Claddagh Ring Meaning: History of the Claddagh Ring
There are few pieces of jewelry that inspire and mystify as much as a Claddagh ring. It’s elegant clasp hand design, traditional pointing symbolism and Irish origin have placed it in a tier with Celtic knots and crosses. Claddagh rings have ancient origins and fall into a category of jewelry known as fede rings stemming from the Latin mani in fede meaning hands joined in faith and loyalty dating back to pre-Roman times. For centuries the Claddagh has been exchanged to propose as an engagement ring or as a wedding ring itself. Many of these rings were held as important family heirlooms passing from mother to daughter on their wedding day. In this blog, we will explore the meaning and history of this beautiful and delightful charming Claddagh ring, a true national icon.
Claddagh rings or An Fáinne Cladach in Irish are actually older than the name given to them. Claddagh refers to the town in Galway of the same name where the rings appear to have originated. Claddagh or Cladach in native Irish means shore. It is a town near Galway city centre itself at the point where the River Corrib feeds into Galway Bay. It was a former fishing village, looking onto the Spanish arch where Claddagh fishermen would hold open markets supplying locals with freshly caught produce. While the origin of the Claddagh is contested its symbolism is absolutely certain.
The Claddagh ring is unmistakable worldwide and can be recognized at a glance. Its hands represent friendship, the heart naturally symbolizes love and the crown conveys loyalty. This trinity has stood the test of time and remained unchanged since the very first Claddagh rings.
There are two separate origin stories for the Claddagh. One less likely but fascinating story is that of Galway Native Margaret Joyce. Margaret married Domingo de Rona, a very wealthy Spaniard. Domingo was a very successful and established merchant who carried out a lot of business in Galway. Upon his death his entire estate was inherited by Margaret who returned back to Galway. She became widely known for her charity and actions spending a significant amount of her husband’s wealth building bridges in Galway and Sligo. She then went on to marry the then mayor of Galway, Oliver Og French. Legend has it that in 1596 an eagle flew over Margaret dropping the first Claddagh ring into her lap as a token and reward for her good deeds.
Another more likely but equally amazing story is that of Richard Joyce. Richard was a Galway silversmith on route to the West Indies, it’s said that he was to return to marry his wife once the journey was complete. Unfortunately, Richard was seized by Algerians and sold into slavery where he became the property of a Moorish goldsmith. Noting his skill and ability the Goldsmith trained Richard further while he served him for 14 years. King William III sent an ambassador to Algeria in 1689 demanding that all commonwealth subjects be released from slavery. On hearing this the Goldsmith offered Richard a considerable portion of his wealth and a daughter as a wife if he was to remain but this did not tempt Richard.
On his return to Galway Richard found his fiancee who had patiently waited for him all those years. He presented her with a ring that he had crafted in hopes of seeing her again in Algeria. The first Claddagh ring. Richard opened his own goldsmith’s as a freeman, the oldest rings in existence still bear his marker mark ‘R.J’.
How to wear and meanings
A wearer of a Claddagh ring is said to change the direction the heart is facing depending on their current romantic status, this is a charming and subtle way to display one’s status in a refined way in an era long before social media! The facing of the heart and hand its worn on mean as follows:
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is single and might be looking for love.
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is in a relationship; someone “has captured their heart”
- On the left ring finger with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is engaged.
On the left ring finger with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is married
We hope we have informed and inspired you on your Claddagh ring journey. Check more on how to wear, and browse our collection of various elegant Claddagh ring styles.