What is a Claddagh Ring?

The Claddagh rings have been a crucial symbol in every Irish family since the 17th century. Brides and grooms wore them as wedding rings, but they were much more than that. Most Irish connected them with fidelity, kinship, and national identity.

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So, what is a Claddagh ring? It is a symbol of eternal love, unbreakable friendship, family ties, and relationship status. You can get it as a gift or through inheritance, but it is not something you should buy for yourself. The fairies say so, and who are we to doubt their words. Right?

What Is a Claddagh Ring?

What Is a Claddagh Ring
Image: something borrowed

A Claddagh ring is a silver or gold traditional band with two hands holding a heart with a crown on the top. The hands represent cairdeas (friendship), the heart grá (love), while the crown is a symbol of dílseacht (loyalty). Basically, it denotes all crucial qualities that connect two lovers or two best friends.

In most cases, this specific ring is either an engagement/wedding ring or a friendship symbol. It is closely associated with Irish culture and tradition as an emblem of romance and fidelity. Young couples exchange it for showing their mutual affection while two friends use it to seal eternal commitment.

According to religious belief, this ring is closely connected with the Holy Trinity. The left hand in the Claddagh ring symbolizes Jesus Christ while the right one is associated with Holy Ghost. As you can expect, the heart represents the God who created us all.

Finally, many people wear this unique ring as a symbol of Irish identity and some kind of icon representing a connection with Irish culture. In this sense, it is an expression of attachment and kinship.

Claddagh Ring Symbolism

As I have already mentioned, the Claddagh ring has always had a special place in the Irish tradition. The mother gave her ring to her eldest daughter as an heirloom, so it has stayed in one family for generations.

Millions of the Irish emigrated to the US escaped from the Great Famine in the middle of the 19th century. They didn’t take much with them, but most of them brought their Claddagh rings to the new world.

Since it was the eldest daughter’s inheritance, you can find this ring in many American and Canadian families nowadays. Through this ring, these women are connected with royalty. Queen Victoria, King Edward VII, Queen Alexandria, and Princess Grace of Monaco also proudly wore this ring.

The Way to Wear a Claddagh Ring

No matter what your belief is about the symbolism of this band, one thing is for sure. The Claddagh ring is an ultimate symbol of love and has shown everyone the relationship status since the 17th century.

Let’s take a peek at that secret symbolism. You can wear the Claddagh ring in four different ways, depending on your love status:

Right hand

  • Single – When you are single and look for a partner, you should wear your Claddagh ring on your right-hand ring finger. The heart point should be faced outwards, away from your heart.
  • Relationship – Once you are in a promised relationship after finding your soulmate, you should turn your ring around. In this case, you need to wear it on the same right hand but with the heart pointed inwards in your heart direction.

Left hand

  • Engaged – When you wear Claddagh ring with the heart pointing outwards on your left-hand ring finger, you show everyone that you are engaged.
  • Married – Final stage of your relationship is marriage. Once you become someone’s wife, you should turn your ring around. Even though it is already on your left hand, you should place its heart top facing inward to your heart. In such a case, this beautiful Celtic ring becomes a wedding band.

History of Claddagh Ring

History of Claddagh Ring
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Claddagh ring originated in Galway, the oldest fishing village in Ireland. It got its name after the Irish word An Cladach (stone shore). One humble Irish man designed that ring about 300 years ago as a symbol of undying commitment to the woman he loved with all his heart.

Centuries ago, this was an independent area with the own king. Citizens were rich and prosperous thanks to trade with Spain. They had their own fishing fleet of hookers, traditional sailing boats.

Since 1488, the traditional Blessing of the Bay Festival has taken place here in the middle of August. It is time when a Dominican priest rings a bell while blessing all boats before the herring season starts.

Nowadays, this village is proud of connecting to a legendary ring that has become a real Irish symbol. They have a Claddagh Ring Visitor Centre where you can watch a filmed dramatization ‘Legend of the Claddagh Ring’ and see the authentic ring’s crafting in the local workshop.

The Origin of the Claddagh Ring

The real Claddagh ring comes from the ancient Greek and Roman Faith Ring of Fede. It got a name after the Italian name term for hands clasped in loyalty (mani in fedeltà).

It was popular before the Roman Empire fell, but became out of fashion until the Middle Ages. In that period, the same ring came back under the name of faith. It featured a pair of clasped hands that symbolized faith, trust, and brotherhood. This ring became a symbol of marriage in the Renaissance Era.

There was one more variation named Fenian Claddagh ring. Unlike the traditional model, it included two hands holding a heart. However, it doesn’t contain a crown. Its name came from the word Fianna, which represented mythological Fionn mac Cumhaill’s warriors.

From the mid-19th century, Fenian became a symbol of the Irish struggle for independence from the British. For that reason, this ring doesn’t have a crown.

Legends of Claddagh Ring

Legends of Claddagh Ring
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Legend of an ancient king

Once upon a time, an ancient king fell in love with a poor peasant girl. As a legend says, that love was unrequited and unfulfilled because of the class distinctions between them.

The fully depressed king took his own life. His last wish was to have his hands cut off and placed around his heart. It symbolized his unrequited love. According to the legend, the Claddagh ring was made in honor of that eternal affection.

Legend of a Prince and a maid

One of the stories connected with the Claddagh ring includes love between a Prince and a maid. He designed a unique ring featuring a heart in two hands with a crown on the top to convince a girl’s father that he has sincere feelings for his daughter.

When he came to propose a young Lady, he explained that the heart symbolizes love. It was situated in the hands representing friendship, while the crown was a symbol of loyalty. After hearing that, the father gave his blessing, and the two lovers lived happily ever after.

Legend of ancient Celts

There is an old tale that the Claddagh ring is connected with ancient Celtic times. According to that belief, the crown symbolizes the mythical Beathauile. An ancestral mother of the Celts, Anu, represents the left hand while the right hand is dedicated to a father of the Celtic gods, Dagda.

Legend of Margaret Joyce

Margaret Joyce was born as a member of the Galway Tribe in the 16th century. She inherited huge wealth after her spouse, a wealthy Spanish merchant Domingo de Rona, died.

She used all that money to build bridges in Sligo and Galway. As a reward for her charity work, an eagle dropped the first Claddagh ring into her lap. Plus, she married Oliver of French, the Mayor of Galway, in 1596.

Legend of Richard Joyce

The story about fisherman Richard Joyce from Galway may be the closest to historical truth. In the late 17th century, he decided to go to work in the West Indies plantations with a plan to marry his love once he makes enough money.

Unfortunately, Algerian pirates captured all the passengers from his ship and ferried them to Africa. It appears that Joyce had lucky, after all. A Moorish goldsmith bought a young Irishman and trained him in the jewelry craft.

While working as a slave, he spent every spare moment to forge a gold ring for his beloved woman. It featured a heart as a symbol of love, hands representing friendship, and a crown for loyalty.

As soon as William III became a king of England, he demanded freedom for all British prisoners, including Joyce. Since his former master respected his apprentice, he asked Richard to stay with his family, marry his daughter, and get half of all wealth.

However, the young Irishman refused the offer and returned home to Claddagh in 1689. He only wanted to marry the one who waited for him all those years. As a pledge of his love, he brought her the wedding ring he had created while being in captivity.

After they got married, Joyce set up a goldsmith shop and started to workmanship Claddagh rings. The first copies had a mark RI, the initial letters of his name.

Summary

No one really knows if this legend is true and if Richard Joyce was the first who made the famous Claddagh ring. However, his design is the most prominent even today.

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