The Claddagh Ring, a traditional Irish piece of jewellery, has been an emblem of love, loyalty, and friendship for centuries. The design showcases a distinctive heart, held by two hands and topped with a crown, representing love, friendship, and loyalty, respectively. But how did this Irish symbol come to be, and what are its origins?
The Origin and Meaning of the Claddagh Ring, Connections to The Claddagh and Galway Goldsmith Traditions.
Claddagh Ring Meaning
The Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring that represents Love, Loyalty and Friendship – the heart represents Love, the crown represents Loyalty, and the hands represent Friendship.
At the centre of the Claddagh Ring is a heart, symbolising love. This heart is held by two hands, representing friendship, while the crown atop the heart stands for loyalty. The Claddagh Ring’s design has become a staple of Irish heritage and tradition, transcending its humble beginnings as a simple fishing village keepsake.
As previously mentioned, the Claddagh Ring’s three main elements represent love (heart), friendship (hands), and loyalty (crown). Together, they form a powerful message of commitment and enduring affection, making the ring a popular choice for wedding bands, friendship tokens, or gifts for loved ones.
The Origin of The Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh ring as we know it today is thought to have evolved from a Fede ring, which features the motif of the clasped hands. Referred to in Italian as, Mani in Fede, or hands in faith, its origins stretch back to Roman times.
The Claddagh Ring’s origins can be traced back to the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, Ireland, during the late 17th or early 18th century. Although the ring’s creator is uncertain, the most widely accepted story attributes its design to a man named Richard Joyce. He was a goldsmith from Galway who was captured and enslaved by pirates, eventually returning to his hometown and crafting the first Claddagh Ring.
Read more about the ancient origins of the fede ring and the fascinating story about the discovery of a fede ring from a Spanish Armada shipwreck off the County Antrim coast.
Claddagh Ring as a Wedding Ring
The distinctive elements of the Claddagh are represented in this diamond ring dated 1706, on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The inscription on the inside, ‘Dudley and Katherine united 26 Mar 1706’ obviously denotes a marriage. By this time, the design of the fede ring had evolved into what we recognize today as the Claddagh ring, to include the heart at the center, flanked by the the hands and topped by the crown.
Male Claddagh Ring Meaning
The male Claddagh ring meaning is for men of Irish heritage, they often wear the Claddagh to represent the pride and loyalty one has for their Irish roots. This same meaning is worn not just by women but also men.
Wearing the Claddagh is a common way for individuals with Irish ancestry to showcase their pride and loyalty towards their heritage, regardless of gender.
The Claddagh Ring and Galway – Why is The Ring Called a Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh Ring, with its iconic heart, hands and crown, has been made in Galway at least as far back as the early 1700’s. In 1906, William Dillon, a Galway jeweler published an article in the Galway Archaeological and Historical Journal entitled The Claddagh Ring, in which he remarked that the Claddagh tradition stretched, ‘roughly from the Aran Isles on the West, all through Connemara and Joyce’s Country and then eastwards and southwards for not more than 12 miles’.
It was not until the middle of the 19th Century that the ring became commonly known as a Claddagh Ring. The origin of the name may be traced back to a popular Irish travel book published in London in the 1840’s. The authors, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Carter Hall wrote about the people of Claddagh as follows;
They have many peculiar customs. One is worthy of special note. The wedding ring is an heirloom in the family. It is regularly transferred (by a mother) to her daughter first married and so on to their descendants. These rings are largely of solid gold and not infrequently cost from two to three pounds eachMr. and Mrs. Halls Tour of Ireland, London 1841-1843
Certainly, by the early 1900’s, the Claddagh ring was well established as a tradition and was being produced in quantity by the various Galway jewelles, including Fallon’s, Frenchs and Dillons. In 1900, T. Dillon and Sons were advertising in the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society Journal not only Claddagh rings but also ‘Original Claddagh brooches, bangles and scarf pins’
Rich Celtic Jewelry Traditions
Ireland has a long history of metallurgy. These earliest Irish metal workers have left an extraordinary legacy. In a tradition that stretches back to the Bronze Age, the Celts proved themselves to be master at metal work. They created exceptional gold pieces for personal adornment or for ritual purposes. Many of these treasures were buried with tribal leaders of high status or created as votive offerings to their pagan gods. A wonderful example of this art form is the Broighter Hoard found in County Derry.
The metalworking tradition continued through into the early Christian period. Works of ecclesiastical art crafted in gold and silver, adorned with gemstones are famous throughout the world for their artistic and technical excellence.
Early Goldsmith Traditions in The City of Galway
We do not know for sure how much influence the Celtic jewelry traditions from the early Irish monastic world had on Galway, but it is certain that medieval Galway had an established jewellery-making tradition. The first reference to a goldsmith in Galway is in a by-law from 1500 which refers to a goldsmith by the name of Donill O’Nolan. Another reference to the trade is evidenced by a rubbing taken from a gravestone dated 1641. The detail of the three hammers is notable for its absence from any Irish heraldry reference.
During the medieval period, Galway goldsmiths were renowned for the quality of their silverware. In particular, church chalices. Between 1683 and 1737, a total of twenty-eight chalices bearing a maker’s mark of Galway origin have been identified. Another seventy chalices associated with Galway, but not bearing maker’s marks, are attributed to Galway goldsmiths.
The Tribes of Galway
Galway is often referred to as The City of The Tribes. This is in reference to the fourteen families who dominated the political and commercial life of the city between the 13th and 18th centuries. Much of the religious silverware produced in Galway was commissioned by these prominent Galway families and donated to religious institutions. Twelve of the fourteen Galway Tribes are represented in memorial inscriptions on these ecclesiastical chalices: Kirwan, D’Arcy, Bodkin, Skerrett, Lynch, Joyce, Browne, Font French, Deane, Martin and Blake with Morris and Athy the only absentees.
Prior to 1784 and the establishment of the Irish Assay Mark, Galway goldsmiths had their own mark of origin. This mark is identified by an anchor. This town stamp was usually accompanied by the initials of the maker. From 1683 until 1737, four of Galway’s goldsmiths marked their ware accordingly;
- Bartholomew Fallon, 1683 – 1718
- Richard Joyce, 1691 – 1737
- Mark Fallon, 1714 – 1731
- Thomas Lynch, 1720 – 1724
There seems to have been a connection between Richard Joyce and Richard Fallon. Not only did they make pieces at the same time for the same customers, but several pieces are known to have a stamping from both Joyce and Fallon. Two notable examples are The Fitzgerald-Darsy Chalice dated 1719 and silver tankard dated 1720, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
In 1784, an act was passed requiring all Irish goldsmiths to register with the Dublin Assay Office, which had been established by royal charter in 1637. Between 1874 and 1817, a total of twenty six goldsmiths from County Galway registered their names with the Dublin Goldsmiths Company.
Richard Joyce, Master Goldsmith
The goldsmith most associated with the Claddagh ring is Richard Joyce, a native of Galway, who learnt his trade in unusual circumstances in Algeria. Hardiman’s History of Galway offers the following concise account of his early years;
Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III from the following circumstance, on the accession of that monarch to the throne of England, one of the first acts of his reign was to send an ambassador to Algiers, to demand the immediate release of all British subjects detained there in slavery, the dey and council, intimidated, reluctantly compiled with his demand. Among those released, was a young man of the name of Joyce, a native of Galway, who, fourteen years before, was captured on his passage to the West Indies, by an Algerine Corsire; on his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk, who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who observed his slave, Joyce to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade, in which he speedily became an adept. The Moor as soon as he heard of his release, offered him, in case he should remain, his only daughter in marriage, and with her, half his property, but all these, with other tempting and advantageous proposals, Joyce resolutely declined; on his return to Galway he married, and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success.Hardiman’s History of Galway, 1820
Joyce settled back into life in Galway, residing on Shop Street in the center of the walled town. He was clearly successful in his trade, as he later purchased the Rahoon Estate from Colonel Whaley, one of Cromwell’s officers. Joyce firmly established himself as part of the city’s mercantile class. Two of his daughters were married into two of Galway’s most prominent families; the Lynches and the Frenches. Both families members of the Tribes of Galway.
Gifting the Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh Ring has long been a popular gift to signify love, friendship, and loyalty. It is often passed down through generations as a family heirloom or given as a token of affection between friends. The ring has also become a popular choice for engagements and weddings, symbolising a couple’s commitment to love, support, and remain loyal to one another.
Although the traditional Claddagh Ring is made from gold, contemporary versions can be found in various materials, including sterling silver, white gold, and platinum. Some even feature precious or semi-precious gemstones, such as diamonds, emeralds, or sapphires, which can be set into the heart or crown to further personalise the ring.
Today’s Claddagh Rings are available in a wide range of styles, incorporating modern design elements while staying true to the original symbolism. Some contemporary designs feature intricate Celtic knot patterns, or mix metals and textures for a unique aesthetic. These modern interpretations allow wearers to choose a Claddagh Ring that truly reflects their personality and style.
Popularity in Modern Culture
The Claddagh Ring’s timeless design and heartfelt symbolism have ensured its continued popularity both in Ireland and around the world. The ring has become synonymous with Irish heritage and has been embraced by people of various cultural backgrounds who appreciate its deeper meaning.
Claddagh Ring in Literature and Film
The Claddagh Ring has also found its way into popular culture through literature, film, and television. It has appeared in works like J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and the American television show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” further cementing its place as a beloved symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship.
How To Wear Your Claddagh Ring
Not sure how to wear your Claddagh Ring? We go through all the different ways you can wear your Claddagh ring and the meaning behind the rules. We have also been awarded the best Celtic Jewelry shop in Ireland.Read
The History of The Claddagh Ring
We take a look at the legend of Richard Joyce and the history of The Claddagh Ring.Read
The History of Claddagh Village and Galway City
We take a look at the fascinating history and traditions of The Claddagh Village and City of Galway.Click me!
In conclusion, the Claddagh Ring has a rich history and a powerful symbolism that continues to resonate with people across generations and cultures. With its roots in the small fishing village of Claddagh, this Irish icon has become a celebrated symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship, ensuring its enduring relevance in today’s world.
What is the meaning of the Claddagh Ring?
The Claddagh Ring represents love (heart), friendship (hands), and loyalty (crown). These three elements form a powerful symbol of commitment and enduring affection.
Where does the Claddagh Ring come from?
The Claddagh Ring originates from the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, Ireland. It is believed to have been created in the late 17th or early 18th century.
How do I wear a Claddagh Ring to signify my relationship status?
Wear the ring on your right hand with the crown facing outwards if you are single, and with the crown facing inwards if you are in a committed relationship. For engagement, wear it on your left hand with the crown facing outwards, and for marriage, wear it on your left hand with the crown facing inwards.
Can I find Claddagh Rings made from different materials?
Yes, contemporary Claddagh Rings are available in various materials, including gold, sterling silver, white gold, platinum, and even versions featuring precious or semi-precious gemstones.
Do people of Irish heritage only wear the Claddagh Ring?
No, the Claddagh Ring is a popular symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship that people have embraced