No jewelry piece embodies Irish custom more than the Claddagh ring. This traditional Irish ring is steeped in history and is still worn by men and women across the world as a symbol of friendship, love, and loyalty.
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about the Irish Claddagh ring, from its origins to the various meanings behind the Claddagh design.
The Claddagh ring (pronounced kla-duh) is a centuries-old piece of traditional Irish jewelry in the shape of two hands clasping a heart. The heart is topped by a crown.
The earliest surviving Claddagh rings were made of gold, but today they are available in a wide variety of materials, including platinum, rose gold, and sterling silver, and may even include precious stones.
Many Irish families have their own traditions around Claddagh rings. For example, the rings are often passed down from mother to daughter as family heirlooms.
Nowadays, Claddagh rings can even be worn by people who are not descendants from Ireland. They are also frequently chosen as wedding or engagement rings or gifted in the spirit of love, friendship, and loyalty.
Although some say that it’s bad luck to buy a Claddagh ring for yourself, many modern-day shoppers pay no heed to this superstition and wear their purchase as an expression of self-love or a proud symbol of their Irish roots.
Claddagh rings originated from the fishing village of Claddagh on the outskirts of Galway City. The name is derived from the Irish word cladach, which translates to ‘stony shore’.
One account suggests that a fisherman from Galway by the name of Richard Joyce created the first Claddagh ring sometime during the 1600s. The story began when the fishermen in the Joyce family were kidnapped by pirates during a fishing trip near the West Indies.
The men were then taken to Africa where they were sold into slavery. Richard Joyce ended up in the service of a Moorish goldsmith, and it was during that time when the first Claddagh ring came into being.
The story goes that Joyce became an accomplished goldsmith while he was in captivity and that he used his skills to fashion a simple gold ring to present to his lover when they would be reunited. The ring’s design consisted of two clasped hands encircling a crowned heart. It is said that these symbols represented Joyce’s hope that his lover would remain faithful during his absence.
Upon his return to Ireland, Joyce presented the ring to his beloved, who later wore it as a wedding ring. Over time, the Claddagh ring became a treasured symbol of Irish heritage and culture.
Another more mythical version of the story takes place around a century before the first, when a Spanish man married an Irish woman by the name of Margaret Joyce. When the man died, Margaret was left to inherit all his wealth, which she then used to build bridges in Galway and Sligo. As a reward for her actions, legend has it that an eagle flew by and dropped the first Claddagh ring in her lap.
However the original came to be, there can be no doubt that Claddagh rings are inextricably linked with centuries of Irish folklore and that their history is part of what makes them such an alluring piece of jewelry to own today.
Over the centuries, the Claddagh’s distinctive design features have developed their own meaning. The two hands represent friendship. The heart represents love, and the crown signifies loyalty. Together, these symbols represent the virtues that form the foundation of any healthy relationship, hence why the Claddagh ring is often chosen for engagement and wedding rings.
In addition to the symbols on a Claddagh ring, flipping the ring also has its own meaning. For example, when the person wearing the ring has the heart facing inward (with the crown facing outward), it signals that the wearer is romantically involved or even engaged.
However, when the ring is worn with the heart facing outward and the crown facing in, it indicates that the wearer is romantically available or unattached.
But that’s not all; there are several other ways to wear a Claddagh ring – as you’ll discover from the section below.
If you’re thinking about buying a Claddagh ring or already have one, you may want to make sure you wear it correctly depending on the message you’d like to send the rest of the world. Of course, you can always decide not to follow these rules and wear the ring however you prefer.
There are four main ways to wear a Claddagh ring to indicate your relationship status:
When the heart faces inward on the left ring finger, it is a sign that the wearer is married. The heart faces in to indicate that their heart has been ‘captured’ and that they are in a permanent relationship. If the ring is first worn as an engagement ring, then the symbols are flipped from outwards to inwards during the wedding ceremony.
When the heart faces outward on the ring finger on the left hand, it indicates that the wearer is engaged. The heart pointing out shows that they are committed, but they still haven’t tied the knot.
Wearing a Claddagh ring on the right hand with the heart turned inward means you’re in a devoted relationship or otherwise romantically unavailable.
If you wear a Claddagh ring on your right hand with the heart facing outward, it shows that you’re romantically available and open to finding love.
Both women and men can wear Claddagh rings and some couples even shop for their rings together.
The rings can also be customized to reflect each partner’s unique style, with men often opting for thicker bands and bolder designs and women choosing daintier bands that are sometimes encircled by diamonds.
The Irish Claddagh ring is a stunning piece of jewelry that encapsulates centuries of Irish tradition, history, and folklore. It can be worn in a variety of ways to represent your relationship status or as a symbol of your Irish heritage.
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