The History and Meaning of the Famous Claddagh Ring

The History and Meaning of the Famous Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh ring is a traditional Irish ring that features a heart, a crown, and two hands symbolizing love, loyalty, and friendship, respectively. The design and customs associated with it originated in the Claddagh, a fishing village in Galway, Ireland. The Claddagh ring has a rich history and a unique meaning that makes it a popular choice for wedding bands, engagement rings, friendship rings, or family heirlooms. In this article, we will explore the origins, meaning, and ways of wearing the Claddagh ring, as well as some of the places where you can see or buy this iconic piece of Irish jewelry.

Table of Contents

The History of the Claddagh Ring

Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre Claddagh Ring Making - Visit Galway

The Claddagh ring belongs to a group of European finger rings called fede rings, which date back to ancient Rome. The name derives from the Italian phrase “mani in fede” (“hands [joined] in faith” or “hands [joined] in loyalty”). These rings featured two clasped hands that symbolized pledging vows or fidelity. They were used as engagement and wedding rings in medieval and Renaissance Europe.

The Claddagh ring as we know it today was first produced in Galway in the 17th century. There are various legends and stories about its origin, but one of the most popular ones involves a silversmith named Richard Joyce. According to this legend, Joyce was captured by Algerian pirates and sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft. When King William III negotiated the release of British subjects from Algeria, Joyce was freed and returned to Galway. He brought with him the ring he had made while in captivity, which he gave to his sweetheart and later married. He also became a successful goldsmith and marked his rings with his initials.

Another possible origin of the Claddagh ring is that it was brought to Galway by Spanish traders or sailors who had connections with the fede rings of Spain and Portugal. Some historians suggest that the Claddagh ring may have evolved from an earlier ring called the “Galway ring”, which was made in the 16th century and had a similar design but without the crown.

Many believe that Richard Joyce was the original inventor of the Claddagh Ring as we know it today, as his initials are in one of the earliest surviving Claddagh rings. However there are three other rings also made around that time, bearing the mark of goldsmith Thomas Meade. Although there are various myths and legends around the origin of the Claddagh ring, it is almost certain that it originated in or close to the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, even though the ring only became known as a ‘Claddagh Ring’ from the 1830s.

The Claddagh ring was mainly worn by the people of Claddagh and Galway, who passed it down from generation to generation as a family heirloom. It was also used as a symbol of identity and solidarity among the Irish diaspora, especially in North America. The Claddagh ring became more widely known and popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, when it was featured in literature, art, music, and film. Some famous wearers of the Claddagh ring include Queen Victoria, Princess Grace of Monaco, John F. Kennedy, and Elvis Presley.

The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring

Galway's Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre - Visit Galway

The Claddagh ring has three elements that represent three aspects of a relationship: love, loyalty, and friendship. The heart stands for love, the crown for loyalty, and the hands for friendship. Together, they form a motto that can be translated as “Let love and friendship reign” or “With these hands I give you my heart and crown it with my loyalty”.

The Claddagh ring can also be interpreted as a symbol of Irish culture and heritage. The heart can represent Ireland itself or its patron saint Patrick, who used the shamrock (a three-leafed plant) to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. The crown can represent the sovereignty of Ireland or its ancient kings and queens. The hands can represent the unity and strength of the Irish people or their hospitality and generosity.

How to Wear the Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh ring can be worn in different ways depending on the wearer’s relationship status. Traditionally, the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing outwards if the wearer is single and looking for love. If the wearer is in a relationship, the ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing inwards towards the wearer’s heart. If the wearer is engaged, the ring is moved to the left hand with the heart facing outwards. If the wearer is married, the ring is worn on the left hand with the heart facing inwards.

Some variations of these rules exist depending on personal preference or regional custom. For example, some people wear the ring on their left hand regardless of their marital status, while others wear it on their right hand even if they are married. Some people also wear the ring on a chain around their neck instead of on their finger.

The World's Smallest Claddagh Ring at the Claddagh Ring Museum

World's Smallest Claddagh Ring - Visit Galway

If you are interested in seeing some examples of Claddagh rings from different periods and styles, you can visit the Claddagh Ring Museum in Galway City. This museum is located in the Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold shop, which claims to be the oldest jeweler in Ireland and the original maker of the Claddagh ring. The museum displays a collection of Claddagh rings from the 17th century to the present day, as well as other Irish jewelry and artifacts.

One of the most remarkable pieces in the museum is the world’s smallest Claddagh ring, which measures only 3.5 mm in diameter and weighs 0.10 grams. It was made by Thomas Dillon’s in 1998 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The ring was presented to Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as a symbol of peace and friendship among nations.

The Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre in Galway City

Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre Galway - Visit Galway

Another place where you can learn more about the history and meaning of the Claddagh ring is the Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre in Galway City. The centre offers an interactive exhibit, audio-visual presentation, and workshop on how to make your own Claddagh ring. You can also buy authentic Claddagh rings and other Irish souvenirs at the centre’s gift shop.

The Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre is open from April to October, from 10 am to 5 pm daily.

Shops in Galway Where You Can Buy the Claddagh Ring

Shopping - Visit Galway

If you are looking for a place to buy a Claddagh ring in Galway, you have plenty of options to choose from. Here are some of the most popular and reputable shops where you can find a variety of Claddagh rings in different materials, sizes, and prices:

  • Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold: This is the oldest and most famous jeweler in Galway, and believed home of the original maker of the Claddagh ring. They offer a lifetime guarantee and a certificate of authenticity with every ring they sell. They also have a museum and a visitor centre where you can learn more about their history and craftsmanship. Their shop is located at Quay Street in Galway City.
  • Fallers Jewellers: This is another well-known and respected jeweler in Galway, established in 1879. They have a large selection of Claddagh rings in gold, silver, platinum, and diamond. They also have other Irish jewelry and gifts, such as Celtic crosses, shamrocks, trinity knots, and Tara brooches. Their shop is located at Williamsgate Street in Galway City.
  • Cobwebs: This is a unique and charming shop that specializes in antique and vintage jewelry from Ireland and around the world. They have a collection of rare and beautiful Claddagh rings from different eras and styles, as well as other Irish treasures such as Connemara marble, Waterford crystal, Belleek pottery, and Irish lace. Their shop is located at Quay Lane in Galway City.
  • Standún: This is a family-run business that offers a range of Irish products and services, including clothing, knitwear, homeware, food, music, books, and jewelry. They have a variety of Claddagh rings in silver and gold, as well as other Celtic designs such as spirals, knots, crosses, and trees. They also have a café where you can enjoy some Irish delicacies and a view of Galway Bay. Their shop is located near Spiddal Village in County Galway.

The Claddagh ring is more than just a piece of jewelry; it is a symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship that has been cherished by generations of Irish people and their descendants around the world. It is also a reflection of Irish culture and heritage that showcases the craftsmanship and creativity of Irish goldsmiths. Whether you are looking for a gift for someone special or a souvenir for yourself, the Claddagh ring is a perfect choice that will last a lifetime.