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What are Claddagh Rings?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Claddagh rings are rings of a special design which originated in Ireland and has since spread throughout the world. The ring is usually used to signify either friendship or romantic love.

The design of claddagh rings is fairly simple, with a heart in the center wearing a crown on its peak, held by two hands. Each of these three elements corresponds to a trait viewed as necessary for a marriage to be happy. The heart represents love, the crown represents loyalty, and the hands represent friendship. The ring may be interpreted as stressing the importance that love be loyal and held up by a strong friendship.

Irish claddagh rings can symbolize love or attachment.
Irish claddagh rings can symbolize love or attachment.

Claddagh rings come from what was once the fishing village of Claddagh in Ireland. The region which was once the village is now a part of the city center of Galway City. Claddagh rings originate from some time during the 17th century, though their exact origins are only speculated upon.

The theory of origin given the most credence is that claddagh rings were the invention of a Galway native named Richard Joyce who wound up as a slave in Algiers. He eventually became the slave of a goldsmith, where he was taught the ways of metal working. When he was eventually released and returned to Ireland he created the concept of claddagh rings.

Another, certainly apocryphal, story tells of a woman who was a member of the Joyce clan. This woman was very generous and did many good works with a large inheritance from her husband, helping Galway to prosper. One day as a reward, the legend goes, an eagle dropped the ring which all other claddagh rings would be based upon to her.

Another story, falling somewhere between the two in its plausibility, speaks of a nobleman who forged the claddagh ring to prove his honorable intentions to a woman's father. Upon hearing the nobleman's explanation of the three virtues the claddagh ring symbolized, he gave his blessing and the couple was happily married. The story spread and soon other lovers began using claddagh rings to signify their own commitment.

Many people hold that the hand claddagh rings are worn on, as well as the direction the crown is facing, indicate something about the nature of the wearer's romantic status. When worn on the right hand with the crown facing away from the hand, the wearer is in a serious relationship. If the crown is instead facing towards the hand, the wearer is romantically available. If worn on the left hand, it may either be interpreted as meaning the wearer is married, regardless of the crown position; or a distinction may be made between marriage, where the crown faces away from the hand, and engagement, where the crown faces towards the hand.

Claddagh rings have become very popular throughout the West both as symbols of friendship and as a pledge of romantic attachment. Less expensive silver claddagh rings are usually used as friendship rings, while very high-quality gold and adorned claddagh rings are often sold as wedding or engagement rings.

Discussion Comments


I think that claddagh rings are just so beautiful! Why would anyone want a regular diamond engagement ring when you could have a claddagh engagement ring with so much symbolism and history?

Of course, I know there are some that try to combine the two by getting a diamond claddagh ring, but as far as I'm concerned that really takes away from the ultimate look.

I know that when it comes time for me to get engaged, I will definitely be getting a claddagh ring -- to me, there is nothing more beautiful than that wonderful combination of love and loyalty. Where do you all come down on the whole claddagh ring thing?


I have to say, I've never been a big fan of the claddagh wedding rings. When I first saw them I thought they were some kind of joke, since they just looked really cartoon-y to me.

Of course, now that I know the story behind them I can appreciate the look a lot more, but I still just don't like the design very much.

I guess that's just more of my style -- I prefer simpler, more minimalistic or abstract designs to easily recognizable symbols anyway.

And don't even get me started on mens claddagh rings! I don't even know what I would say to any guy that I saw wearing one of those cartoonish looking things.

Of course, to each his own, but those things are definitely not for me.


I really love the look of the celtic claddagh rings, but I only like the really classic ones -- not all these new variations.

I know that it's just the changing times and whatnot, but I just hate seeing all those cheap-looking birthstone claddagh rings that claim to be "authentic" Irish claddagh rings when really they're just a cheap imitation.

Call me an old fogey if you will, but as far as I'm concerned, people should either get a real, genuine claddagh ring or forget about it -- it's just one of those things where it's better not to mess with the original.


My mother is from Claddagh, a place which is very much still alive and well.

My grandmother's wedding ring was a claddagh ring, along with most other Claddagh women, which she wore on her left hand.

As you rightly say Cladding is within Galway City but is definitely a place of its own just across the Claddagh Bridge, still standing and named as such, and into Claddagh. The Claddagh Hall is still a social place to gather.

Your statement that what was once the village of Claddagh now is part of the city may well be true but Claddagh is a place of its own identity and its history and ledgends still run deep in the hearts of the current Claddagh people.

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    • Irish claddagh rings can symbolize love or attachment.
      By: Maridav
      Irish claddagh rings can symbolize love or attachment.