Claddagh Ring Meaning, History & How to Wear It

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Claddagh Ring History

The Claddagh ring is widely accepted as originating from the quiet little 17th Century fishing village of Claddagh, just outside of Galway, Ireland.

The word Claddagh comes from an Irish term meaning “flat stony shore’. Not a romantic term but the Irish are nothing if not practical and the town is on a rocky shore so, well, there it is.

Now, digging deeper into the Claddagh’s history reveals origins far earlier than that of the more well known Claddagh lore.

The Claddagh ring is predated by a group of European finger rings called “fede rings”. The name “fede” is derived from the Italian phrase mani in fede; meaning ‘hands joined in faith’ or ‘hands joined in loyalty’. These rings date from the Roman era when the symbolism of clasped hands represented pledges of many forms (love, marriage, friendship).

Once the Irish added a heart and crown to this design, the Claddagh ring we know today was destined to become perhaps the most enduring and well known of all the Celtic symbols for love.

Additionally, the Claddagh is a unisex ring and is an accepted accessory for both men and women.

Yes. Real men wear Claddaghs.

Claddagh Wall Plaque above created by celebrated Celtic artist Maxine Miller.

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Claddagh Ring Meaning and Symbolism

What fantastic storytellers were the Celts. Hundreds of years later their folklore still enraptures and studying Claddagh history in an effort to discern they whys and wherefores of its symbolic meaning is no exception.

The symbols on a Claddagh and the meaning of them is pretty straightforward;

  • Heart = Love
  • Clasping Hands = Unity and Promises to be kept
  • Crown = Loyalty
  • Heart in Hands = “I come to you with my heart in my hands.”
  • As a Wedding Ring = “With these hands I give you my heart and I crown it with my love.”

The most common story seems to be that the very first Claddagh was made young Richard Joyce of Galway. According to legend he left his true love and sailed off to the West Indies hoping to make his fortune. Captured by pirates (of course) Richard was sold into slavery and purchased by a Moorish goldsmith.

 

Many years later when King William III negotiated the freedom of slaves Richard, now a master metallurgist, chose to return to Ireland in the hopes that his true love had remained just that, true.

His soul mate’s heart had remained steadfast and so Richard crafted the very Claddagh ring as a tribute to their unity, love and mutual faithfulness.

It’s important to note that this legend is not entirely an embellished fairy tale. In fact, the earliest examples of Claddagh rings are engraved with the initials RJ (Richard Joyce).

Irish Claddagh digital collage above crafted by Etsy artist Jennifer Lee.

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How to Wear a Claddagh Ring

Ah, love. We want to tell the world when we have it, want it and don’t want it. Over the centuries, the Claddagh ring has come to symbolize more than romantic love.

It’s kind of like a Heartometer.

Depending upon which finger it is worn and direction the crown and heart face, the Claddagh can send the following messages regarding what stage of love you’re at:

    • Single but interested in love?

      Wear the Claddagh ring on your right hand with the heart facing away from you.

      This shows the world you are open to the possibility that the movie “Love Actually” is rooted in at least some semblance of reality.

    • In a relationship?

      OK, you’ve updated your relationship status on Facebook but not everyone on planet Earth is your friend. No worries! You can still let the whole world know that your heart has been besotted by your very own Mr. Darcy.

      To let potential besotters know you are “In a relationship”, simply wear the Claddagh ring on your right hand with the heart facing toward you.

    • Married?

      Congratulations!

      You may now wear the Claddagh on your left hand with the heart facing toward you. This shows that two hearts have been bound together for all eternity.

      All.
      Eternity.
      Huzzah!