The Legends and Meanings Behind the Irish Claddagh Ring

September 20, 2020

claddagh ring design

With its roots in Irish folklore and tradition, the Claddagh ring is a classic symbol of love and affection. Its distinctive design is widely worn and easily recognized, but what is the origin of this unique ring?  How and when does one wear one, and can it be worn as a wedding band? 

Claddagh Ring Meaning

There's an old Irish saying that goes along with the Claddagh (pronounced klad-uh) ring: "With these hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love." The ring represents love, loyalty and friendship. The classic design of a Claddagh ring includes two hands clasped around a heart that is topped with a crown. Each of these elements has its own meaning—the hands for friendship, the heart for love, and the crown for loyalty—and they come together to symbolize all of the above.

Claddagh rings have been around for centuries, with some of the earliest iterations dating back to the 1700s. They belong to a larger European tradition of rings known as fede rings. Fede rings get their name from the Italian phrase mani in fede, or "hands joined in faith." Claddagh rings, of course, have a whole story of their own. 

Origin of the Claddagh Ring

There are many myths and legends surrounding the origin of the Claddagh ring, some based more in historical fact than others. What we know for sure is that the rings have been produced in Galway, Ireland since at least the 1700s, although they weren't referred to as Claddagh rings until at least the 1830s. They have strong ties to the small fishing village of Claddagh in County Galway. 

One of the more popular myths surrounding the Claddagh ring relates to Margaret Joyce, a young woman from Galway in the 16th century who married a Spaniard named Domingo de Rona and was left half his fortune when he died. As the legend goes, she used her fortune to build the first bridges in Galway and Sligo, and was rewarded for her good work and charity when an eagle dropped the first Claddagh ring into her lap. 

Another story of the ring's origin (and a much more plausible one) involves another Joyce, in this case ringmaker Richard Joyce, a native of the village of Claddagh in the 17th century. In this version of the tale, Joyce was captured by pirates and sold into slavery while sailing in the West Indies. Apprenticed to a master goldsmith and taught his trade, Joyce was eventually freed from slavery and returned to his love in Galway, where he started his own jewelry business and started making the first Claddagh rings. The earliest surviving Claddagh rings include the mark of Richard Joyce's initials, making this a more plausible origin story than a ring falling from the sky.

How to Wear a Claddagh Ring

Claddagh rings have become popular far beyond their Irish origins, and are worn by people around the world for many different reasons. They are given as engagement rings, worn as wedding bands, or simply exchanged as tokens of friendship. There are many reasons to wear a Claddagh ring, but the way you wear it (at least according to Irish tradition) may vary:

  • If you're single, wear the ring on your right hand with the point of the heart facing outward (i.e. away from your hand). This indicates that your heart is open to love.
  • If you're in a relationship, wear the ring on your right hand with the point of the heart facing inward. This means your heart is taken.
  • If you're engaged, wear the ring on the left hand with the heart pointed outward to indicate that you are in a lifelong commitment.
  • If you're married, wear the ring on your left hand with the heart pointed inward. This essentially says to the world that you are married, and your heart is taken forever. 

Anyone can wear a Claddagh ring. They are worn by men and women alike, and many couples exchange them as a special way to make their marriage both traditional and unique. And no, you don't have to be Irish to wear one! It's also worth keeping in mind that Claddagh rings are usually given as gifts, whether in the form of an engagement ring, wedding band or promise ring. According to tradition, it's bad luck to buy one for yourself and wear it!

Styles and Materials of Claddagh Rings

Although a ring must have the basic elements in place to be considered a true Claddagh ring—hands, heart, crown—there are still a lot of variations. Some are molded, cut or cast into shape, while others feature the symbols carved or etched into a solid metal band. Wide, heavy Claddagh rings are often worn by men, but there are also women's Claddagh rings which feature a more narrow profile. 

leather claddagh ring

Many variations exist when it comes to materials. Most Claddagh rings are silver or gold, but many other metals can be used. It is fairly common to see a heart-shaped jewel set into the ring between the two hands, or a silver band with hands clasped around a gold heart. Diamonds, emeralds and sapphires are popular, and many Claddagh rings feature various birthstones.

At Rustic and Main, we create a unique version of Claddagh rings out of leather, the original rustic material, featuring a hand-stamped design.  Whichever style and material you choose, Claddagh rings are a great way to express your affection to your loved one and to the world. Contact our creative team of craftsmen at today to see our line of leather Claddagh rings, or customize your own ring based on your own unique heritage.

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