Claddagh Ring Meaning & How to Wear It
26th April 2023
Steeped in romantic folklore and history, the Claddagh ring offers a unique and beautiful Celtic design that's been popular since the 17th century. Typically associated with love, affection and loyalty, these rings will feature in traditional Irish wedding ceremonies. However, they also make for wonderful family and friendship rings.
Keep reading to discover the fascinating history and meanings behind the famous Claddagh ring as well as how you can wear one.
What does the Claddagh ring symbolise?
Claddagh rings hold different meanings and symbolise many forms of love. The ring features clasped hands, representing friendship and platonic love, a heart representing true, romantic love and a crown to symbolise strength and everlasting loyalty. The design is synonymous with the Irish saying 'with these hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love".
Traditionally among Irish families, the Claddagh ring would be passed from the mother to the eldest daughter and kept in the family as a form of inheritance. The ring would then be worn as an engagement or wedding ring, but it can also be worn before meeting a romantic life partner.
The two hands clasped around the heart are well-known these days for symbolising friendship. However, an ancient tradition celebrates the joining hands to represent loyalty, love, connection and fidelity. It's also believed that the symbolism of the joined hands in the Claddagh ring is where the term 'asking for someone's hand in marriage' stems.
The heart in the centre of the ring, held by the two hands, represents the true romantic love of a life partner.
The crown sitting atop the heart represents everlasting loyalty, fidelity and strength, making it suitable for family rings.
History of the Claddagh
Since the Claddagh ring is so old, its origins have become a mystery. There are many different stories about where the first Claddagh ring came from. One is a romantic folklore tale, and the other is a more commonly believed story. Both involve the Joyce family, one of the Tribes of Galway.
The romanticised version is that Margaret Joyce, a wealthy woman from Galway, married a wealthy Spanish merchant named Domingo de Rona in the 16th century. After he died, she was left half his fortune and spent the inheritance building some of the greatest infrastructure of the time in Galway. It's said that as a reward for the bridges she built, the first Claddagh ring was dropped by an eagle into her lap as a gift.
The other, more commonly believed story, credits the first Claddagh ring to a sailor in Galway named Richard Joyce. In the 17th century, Richard Joyce's crew were kidnapped by pirates off the coast of the West Indies and sold into slavery. Richard was bought by a goldsmith who taught and trained him in the craft.
When the slaves were released in 1689, Richard had impressed the goldsmith with his skills so much that he offered him half of his wealth and his daughter's hand in marriage. However, Richard was already in love with a woman waiting for him in Galway and had made her a Claddagh ring using stolen scraps of gold. When he returned home to his love, he gave her the ring before they married.
Richard then set up his own goldsmith shop in Galway and went on to create many more Claddagh rings. One of the oldest discovered Claddagh rings features Joyce's mark and currently sits in Galway City Museum.
Where Did The Claddagh Ring Get Its Name?
Believed to have been created by Richard Joyce, the Claddagh ring gets its name from the tiny fishing village just outside of Galway named Claddagh, which comes from the Irish term 'Cladach' meaning 'shore'.
This area used to be extremely independent and even had its own king and trade deals with Spain. These days very little remains of the original village, with many of its cottages demolished in the 1930s. However, it's still a popular tourist destination as the origin of the Claddagh ring and offers incredible views over Galway Bay.
These rings were traditionally kept as Irish family heirlooms, passed down to the firstborn daughters of each generation. Claddagh rings became so valuable that, in some cases, they were a family's only form of savings. When Irish families travelled overseas due to the potato famine throughout the 19th century, the Claddagh ring was one of the few valuable possessions they held on to. So, you'll likely find the rings in the homes of many American and Canadian families today.
Claddagh rings are linked very closely to Christianity. For some, the hands, heart and crown represent the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost.
How to Wear a Claddagh Ring
How you wear the Claddagh ring can indicate what it means to you at that time. So, it's useful to know the true Claddagh ring's meaning in reference to these ways.
If you're single, you should wear the Claddagh ring either on the right hand with the heart facing away from your body or upside down with the heart also facing away. This signals that you're open to love and your heart isn't promised to another.
2. In a Relationship
While in a relationship, you should wear the ring on your right hand with the heart facing toward you to indicate that your heart is committed.
When engaged, the ring moves to the left hand and onto the ring finger. The left ring finger was traditionally chosen for the wedding ring as people believed that there was a vein that went from the left ring finger to the heart. If you're engaged, you should keep the heart outward to show that you're not yet married.
4. Wedding Ring
When married, the Claddagh ring should stay on the left hand, with the heart facing your body. This symbolises lifelong commitment.
If you are interested in creating a unique bespoke ring for yourself or your partner, we would be delighted to help bring your creation to life. For more inspiration, shop our range of wedding rings now.