When you see a Claddagh ring, it’s hard to forget, since the distinctive design features a pair of hands holding a heart with a crown on top. Also called a fainne Chladaigh in Irish, it’s been a part of Irish tradition for so long that nearly everyone in Ireland knows what it is by default. However, the Claddagh ring has been embraced all over the world, and its popularity in jewelry is growing. The basic symbols remain the same, but it can come in different styles—using a diamond, emerald, or other gem for the heart, or featuring intricate carvings on the band. It can be worn by both genders, with a wider, heavier band for men.
Part of why the Claddagh ring has grown in popularity is the deeper meaning behind it. The hands symbolize friendship, the heart naturally means love, and the crown is for loyalty or fidelity. This resonates with an old Irish saying: “With these hands, I give you my heart and crown it for love.” Although it has often been given as a token of romantic love and even as a wedding band, you can also gift it to a family member or a friend. Since Ireland has a long-standing history with Catholicism, the ring can alternatively stand for the Holy Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Beyond any gestures of love and religion, many keep it as a souvenir of Ireland.
Wearing a Claddagh Ring the Traditional Way
There is a proper way to wear Claddagh rings, which are steeped in history. They were originally used to convey one’s relationship status:
- If you’re single (and looking for love), wear it on your right hand, facing outward
- If you’re in a relationship, wear it on your right hand, facing inward
- If you’re engaged, wear it on your left hand, facing outward
- If you’re married, wear it on your left hand, facing inward
In general, a Claddagh ring on the left hand signifies more serious commitments compared to the right, and turning it outward implies that you have a message that you want the world to hear. It’s likely, though, that most people aren’t aware of the symbolism. In fact, Walt Disney often wore a Claddagh ring, and he had it turned outwards even though he was married!
Still, this is how it has been traditionally worn. If someone asks you about the position of your ring, take it as a chance to let them know about this fascinating Irish custom (and your relationship status).
The Claddagh ring is named after the Claddagh Village, where the ring originated. It was part of Galway in Ireland, and most of the inhabitants were fishermen. They somehow got into the custom of wearing the ring to indicate whether they were single or married, but another version says that the locals wore it to catch anyone from outside who was fishing in their territory.
Either way, the custom spread to all over Ireland, including Dublin, and it became normal for lovers to give each other rings in the 19th and 20th century. In fact, mothers handed down rings to their daughters as a family heirloom. When Irish people were migrating to America during the Great Famine later on, they always brought their Claddagh rings along, since these had high value and served as much of their savings. From there, the Claddagh ring became well-liked even outside of Ireland.
But even though the design of the ring definitely came from Ireland, it was heavily inspired by the Faith Rings of Rede, which were worn back in the Roman Empire to show trust and friendship. These rings were remarkably similar to the Claddagh, depicting a pair of clasped hands, and they remained common until Medieval Europe.
The actual creator of the ring is said to be a Galway goldsmith whose mark is seen on many antique rings. A well-loved legend describes a man named Richard Joyce, who got captured and turned into a slave. While working under a Moorish goldsmith, he sneaked off with bits of gold each day and slowly fashioned a ring that he could give his beloved once he was free. When his captivity ended after 14 years, he returned to his beloved, who was still waiting for him, and gave her the ring. This would become immortalized as the Claddagh ring.
The Claddagh In Modern Culture
It’s a testament to the Claddagh ring’s timeless appeal that it was worn by celebrities, politicians, and royalty. Queen Victoria had a ring, and so did her son King Edward VII and his wife Queen Alexandra. Many political figures also wore it because of their Irish heritage, including Ronald Reagan, Winston Churchill, and John F. Kennedy. In the hit TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Buffy even received a Claddagh ring from her vampire lover to symbolize their eternal love.
From the Roman empire to the present, it seems instinctive for people to want to embody love or friendship through a ring that can always be worn. The Claddagh is a classic piece of jewelry that’s made even more precious because of its special meaning. By wearing it properly, we’re honoring the Irish tradition from which it originated while making a heartfelt gesture to another.