What is a Claddagh Ring?
The claddagh ring is a traditional, much-loved Irish symbol that has been around for centuries. Usually it’s made of gold (and sometimes features gemstones). The design is composed of two hands holding a heart, symbolizing love, and crowned by a crown, symbolizing loyalty. The rings are quite distinctive and are well known around the world.
The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring
The meaning of the Claddagh Ring has remained the same throughout the centuries. However, its use and design have evolved and changed over time. The three distinctive symbols each have their own meaning that come together to create the ultimate message of love.
The heart is the central feature of the ring, and it represents love. The intricate crown, sat on top of the heart, is traditionally a symbol of royalty. However, in the case of the Claddagh Ring, it represents loyalty. Whilst the hands cupped around the heart represent friendship. How you wear the ring can indicate your marital status or relationship situation. But this is a ring for everyone, whether they are in a relationship or not.
The Origins of the Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh ring is believed to be based on the ancient Faith Rings of Fede, originally worn during the age of the Roman Empire. Fede rings were still very popular accessories much later in Medieval times and they usually consist of a pair of clasped hands which symbolised trust, faith or brotherhood.
It is said that Richard Joyce was the Galway goldsmith to create the first Claddagh ring. His initials (or maker’s mark) have been found on some of the earliest surviving examples of Claddagh rings. Richard started his working life as a sailor from the fishing village of Claddagh, who set sail for the plantations of the West Indies in the 17th Century. Unfortunately, things went wrong and the entire crew was kidnapped by pirates. The captured crew were brought to Algeria where they were sold into slavery. Richard was purchased by a goldsmith who trained him in the techniques and the skills of his craft. In 1689, King William sent an ambassador to Algeria demanding the release of all British subjects and Joyce was released.
Richard returned to Galway and was delighted to find his beloved still waiting for him; it is not known whether he was released or escaped. Unbeknownst to the goldsmith, Richard had stolen specks of gold from the workshop each day which he fashioned into a ring. He gave this ring to his sweetheart whom he married. He set up a goldsmith shop and is said to have created more Claddagh rings with the initials ‘RI’ on them.
The ring is named after the village it was first associated with and the design remains very popular to this day. All round the world there are people with Irish connections wearing Claddagh rings and many with no connection to the Emerald Isle too. Many love the style, the symbolism and the history of this iconic ring.