

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

Richard Joyce of Galway

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

Gold Claddagh Ring Original Item

Very few examples of early Claddagh rings exist to this day. The price of these costly jewelry items would only have been affordable to the wealthy. 

One golden Claddagh ring, made by Joyce and thought to be the one of the earliest surviving Claddagh rings in the world, will be exhibited in the new Atlantic Museum in Galway in 2023.

The Claddagh Ring Design

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

The Galway Ring

Thomas Dillion moved to Galway after this point and set up a family-run Irish Jewellery 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 Irish 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 iconic design it is today. 

An Alternative Origin of the Claddagh Ring

The heart represents love, the hands stand for friendship and the crown is a symbol of loyalty in an Irish Claddagh ring. 
The heart represents love, the hands stand for friendship and the crown is a symbol of loyalty in an Irish Claddagh ring. (Photo: © PicturePartners via Canva)

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

Claddagh Village outside Galway and a Claddagh Ring
How exactly the Claddagh Ring acquired its name is not completely clear. Claddagh is a small fishing village on the outskirts of Galway. (Photo: Left © JByard; Right © JasonOndreicka both via Canva)

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. 

(Bonus Tip: If are in Galway city, then Claddagh is a lovely spot to explore just on the outskirts of the city. For those of you who wish to explore explore County Galway, why not visit some of the best beaches that Connemara has to offer!)

Claddagh Ring Galway

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 aforementioned account of the Claddagh ring by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall.

Women Claddagh Ring History

Certainly by about 1820, the rings Irish women wore in Claddagh displayed this hand, heart and ring motif according to the History of Galway by Hardiman (1820).On a practical note, the rings Claddagh women wore were not usually seen on the fishermen of Claddagh, due to the manual labor involved in fishing. 

A Galway hooker fishing vessel
A Galway hooker fishing boat would have been the traditional fishing vessel of the Claddagh fishermen.
(Photo: © Rihardzz via Shutterstock)

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

Claddagh Rings FAQ

What is a Claddagh Ring?

A Claddagh ring is an iconic ring design though to have originated on near the town of Galway on the west of Ireland that features a heart wearing a crown that is being held by two hands

What does the Irish Claddagh ring mean?

The symbols of the ring stand for love (the heart), loyalty (the crown) and friendship (the hands). How the ring is worn, for example, the hand the ring is worn on and whether the Claddagh ring heart is facing inwards or outwards can be used to interpret the relationship status of the wearer according to Irish tradition.

Who gives you a Claddagh Ring?

Given the Irish Claddagh meaning, Claddagh Rings are typically shared by people in a relationship, which is why they are often selected as engagement or wedding rings. However, they can also be exchanged between close friends, as well as parents and their children, for example. 

The design of the Claddagh ring is simple, elegant and beautiful which is why it is also such a wonderful gift, especially for someone who has a connection to Irish heritage

Some Irish superstition says that it is bad luck to buy a Claddagh ring for yourself, but you can be very sure that there is no such thing as a Claddagh ring curse or bad luck if you do!

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. 

Claddagh Ring Irish Design

The Claddagh Ring is just one of the main Irish Symbols connected with Ireland. Many other jewelry designs from Ireland focus on Celtic patterns. If you want to know more about the Irish rings meanings or other jewelry with Celtic designs, then our guide to Celtic Symbols and Celtic Knots might help you out.