Where did the Claddagh ring come from? How should it be worn? And how did it become an emblem of Irish identity worldwide? Here we look at the origins and history of the iconic Claddagh ring.
The Claddagh ring’s origins are believed to lie in the fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, on Ireland’s west coast. It’s distinctive design is associated with the Joyce family, one of the Tribes of Galway. Legend has it that fisherman Richard Joyce, shortly before he was to be married, was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in Algeria. His captor was a Moorish goldsmith, who sensed his potential and trained Richard in his craft. In time, Richard Joyce became a highly proficient master craftsman. All through his training, he had thought of his sweetheart at home, and he created the first Claddagh ring, with a heart for love, a pair of hands for friendship and a crown for loyalty and fidelity. In 1689, all subjects of King William who were held in slavery were freed, and now a free man, Richard Joyce refused his former master’s offer of half his fortune and his daughter’s hand in marriage, and returned to Ireland. He found his sweetheart had waited for him, and he presented her with the ring he had made and they were married.
The Claddagh ring is a variation of the ‘fede’ ring, a European design that dates back to Roman times, showing two hands clasped in friendship or love. The word fede is derived from the Italian phrase of hands clasped in faith, ‘mani in fede’. Used for betrothal and marriage, they gained prominence during the medieval period, and have been used through to modern times. Incorporating a crown and a heart with the clasped hands design, the Claddagh ring symbolises Love, Friendship and Loyalty. ‘Let Love Reign’ was the phrase associated with this motif, which made it a beautifully romantic wedding ring design, and these rings became family heirlooms that would be passed down usually from mother to eldest daughter on her wedding day.
Emblem of Irish Identity
The Great Famine of 1845-1849 saw an exodus of Irish people, leaving their beloved country on ships in vast numbers, many never to return home again. As they spread across the world, taking with them the stories, songs and culture of home as they settled, the romantic story of the Claddagh was passed down through the generations. Along with its defining characteristics of Friendship, Love and Loyalty, the Claddagh has also become an enduring symbol of Irish identity.
How to Wear it
Tradition dictates that there is a very distinctive way to wear the Claddagh ring. If the wearer wears the ring on the left hand, with the crown pointing towards the finger nail, this indicates that they are in love, or married. Wearing the ring on the right hand with the heart pointing to the finger nail shows that the wearer is unattached.
The popularity of the Claddagh is enduring, and a wide variety of jewellery is available bearing this motif, from traditional rings, to modern necklaces and earrings. Browse of selection of claddagh and celtic jewellery here.