Perhaps the most iconic symbol of Irish culture is the simple and elegant Claddagh ring. The design itself, which features a heart topped with a crown held in two hands, dates back to the first part of the 1700s. While the specific design of the Irish Claddagh ring is relatively recent, only dating back 300 years, the uses of the elements of the symbol have their origins in the earliest of civilizations.
The Romans were the first to wear rings with a symbol of clasped hands. These rings, which later were used as both engagement and wedding rings in medieval times, were known as fede rings. Fede rings, which only featured the clasped hands, not the heart and crown, were designed to show loyalty and faith.
What we now know as the Claddagh ring, the heart, crown and hand symbol, is from the village of Claddagh, which is now part of the city of Galway. A lovely romantic legend has it that pirates captured a young man by the name of Richard Joyce and sold him to a goldsmith in Algiers. The love of his life waited faithfully for him back home in Claddagh; trusting in his return. For many years Joyce worked to learn the art of goldsmithing as a slave, but was later freed when an agreement to release all captured British subjects occurred several years later in 1689.
Upon Joyce’s return to Ireland he presented his faithful bride-to-be with the Claddagh ring, which he designed. The hands were there to represent their friendship over the years and over distance, the heart to symbolize their enduring love, and the crown to stand for their fidelity to each other and their lasting loyalty. Claddagh rings originally were very unique to the Galway area but, by the early part of the 1800s, they were more universally accepted as an Irish tradition.
Wearing Claddagh Rings
The Claddagh ring, because it a set design that clearly identifies the top and bottom of the ring, has come to symbolize the actual status of a relationship. This is true if the ring is worn as a friendship, engagement or wedding ring.
The orientation of the symbol as well as the hand the ring is worn will determine the relationship status. A simple guideline is as follows:
- If the ring is worn on the right hand, on any finger, with the tip of the heart pointing away from the body then the wearer is single and not in a relationship.
- If the Claddagh ring is worn on the right hand on any finger with the tip of the heart pointing towards the body the person is in a relationship and her heart is taken.
- Claddagh rings worn on the left hand indicated engagement if the tip of the heart faces away from the body of the wearer and a status of married if the tip of the heart faces towards the wearer’s body and is on the left hand.
An easy way to remember this is if the tip of the heart faces towards the wearer’s heart that heart is not available.