The Claddagh Ring

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Irish symbols and their meanings are profoundly integrated in our culture and history. One of Ireland’s most popular symbols is the Claddagh ring. Here we’ll look at the story behind it, what it means and how to wear it.

A Symbol of Love

Although often represented as the ancient Celtic symbol of love, the Claddagh ring only originated in the 1700s. It does symbolize love, but also loyalty and friendship meaning that the person wearing the ring does not need to be in a relationship or even in love. It was designed by the goldsmith Richard Joyce from the coastal village of Claddagh in Galway.

The story behind the Claddagh ring

Like many stories that are passed down from one generation to another in the oral tradition, there are different and debatable versions surrounding the origins of the Claddagh ring. The best known version is perhaps this one.

Legend has it that just before he was due marry, Richard Joyce was captured by pirates and sold as a slave in Algeria. There a wealthy goldsmith bought him, saw his potential and decided to teach him his trade. Some say that it was here that he designed the first claddagh ring for his true love back in Galway.

When William III was crowned King of England in 1689, he ordered the release of all his subjects in Algeria. The goldsmith did not want to let Richard Joyce leave and offered him half of his business and his daughter’s hand in marriage if he would stay. He refused his master’s offer, returned to Galway to find his bride still waiting for him and gave her the first Claddagh ring.

Different theories

As previously mentioned, some of the facts in the above story are debatable.

Some people say that it wasn’t until Richard Joyce arrived back in Galway that he designed the Claddagh ring.

Others say that it was in fact a different man altogether, someone named Dominick Martin who originally created the ring. 

Or perhaps it was a common ring design at the time and Richard Joyce’s version was simply the most popular.

What does the Claddagh ring represent?

The Claddagh ring is steeped in meaning, the three different parts of the ring each have their own symbolisms.

– The open hands stand for friendship

– The heart represents love

– The crown is a symbol of loyalty 

Whereas the ring is commonly gifted as a wedding ring or engagement ring, it can also be passed down from mother to daughter or given as a coming-of-age gift to a young girl.

How to wear the Claddagh ring?

The meaning of the Claddagh ring changes depending on how you wear it and as Liam Neeson famously put it “There are a very particular set of skills required for wearing a Claddagh ring!”

  • If you’re single: Wear it on your right hand with the point of the heart toward your fingertips.
  • If you’re in a relationship: Wear it on your right hand with the point of the heart toward your wrist.
  • If you’re engaged: Wear it on your left hand with the point of the heart toward your fingertips.
  • If you’re married: Wear it on your left hand with the point of the heart toward your wrist.

Loved around the world

Claddagh rings are now worn and loved by millions both in Ireland and abroad. They are particularly cherished by those who have a strong link with their Irish ancestors as well as by those visitors to Ireland who regard it as the perfect souvenir.

Happy Families Card Game

The Claddagh ring is one of 6 Irish Symbols included in our new “Happy Families – Exploring Ireland” card game of Ireland. Learn more about Irish symbols, mythology, landmarks, cities, food, musical instruments and traditions while playing the game with your families and friends.

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