The Legend, Symbolism, and Use of Claddagh Rings

A young man kidnapped by pirates and enslaved, the woman who waited for him, and his gift to her upon their reunion - this is the enduring legend behind the Claddagh ring. The Claddagh's lore dates to the 17th century, and originates from the town of Claddagh on the coast of Galway, Ireland. Now a popular symbol throughout the world, the Claddagh ring has been the traditional wedding ring of Ireland for four centuries.

The Claddagh ring design consists of two hands holding or presenting a heart with a crown above it. The two hands symbolize friendship. The heart represents the love between them. Finally, the crown atop the heart signifies loyalty. The sentiments conveyed by the Claddagh ring are so universal that Claddagh rings are appropriately worn between friends, lovers, or spouses.

The Claddagh ring now also stands for the connection between generations. The Irish treated Claddagh rings as heirlooms and passed them down the maternal line. Irish emigrants brought their family Claddagh rings to new lands, where the rings served as a reminder of Irish ancestry and homeland.

Both men and women wear Claddagh rings, the matching rings providing a tangible symbol of the connection between a couple. The people of Claddagh itself could only properly receive the ring as a gift, but many people now purchase jewelry with the Claddagh symbol for themselves. Though the first Claddagh rings were gold, Claddagh rings are available today in a variety of materials, with the most popular being gold and silver.

Customs remain for the proper wearing of a Claddagh ring, and the manner in which the bearer puts on the ring sends a message. As a ring of friendship, the Claddagh ring adorns the right hand, with the point of the heart facing away from the wearer. In case of an engagement, the Claddagh ring also sits on the right hand, with the heart turned to face the wearer. When the Claddagh ring seals a marriage, it adorns the left hand, with the point of the heart facing towards the wearer.

Although some of the original customs associated with the ring may have been relaxed through its increased popularity outside of Ireland, the Claddagh ring remains an honored symbol of unwavering love. Today, the Claddagh ring holds a revered position both in Ireland and around the world for its timeless message of love, friendship, and loyalty.

author: Lauren Smith Janzen

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