The Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring that represents Love, Loyalty and Friendship – the heart represents Love, the crown represents Loyalty, and the hands represent Friendship. Its use has spread beyond the gaelic country. We will tell you now all you need to know about this very special piece of jewelry.

The first Claddagh ring appeared in the 17th century and is named after a coastal village of the same name located in Galway. Precisely, the word Claddagh is an English adaptation of Gaelic Cladach which means “seashore”.

The story of Richard Joyce

There are several stories about its origin, some more fanciful than others, but Richard Joyce’s is the most accepted, among other things, because the oldest Claddagh rings found have the initials RJ engraved on them, which would indicate that Joyce was the one who made them.

In the Galway area at the end of the 17th century, many families made a living from fishing and working at sea. There lived Richard Joyce, a young man who was engaged to a woman he loved deeply. Shortly before his wedding, he was captured by pirates while fishing in the sea. They took him to Africa, far away from his native Ireland, and sold him into slavery in Algeria, where he became the property of a wealthy Moorish goldsmith. While working, the craftsman saw that Richard had a natural talent for working with metal and jewelry and decided to make him his apprentice. Over time,  Richard Joyce became a master goldsmith, but although he learned more about his art every day, he could not forget the woman who remained in his home. Guided by that love, he began to save small pieces of gold left over from his labors. When he had enough, he designed the first Claddagh ring in the hope that he could give it to his beloved one day.

Fourteen years passed, until in 1689 King William made several agreements that led to the release of his enslaved vassals, including Richard Joyce.

After all the years he spent with him, his master had grown fond of him and did not want him to leave, so he offered him the possibility of not returning home, marrying his daughter and giving him half of his wealth.

However, Richard rejected the offer and returned to Galway.

When he finally arrived, he found his love, who had waited all these years for his return. Richard Joyce was able to make his dream come true and offered her the ring that he created when thinking of her and they finally got married.

Symbology and meaning of the Claddagh ring

Although the design of the ring has become a very representative figure of the Irish culture, not all of its features are unique to the island. The ring is reminiscent of the Phede wedding rings of the Romans, long before the creation of the Claddagh ring and whose use spread throughout Europe since the Middle Ages. These rings were usually shaped like hands intertwined to represent commitment and were exchanged between couples in love.

San Valentín e Irlanda: el anillo Claddagh como símbolo de amor y amistad

The ring is always made up of 3 elements:hands holding a crowned heart. However, it is possible that the ring also has Gaelic knots and braids, depending on the craftsman.

  • The hands are intertwined and hold together the crowned heart, represent friendship.
  • The heart is the centerpiece of the ring elements. It represents, of course, love.
  • The crown  is the symbol typically used to represent the royalty. Placed over the heart, it represents  loyalty and fidelity.

All of them together represent the ring’s motto “Let Love and Friendship reign”, in Gaelic is  “Grá, Dílseacht, Cairdeas” (pronounced “Graw, Deal-shocked, Core-jass”).

How to wear the Claddagh ring

Over the centuries, a large number of legends and traditions have been created around both the ring and its meanings, the most notable today being the different meanings it can have depending on how it is used.

The first thing you have to keep in mind is that, if you are not married, you should always carry it in your right hand. The meaning will be more specific depending on the position of the ring:

  • If you carry it in your right hand with the tip of the heart pointing away  of your body, it means you don’t have a partner.
  • If you carry it in your right hand with the tip of the heart pointing towards your body, it means that your heart is busy and you have a partner.
  • If you carry it in your left hand with the tip of the heart pointing away of your body, it means you are engaged.
  • If you carry it in your left hand with the tip of the hand pointing towards your body, it means that you are married.

Curiosities and questions about the Claddagh ring

It doesn’t matter what finger you use it on

The meaning of the Claddagh ring does not change depending on which finger you wear it on, it only affects the hand. For example, Walt Disney is one of the famous people who has been recognized for wearing this ring and yet, he wore it without following tradition. What’s more, it was said that even though he was married, he wore it pointing away from his body, this story was so widespread that the ring can be seen on the statue in his memory erected at DisneyWorld.

San Valentín e Irlanda: el anillo Claddagh como símbolo de amor y amistad
[Credit: Disney World Explorer]

Being single doesn’t matter

Precisely one of the ways to use the Claddagh ring is to express that you do not have a partner, it is not only used by married people or people in relationships.

A ring for everyone

Whether you are a man, woman, teenager, child… no matter your gender or age, the tradition of the Claddagh ring has no ifs and buts to be worn by anyone.

It may have religious meaning

Ireland is a country whose history has been closely linked with Christianity. The 3-leaf clover itself, the shamrock, has a story about how St Patrick used it to explain the holy trinity and the triquetra was reinterpreted with the same meaning by Christians. Something similar happens with the Claddagh ring: it can be determined that the 3 elements represent the holy trinity, in some cases going so far as to adapt the design with a crown of thorns.

What intention does someone have if they give me a Claddagh ring?

It totally depends on the relationship between those people, since the ring not only symbolizes a romantic relationship. The heart, hands and crown all symbolize positive affections, bonds and long-lasting relationships, so there is no problem with giving it as a gift between family and friends.

San Valentín e Irlanda: el anillo Claddagh como símbolo de amor y amistad

If you’re not Irish… It’s okay

The tradition of wearing the Claddagh ring has traveled beyond the Gaelic island. Whether because they have Irish ancestors and want to use it as an inheritance, because of the symbolism of the pieces or because of their beauty, its use has spread to multiple parts of the world.

Since the meaning that the ring may have only indicates the status of the person who wears it, it does not matter if it is given to you as a gift or if you buy it yourself.

However, although it has a well-known tradition, these rules and curiosities are not strict rules, since the most important thing about the Claddagh ring is its message of affection and bond that the ring represents.

So, don’t hesitate and enjoy this piece of Irish tradition.

San Valentín e Irlanda: el anillo Claddagh como símbolo de amor y amistad

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