The meaning behind the Claddagh Ring

Solvar Gold Claddagh makers hands

With Valentines Day coming up, what better subject for our first blog post than the meaning behind the Claddagh Ring? This world famous ring is the original Irish expression of love and will become a family heirloom.

‘With these hands I give you my heart, and I crown it with my love’

The Claddagh Ring consists of two hands holding a heart, upon which rests a crown. The heart represents love, the crown loyalty and the hands friendship. The ring itself is a variation of a fede ring, or faith ring. This style dates back to Roman times and features two hands clasped together in friendship or betrothal.

The story of the Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh Ring gets its name from the old fishing village of the Claddagh, on Galway Bay. Early records date the design to the 17th century. There are a number of different stories behind the ring, but the most realistic one involves Richard Joyce, a Claddagh native.

Richard Joyce

Pirates captured young Joyce shortly before his wedding. They sold him into slavery in Algeria and he eventually became property of a Moorish goldsmith. He trained Richard as a goldsmith, creating beautiful jewellery for Moorish rulers. When the ruling English King demanded the release of English subjects, Richard regained his freedom. The goldsmith was so impressed with Richard’s skill that he offered him his only daughter along with half his possessions to stay in Algeria.

Returning home

Memories of his love caused him to finally made his way home to the West Coast of Ireland after several long years away. Despite the long years passed, his sweetheart was waiting for him. He designed the Claddagh Ring and gave it to her as a symbol of his enduring love. Joyce went on to establish himself in Galway as a goldsmith and the oldest Claddagh Ring in existence bears his mark.

Margaret Joyce

Another, more creative story is one involving Margaret Joyce. She was a member of the Joyce Tribe in 16th Galway who married a wealthy Spaniard. On his death he left her half of his wealth. She used this money to build a number of bridges throughout Connacht. As a reward for her good deeds, an eagle dropped a Claddagh Ring onto her lap.

You will also come across variations on the above stories. Contrary to the confusion around the creation, the meaning of the ring is clear. It continues to serve as a symbol of fidelity and romance. In the centuries since its creation, the Claddagh Ring has grown in popularity. One of the early wearers was Queen Victoria. She was gifted her own one during a visit to Galway. Now the Claddagh ring is found the world over due to vast numbers of Irish emigrants.

The meaning and traditions behind the Claddagh Ring have captured the attention of many writers. One early travel book from the 19th century noted that the people of the Claddagh had

“many peculiar customs. One is worthy of special note. The wedding ring is an heirloom in the family. It is regularly transferred (by a mother) to her daughter first married and so on to their descendants. These rings are largely of solid gold and not infrequently cost from two to three pounds each”

Mr and Mrs Halls Tour of Ireland, London 1841-1843

Now, a Claddagh Ring is often gifted as a token of friendship or love. Many wearers also wear it to represent their Irish heritage, or as a reminder of their visit to the island.

How to wear the Claddagh Ring

The ring is unusual in that there are a number of ways to wear it, each way reveals the relationship status of the wearer.

Claddagh-Ring-Taken position
Heart facing the wrist = Taken
Claddagh Ring Married position
  1. Worn on the right ring finger with the heart pointing to your finger nail, it signals the wearer is single.
  2. On the right ring finger with the heart pointing to your wrist will signal that the your heart is taken.
  3. Move it over to the left ring finger and by pointing the heart to the fingernail it can be used as an engagement ring.
  4. Last but not least you can wear it as a wedding ring. You can do this by simply point the heart to the wrist.

Styles and embellishments

Originally created in yellow gold, the Claddagh Ring is now popular in other metals. These include white gold, sterling silver and even rose gold. Some are simple, some are adorned with a variety of stones and even Connemara marble. Eternity bands with the Claddagh motif within are becoming increasingly popular. You will also find necklaces, earrings, brooches and other jewellery adorned with this classic style.

Fenian Claddagh Ring

The Fenian Claddagh Ring is an interesting variation of the well known ring. This style possibly predates the Claddagh Ring, and features the hands with the heart, without the crown. The Fenians adopted this style during their fight to free Ireland from the rule of the British crown.

Add your own chapter to the story with your own Claddagh Ring.

Shop our range of Claddagh Rings here.