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The History and Meaning of Irish Claddagh Rings

Updated on February 25, 2011

Irish Claddagh rings have a long history, the roots of which are deeply seeded in Irish tradition.  These beautiful rings have become popular all over the world, and are worn by both men and women, single or taken.  The Claddagh ring was named for the ancient fisherman's village of Claddagh, near Galway, Ireland, and is believed to be over 300 years old.

Claddagh rings represent friendship, love and loyalty
Claddagh rings represent friendship, love and loyalty

History of the Claddagh ring

It cannot be said for certain exactly when or by whom the Claddagh ring was first created, or why exactly it was named after the village of Claddagh. One name that stands out through history as the creator of the Claddagh ring is Richard Joyce.

As the story goes, Richard Joyce, a native of Galway, was captured by Algerian pirates and sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith. The goldsmith trained Robert as an apprentice and he became very skilled in his craft. In the late 17th century, King William III demanded the immediate release of all British subjects from Algiers. The goldsmith offered Richard Joyce the opportunity to marry his only daughter, as well as part of his wealth if Richard would stay in Algiers. Richard declined, and returned to Galway, where he took the skills he had learned as an apprentice, became a jeweler, and created the first Claddagh ring. The earliest Claddagh rings to be traced have Joyce's mark and the initials.

Another tale surrounding the origins of the Claddagh involves Margaret Joyce, a wealthy widow of a Spanish merchant named Domingo de Rona. In the late 16th century, upon her return to Galway, Margaret married Oliver Og French, Mayor of Galway, and used the money she had inherited from her first husband to build bridges in Connacht. One day, as a reward for her charitable works and good deeds, an eagle flew overhead and dropped the first Claddagh ring in Margaret's lap.

As the Irish are known partly for their love of myth and folklore, it seems almost appropriate that the true origin of the ring isn't known.

"With my hands I give you my heart and crown it with my love."
"With my hands I give you my heart and crown it with my love."

The meaning of Claddagh rings - friendship, love and loyalty

"With my hands I give you my heart and crown it with my love."

The meaning behind the Claddagh ring is part of its charm and what has made it such a classic, everlasting piece of jewelry. Claddagh rings symbolize friendship, love and loyalty. Friendship is represented by the hands that hold the heart; the heart itself obviously means love; and the crown that tops the heart denotes loyalty. This beautiful symbolism - love in all its forms, friendship, and loyalty - are what makes the Claddagh so popular to the masses.


How to wear a Claddagh ring

The meaning of the Claddagh goes further than the symbolism represented in the ring itself - the hands clasping the heart adorned with a crown.  The meaning also extends to the hand upon which the ring is worn, and the direction the heart is pointing.  For a single person, the ring is meant to be worn on the right hand with the point of the heart facing outward, away from the body.  For someone who is in a relationship, whose heart is taken, or who isn't interested in a relationship, the ring is meant to be worn on the right hand with the heart pointing inward.  For someone who is engaged or married, the ring is meant to be worn on the left ring finger with the heart pointing inward, toward the body.

Royals and celebrities who wore Claddagh rings

The Claddagh ring has seen rises in popularity over time as they have been associated with royalty and celebrities.

Queen Victoria of England visited Ireland in 1849 and started wearing a Claddagh ring around 1849. Her son Edward - King Edward VII - who succeeded her upon her death also wore a Claddagh ring, as did his wife Queen Alexandra, and their son George V, who later became King of the United Kingdom.

Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco (Grace Kelly, a famous Hollywood actress in the 1950s) also wore Claddagh rings.

American 'celebrities' who wore Claddagh rings include United States President John F. Kennedy, as well as actor turned politician and United States President Ronald Raegan.

Other celebrities who have been seen wearing Claddagh rings include Winston Churchill, John Wayne, Walt Disney, U2's Bono, Julia Roberts, Bill Clinton, and Sienna Miller, just to name a few.

Thomas Dillon's Claddagh Gold, established in 1750 in Galway, Ireland
Thomas Dillon's Claddagh Gold, established in 1750 in Galway, Ireland

Let love and friendship reign

Many people say that the only "real" Claddagh rings come from Galway.  If you ever visit Galway, be sure to visit Thomas Dillon's Claddagh Gold, a jewelry shop and museum, established in 1750.  They are the oldest jewelers in Ireland and are the only ones who reserve the right to stamp "original" on their Claddagh rings.  The museum has some of the first ever Claddagh rings, created from 1700-1800 by goldsmiths Richard Joyce, Nicholas Burge and George Robinson.

Irish Claddagh rings are worn as a symbol of friendship, love, or Irish heritage, but be warned: it is said that to purchase a Claddagh ring for yourself is very bad luck!

Claddagh rings make beautiful gifts for any occasion.  You can buy silver Claddagh rings, gold Claddagh rings, Claddagh rings with birthstones and other gems.  Because of the meaning behind the rings, they make wonderful gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, mother's day, father's day, or friendship rings.  Claddagh engagement rings, as well as Claddagh wedding rings are also popular because of the beautiful symbolism of the rings.  Whether the ring is simply a piece of jewelry, a friendship ring, engagement ring or Irish wedding ring, Claddagh rings are perfect for almost anyone for any occasion.

Do you own a Claddagh ring?

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    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you! I keep waiting for the day when I can turn my own claddagh ring around to have the meaning I want! ;-)

    • Kris Oller profile image

      Kris Oller 

      5 years ago from Modesto, Ca

      Very informative!! I enjoyed it a lot. Also glad to find out that I've been wearing mine in the correct direction all along (for the meaning that it is supposed to have). ;D

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Carol, that's a good question! I honestly don't know. I'd say if you already had one and lost it and were simply replacing it that it's ok to get it yourself. The thought was there to begin with. That's just my opinion! ;-)

    • profile image

      CAROL 

      6 years ago

      if you had a claddagh ring and lost it can you replace it yourself or do you need someone to give it to as a gift?

    • profile image

      Irish Celtic Rings 

      6 years ago

      Irish jewellery design are so popular that they can easily catch the heart of every1.......These b'ful rings raise the heartbeat and make it popular all over d world....thnx 4 d post.....

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      That's awesome, thank you so much for sharing, ldelgado17! I finally have a claddagh that my sister-in-law gave me as a gift, and it means the world to me. Someday, I'd love to have one from Ireland, but until then, I cherish the one I have. I also love shamrocks...so much, in fact, that I have a shamrock tattoo. ;-) Hoping you get your real claddagh someday! :-)

    • profile image

      ldelgado17 

      7 years ago

      Since i was little this was my favorites and my lucky charms the claddagh ring, and the shamrock. Now i'm older, way older, i have inmitations i wish to have real one. some day i will have that lovely real ring on my finger. and they still are my lucky charms.

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      That's really funny! I hope to make it to that shop someday, I'd love to see it. Thanks for commenting! :-)

    • jantamaya profile image

      Maria Janta-Cooper 

      7 years ago from UK

      Dear SweetMarie, I wear a Claddagh. It is bought in Galway in this shop on your photo :) - isn't it funny?

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Eiddwen!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting and thanks for sharing.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks so much Jaime-Kristal, I really appreciate that! I was glad to find out about the bad luck too, because I want a Claddagh so bad I was going to buy myself one! I'm not generally overly superstitious but with certain things I am, and that would be one of them! lol

    • profile image

      Jaime-Kristal 

      7 years ago

      I love Claddagh rings! Your article is fantastic, and I didn't know it was bad luck to buy your own... thankfully, mine was a gift :0)

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Susan! I had always been curious about it too and although I knew the symbolism behind it, I didn't know its history or famous ties, so I found it interesting and learned a lot - I'm glad you did too!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have always wanted to know about the Claddagh ring and so happy that you wrote this. Very interesting hub Marie!

    • SweetMarie83 profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie Landry 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Excellent, that's what I was hoping for! :-)

    • profile image

      Fay Paxton 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for this post. I learned something today.

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