A piece of jewelry should do more than merely look good: it should look like the story of the wearer, manifest on the body for all to see. While there are thousands upon thousands of pretty yet generic accessories out there, nothing will ever compare to a signature Claddagh ring that can encompass the importance of your history, your hopes for the future, the values you hold dearest and, of course, the significance of your personal preferences and taste.
The traditional Irish Claddagh ring is an iconic design that can hint at innumerable facets of the owner’s identity and can be used for all occasions. There are rings for friendships, men’s Irish Claddagh rings, birthstone Claddagh rings, Claddagh engagement rings, Claddadgh promise rings, and more. And the Claddagh ring story is as moving and unique as every variety of ring out there.
So if you’re ready to wear your heart on your finger, read on to get the lowdown on the top seven things a glance at your Irish Claddagh will reveal to the world.
1. IRELAND IS IN YOUR HEART
Say you catch a glimpse of a Claddagh ring glinting on someone’s finger. It’s safe to say that you’d be right on the money in guessing that this person’s heritage (or at the very least, their loyalty and love) traces right back to the beautiful Emerald Isle. It’s one of the most universal of Irish Claddagh ring meanings.
While still immensely popular with those who live in Ireland, the Claddagh ring has, over time, cemented its status as an emblem of ancestral pride among many generations of Irish diaspora in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere. To wear a Claddagh ring is to remember with great fondness the land in which one’s history is rooted, and to place one on the finger of a non-Irish friend or romantic partner is to welcome them with open arms into the fold.
Wearing a Claddagh ring in public is a surefire way to be identified as unmistakably Irish by other individuals who have even a drop of green in their veins, and, thanks to its international fame, by plenty of those without, too. Don’t be surprised when the amount of smiles sent your way by strangers seems to take a spike when you wear it out and about, either—thanks to their charisma, sense of humor, and generosity, the Irish are some of the best-loved people in the world according to recent studies; so wear that ring with confidence!
2. YOU KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT IN LIFE
The distinctive design of the Claddagh ring is as deliberately-conceived as it is beautiful. It features two hands firmly clasping a smooth heart, which is typically surmounted by a crown. These three aspects of the ring’s design act as symbolic representations of three values that are crucially important among Irish people: love (represented, of course by the heart), friendship (the hands) and loyalty (the crown).
When their importance is properly upheld, these three principles will never steer the wearer of a Claddagh ring wrong in life. It’s because of this that Claddagh rings are frequently exchanged not just between romantic partners, but between family members and friends, who offer with them with their blessings and an enduring spirit of tenderness and care. A Claddagh ring rejoices in the importance of every kind of bond, ranking no type of relationship above another. This sense of equality that it supports is just one of the many reasons this ring has become so universally adored down through the years.
3. YOU LOVE TO LOVE LOVE
When presented in the spirit of courtship, the Irish Claddagh ring meaning is clear. It’s an indicator that a relationship is going the distance. It makes a clever and thoughtful gift, whether a couple has been together for three weeks or three decades, and, as an added bonus, the way in which it’s worn can be tweaked whenever a relationship makes the big leap from one stage to the next.
As noted by Irish author Colin Murphy in The Feckin’ Book of Everything Irish, the four styles of how to wear a Claddagh ring (and their meanings) are really quite simple:
- If the ring is worn on the right hand, with the tip of the heart pointed towards the fingertips, the owner is currently single, and may be open to the idea of striking up a new romance.
- If the ring is worn on the right hand, with the tip of the heart pointed towards the wrist, its owner is in a committed relationship with someone special.
- If the ring is worn on the left hand, with the heart’s tip pointed towards the fingertips, the wearer has recently said a very exciting “yes!” Congratulations are in order. They’re engaged!
- If a Claddagh ring is worn on the left hand, with the tip of the heart pointed towards the wrist, the owner is happily married, and wants the world to know it.
4. YOU CARRY YOUR HISTORY WITH YOU
As well as being hugely symbolic by its very nature, the Claddagh ring is also among one of the oldest known Irish “brands” still thriving in the modern world. Though the term “Claddagh ring” only began to see popular use in the 1830s, records show that the rings were produced in County Galway since the year 1700, at the latest.
Despite the various charming folktales and legends that surround their origin (more on that below), the most commonly-accepted theory is that they were first crafted in or on the outskirts of the small Galway village of (you guessed it) Claddagh. Located close to the heart of Galway City, just where the River Corrib meets Galway Bay, this locality takes its name from the Irish word cladach, which means “shore.” While wearing a Claddagh ring doesn’t necessarily have to denote a family history that traces back to this region, it most definitely is a great way to display any proud ties one may have to Ireland’s magnificent western coast.
Given that its history stretches back centuries, the fact that the Claddagh ring retains its immense popularity today stands as testament to the intensely personal meaning that its fans, both old and young, see within it. Due to the prevalence of sentimentality among its wearers, Claddagh rings are very often used as family heirlooms, handed down over the course of generations in heartfelt exchanges between a mother and her eldest daughter, or even a grandmother and granddaughter, on special occasions or birthdays during which a young woman comes of age. No matter who passes it on to who, a Claddagh ring that’s also a family heirloom should be closely treasured for the legacy of duty and love that it carries with it. Wear it with pride, and know that in doing so, you will never be alone.
5. YOU APPRECIATE A GOOD ORIGIN STORY
The Irish are known for their ability to dream up a creative origin story for just about anything, and the Claddagh ring is no exception. In fact, the ring has two stories that attest to its beginnings.
The hero of the first tale is a man named Richard Joyce, a sailor who hailed from Claddagh in the 17th century. While sailing the world in search of the plantations of the West Indies, Richard’s fortune took an unexpected turn one day when he, along with his fellow crew members, was kidnapped by a gang of marauding pirates. Richard was allowed to keep his life, but his freedom was another story. When the pirates made port in Algeria, he was sold off as a slave to a goldsmith.
Richard’s new master was an astute man, and he quickly saw that Richard was a fast learner and hard worker. Before long, he was training Richard in the smithing trade, even and turning a blind eye to the longing looks his beautiful daughter frequently gave the servant.
In 1689, an amnesty was declared by King William II that all slaves who resided within his kingdom were to be released. By this time, the goldsmith was so fond of Richard that he didn’t hesitate in offering the young man half of his wealth, as well as his daughter’s hand in marriage. Richard, however, respectfully declined, and told them of his own true love, a beautiful girl from his hometown of Claddagh who was sure to be waiting anxiously for his return back in Ireland. Moved by his desire to be faithful to this woman, the goldsmith allowed him to begin his journey back across the sea.
What the goldsmith didn’t know, however, was that Richard was as opportunistic as he was likeable. Every day that the young man had spent labouring in the workshop, he had stolen little shavings of gold, so tiny that they would never have been noticed missing. Upon arriving back in Ireland, he fashioned these miniscule pieces into a ring, which he used to ask for his sweetheart’s hand in marriage. Of course, she accepted.
Using the tricks of the trade he had picked up during his time in Algeria, Richard set up a goldsmith shop in Claddagh. It became immensely successful, and for many years it produced Claddagh rings (identical to the one with which he asked for his beloved’s hand) with his initials, RJ, etched into the precious metal.
The other most popular piece of folklore concerning the the origin of the Claddagh ring begins with another person with ties to the Joyce family of Galway; this time, a woman. Margaret Joyce was an industrious young woman who attracted the attentions of the wealthy Spaniard, Domingo de Rona, when she lived during the 16th century. Their marriage, though happy, was short-lived.
Widowed at a young age and now in possession of half of the late Domingo’s fortune, Margaret got to work with investing the money in community causes, funding the construction of a huge number of much-needed bridges all over the region of Connacht. The story goes that on day, as a reward for the strength of her love for Domingo, friendship to the people of Ireland, and loyalty to her charitable visions, an eagle flying overhead dropped a Claddagh ring directly into Margaret’s lap. The beauty of the ring caused many to begin replicating it in their jewelry shops, though the original always remained with Margaret, who many say went on to find happiness in a new marriage with the mayor of Galway, Oliver Oge French.
6. YOU’RE STRONGER THAN YOU SEEM
Without a doubt, one of the most iconic appearances of a Claddagh ring in pop culture history is an emotional scene from the campy and brilliant supernatural TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Surprised? Read on.
Towards the end of the show’s second season, teen hero Buffy celebrates her 17th birthday—and, considering she’s the Chosen One, it’s not all bright pink frosting and helium balloons for our leading lady. This is not to say that her special day is without a moment worth remembering, though. Her love interest, the mysterious vampire Angel (who just happens to have been an Irishman in a previous life) has the perfect gift to show her how much she means to him.
“My people, before I was changed, they exchanged this as a sign of devotion,” Angel explains as he offers Buffy this heartfelt gift. “The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty, and the the heart… well, you know.”
Despite eventually losing her beloved to the dark forces at play in the town of Sunnydale, Buffy wears this token of her Angel’s affection for a long time. When she does finally part with it, she stands alone, in the very spot where she last saw him, reflecting on the moment she chose to part ways with her one great love for the good of all humanity.
Ultimately, Buffy’s Claddagh ring becomes a symbol of her bravery, inner strength, and ability to rise above her heartache. If this is the powerful, independent Slayer spirit you’re keen to channel, this ring is certainly the signature jewelry piece for you.
7. YOU KNOW THE IMPORTANCE OF VERSATILITY
As we’ve already noted, the way in which a Claddagh ring is worn can indicate a whole range of relationship statuses, and, thanks to the trio of values that lie at its core—those being love, friendship, and loyalty—there’s no hard and fast rule for what sentiment it needs to convey. For a brand that is, in ways, so traditional, Claddagh most certainly breaks the mold on multiple counts—and most excitingly so when it presents its fans with the options to show their appreciation for everything Claddagh stands for without limiting themselves to a single type of jewelry.
The array of stunning Claddagh pieces being produced now extends far past the original (yet still best-selling) ring design, with earrings, necklaces, brooches, and even household items currently available for purchase as alternative ways to celebrate the rich history and cultural significance of this well-loved Irish icon—and since Claddagh’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down in the future, the options are sure to continue to expand. So, no matter how you display your Claddagh piece to the world, remember to do it with pride—and may the heart of love, hands of friendship, and crown of loyalty always guide you well.