The Claddagh Ring Story:
A Symbol of Irish Love and Devotion

One of the reasons we cherish the claddagh ring story is that it plays an important role in Irish history and culture.  Claddagh is actually the name of the oldest fisherman village in Ireland, located next to lovely Galway city. 

Image of a gold ring with an upright Claddagh symbol. Image Credit:  Wikimedia Commons.

It is also the birthplace of the symbol of claddagh, and its most famous expression - the Claddagh ring.

What Does it Mean?

The Claddagh symbol consists of a heart enclosed by two hands with a crown above them, symbolizing loyalty, friendship, and love.  A traditional expression, often associated with the symbol (especially if a Claddagh ring is being given to someone) is “Let love and friendship reign."

The Claddagh Ring Story: 
Where Did it Come From?

One legend holds that the symbol was invented to be an alert system to the natives.  Ships that belonged to the town and were considered amicable tradesmen would bear the symbol on the sails of their ships and on their clothing.

If a foreign ship was to fish in their waters without the symbol, the local fishermen would kill all of the ship’s crew.

Another legend involving the claddagh has a bit of historical truth to it. The Claddagh ring was invented by a man by the name of Richard Joyce. He was a native to city of Galway in Ireland.

With the intention of getting married to his lover when he returned from working in the West Indies, Joyce was captured while he was at sea, enslaved and sold to a Moorish goldsmith.

While enslaved, Richard learned the craft of goldsmithing from his new master in Algiers. After William III was crowned king, he issued a decree that implored the moors to release all of their British prisoners and slaves.

Lovely aged Claddagh ring.

Because of that decree, Richard Joyce became a free man once more.

However, because Joyce was such a well mannered and respectful slave during his imprisonment to the goldsmith, the goldsmith offered Joyce his daughter’s hand in marriage and a portion of his wealth to stay.

Joyce, still in love with his lover that was awaiting his return in Galway; turned down the goldsmith’s offer and returned home. He presented his future spouse with the Claddagh ring that he made while he was a slave in Algiers.

They married and thus the Claddagh ring story was born - one that serves as a symbol of one’s commitment, loyalty, friendship and real love for their friends and mates.

More Symbolism and Tradition

The modern day design of the Irish Claddagh symbol was first crafted into a ring during the 17th century.

Many families keep these rings and pass them down through the generations from mother to daughter as heirlooms.

Today the rings are very popular all throughout Ireland and around the world, in part because of the symbolic meaning they carry.

If a claddagh ring is worn on the right hand with the pointed end of the heart pointing towards the fingertips, it is a symbol that the person wearing the ring is not currently involved with anyone.

On the other hand, if the pointed end of the heart is pointed towards the knuckles, it means that the wearer is taken or married.

There is also an alternate version of the Claddagh symbol that was made in Dublin over a century ago.

The Dublin style Claddagh ring has two hearts, one pair of hands and no crown. This version is called the Fenian Claddagh Ring.

Today, the Irish claddagh symbol can be found on more than just jewelry, often adorning pieces of art, clothing, tableware and many other Irish expressions.

Questions and Answers

Q: Can a man wear a Claddagh ring, or are they just for women?
A: Absolutely, both men and women can wear Claddagh rings. They're ultimately a symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship, having nothing to do with the gender of the wearer.

Q: How do I clean my Claddagh ring?
A: If the ring is important to you, we recommend a professional jewelry cleaner. If you prefer to do it yourself, you can try soaking it in a solution of warm water and mild dish soap, then gently scrub with a soft brush.

Q: What is the history of the name 'Claddagh'?
A: 'Claddagh' comes from the Irish term 'cladach', which translates to 'seashore' in English. It reflects the ring's origins in a fishing village.

Q: How do I choose the right size for a Claddagh ring?
A: As for any ring, you should first measure your finger's circumference. Many jewelers offer free sizing services or you can use an online guide with a ring you already own that fits well.

Q: Are there any superstitions associated with the Claddagh ring story?
A: Anecdotally, there are some who believe giving a Claddagh ring as a gift to oneself might bring bad luck.  There is only one way to find out...

Q: Can a Claddagh ring be used as a wedding ring?
A: Absolutely. It's a popular choice as a wedding or engagement ring in Ireland, but not exclusive to these occasions. 

Q: Is it disrespectful for a non-Irish person to wear a Claddagh ring?
A: Of course not.  Quite the opposite. Many cultures appreciate and value the sentiment behind the Claddagh ring's design.

Q: Are there different color variations for the heart stone in a Claddagh ring?
A: Yes, the heart in a Claddagh ring appears in a variety of colors and gemstones.  It’s a matter of personal taste and preference.

Q: Are Claddagh rings associated with a certain religion?
A: The Claddagh ring carries more of a cultural significance than a religious one. It is deeply rooted in Irish tradition but isn't associated with any particular religion.

Q: What is the appropriate age to start wearing a Claddagh ring?
A: It depends on the intention of the wearer.  If the purpose is to communication relationship status, obviously the individual should be of dating age.  If the sole purpose is to display a lovely Irish symbol one one's hand, there is obviously no age requirement.

Want Even More Irish Symbols?

It is probably obvious - at Irish Expressions, we love Irish symbols!

Expressing ourselves through Irish symbolism gives us a deeper sense of connection with Ireland, wherever in the world we happen to be!

We have captured many of our favorite Irish symbols in an e-book called "10 Irish Symbols and Their Meanings."  In it you will find pictures and backstories for the Irish Cross, the Celtic Knot, the Tricolor Flag, and much more!

This fun, free guide is available to you to download.  Simply scroll to the bottom and share your email address for instant access!