Claddagh rings are traditional Irish rings featuring two hands clasping a heart, over which is a crown. According to tradition, the hands signify friendship; the heart is a symbol of love and the crown stands for loyalty. The fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, Western Ireland, is the origin of the eponymous ring.
The clasped hands of the Claddagh are thought to originate from Roman "fede" (faith) rings, which were tokens of affection. The Claddagh ring itself is said to date back to the 1600s and there are several stories regarding its history. One such legend tells of a lady called Margaret Joyce, who married a wealthy Spaniard called Domingo de Rona, who died and left her his money. It is said that Ms Joyce put the money to good use, building bridges and doing other charitable work, and due to her good deeds, the ring was dropped into her lap by an eagle. Another story is of a Richard Joyce, who went to work in the West Indies, leaving his beloved behind awaiting his return. However, Joyce was captured and sold as a goldsmith's slave. Once freed, Joyce returned to Ireland with the ring he had made for her. According to some, a Claddagh ring should only be received as a gift, rather than purchased by the wearer, and that Claddagh rings are traditionally handed down from mother to daughter.
During the 1800s, Claddagh rings became known beyond the borders of Ireland. In fact, it is said that Queen Victoria of England wore a Claddagh ring, along with other members of the British Royal Family. Across the Atlantic, American presidents and Hollywood stars have also been known to wear Claddagh rings. These are sometimes worn to indicate Irish ancestry, as well as friendship.
Traditionally, the significance of a Claddagh ring differs according to the way in which it is worn and there are regional variations in the meaning. Generally, if the ring is worn on the right hand with the crown facing out (toward the fingertips), this means that the wearer is available, and their heart is open to love. If worn on the right hand with the crown facing inward, this means that the wearer's heart is taken. When the Claddagh ring is worn on the left hand with the crown facing out, this means the wearer is engaged, and when worn on the left hand with the heart facing inward, it conveys that the wearer is married.
Many Claddagh rings are plain gold or silver, but more modern versions use a heart-shaped central gemstone. Some Claddagh rings may also be embellished with channel-set gemstones in the band. A popular color for Claddagh ring gemstones is green, since the Irish national symbol of the shamrock is green. Therefore, emerald, peridot, sapphire and other green gemstones are a perfect choice. Another modern version of the Claddagh ring is a wedding band which features the hands, heart and crown design engraved or in relief on the surface.
If you are thinking of giving a gift from the heart with a special link to Irish heritage, perhaps a Claddagh ring would be a perfect lasting token of love, loyalty and friendship, along with the traditional phrase, "With these hands I give you my heart and crown it with my love".
- First Published: October-16-2015
- Last Updated: August-15-2017
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