One of the most popular Irish symbols in Irish heritage is the Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Chladaigh). The Claddagh ring (pronounced Cla-dah) is composed of three symbols that are linked together. A heart, a crown and a pair of hands.
The heart symbolizes love. The crown symbolizes loyalty and the hands symbolize a relationship, usually marriage or friendship.
Continue reading below to find out more about the rich history (meaning of claddagh symbol) and origin of the Claddagh ring. Also, find out how it became an iconic Celtic symbol.
History and Origin of The Irish Claddagh Ring Symbol
The Claddagh ring is part of a group (dates back to Ancient Rome) of European finger fede rings. They were used as engagement rings and wedding rings in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
The name is derived from a phrase in the Italian language (mani in fede) meaning hands that are joined in faith and loyalty.
There are many legends about the origins of the first ring but most believe it originated in the small fishing village of Claddagh in County Galway. Galway is in west Ireland and has produced Claddagh rings since the year 1700. The name “Claddagh ring” has only been used since about 1830.
Some of the earliest surviving rings bear the signature of Bartholomew Fallon, an Irish Galway master goldsmith from the 17th-century. Fallon appears in a will by Dominick Martin who was also a jeweler (circa 1676).
Others attribute the design to a silversmith from Galway by the name of Richard Joyce in 1700. Legend has it that he was taken as a prisoner, enslaved by Algerian pirates, and sold to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft of jewelry making.
Right around this time, King William III sent an ambassador to Algeria ordering the release of all British subjects. When he was released, Joyce gave the Claddagh ring he made to his fiancee who he later married. He enjoyed a lot of success as a goldsmith and his initials also appear on some of the older rings.
There are three other rings that originated from the same era which have the mark of goldsmith Thomas Meade.
In all, it’s very cloudy as to who was the first to make the Claddagh ring. One thing is fairly certain though as it does seem that it originated from Galway around 1700.
Tradition, Meaning of Claddagh Symbol and Claddagh Ring Usage
Claddagh rings are widely popular among the Irish and Irish-Americans. They are cultural symbols of friendship and engagement, but they’re also popular wedding rings.
Irish mothers have given these special rings to their daughter’s as coming of age gift for many years. Others have given them as a heirloom.
These unique rings have also been used to indicate someone’s relationship status as indicated below:
Heart Pointing In = Married
Heart Pointing Out = Engaged
Heart Pointing In = In Relationship
Heart Pointing Out = Single
*The heart is pointing in if the point of the heart is pointing toward your wrist. The heart is pointing out if the point of the heart is pointing toward your fingertips.
The Galway 17th Century Celtic Holy Trinity Design: Hands, Heart and Crown
Not only is this timeless design popular among the Irish and Irish Americans but is also very popular with foreign visitors as it is known across many cultures.
People are often filled with emotions when they first see the ring. That is because the ring has meaning, and for those who wear it, it tells a personal story.
Over time, the symbology (meaning of claddagh symbol) has changed slightly as the three aspects of the ring have become closely associated with the personality of the person who wears it.
Nonetheless, the ring and design will withstand the test of time as it has already existed for 300+ years. The design has become even more popular around the world, starting in the 19th century when it was first marketed outside of Ireland.
Claddagh Rings Worn by Famous People
The Claddagh ring has become so popular worldwide that it’s no surprise many famous people have worn it over the years.
This includes political figures such as John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie who bought rings when they visited Ireland in 1963. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were both presented with rings upon their visits to Ireland during their presidencies.
Even royalty have been known to wear Claddagh rings and jewelry. The most notable was when Prince Rainier of Monaco and Princess Grace visited Ireland and were both presented with Claddagh jewelry. It wasn’t the traditional ings but rather a Claddagh cufflinks and brooch set fit for royalty.
It’s probably not a surprise that British royalty have also worn Claddagh rings. Queen Victoria received a ring in 1849. Some time later Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII were also presented with rings.
If you’ve been wondering whether or not celebrities have worn Claddagh rings, the answer is yes.
It’s a rather long list that includes Jennifer Aniston and her boyfriend Tate Donovan back in the mid-90’s. Right around this time, Julia Roberts also wore a ring when she dated Daniel Day Lewis. Sarah Michelle Gellar from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” wore a ring in the series.
The list of actresses and actors goes on including John Wayne, Bring Crosby, Sienna Miller, Mia Farrow, Maureen O’Hara, Gabriel Byrne and Dermot O’Leary.
Kanye West gave Kim Kardashian a Claddagh ring when they visited Ireland after their wedding in Italy. The couple fell in love with Ireland on a previous trip when they celebrated Kanye’s birthday, that they decided to spend their honeymoon there.
Businessmen and musicians are also fond of Claddagh rings and include big names such as Walt Disney, Jim Morrison “The Doors”, Bono and Liam Gallagher “Oasis”.
An interesting fact about Walt Disney is that his statue shows him wearing a Claddagh ring on his right hand. The real kicker being that his ring is pointing outward. Either the sculptor made a bad mistake or Walt Disney didn’t know the rules for wearing a Claddagh ring!
Editor’s Thoughts and Final Words
Even though there is history (meaning of claddagh symbol) behind Claddagh rings, you can always wear one simply because you like the design. This traditional Irish ring is not just for Irish people or Irish tradition. It may be a subject of controversy to some but in the end you’re free to shop and wear whatever you please. It just has to work for you . . . no one else.
Or, perhaps you just want to show your true love to that special person in your life. Irish Claddagh rings are the ultimate symbol of love all wrapped up in a timeless Irish design.
Can both men and women wear a Claddagh ring?
Yes, both men and women can wear a Claddagh ring. Traditionally, it has been worn mostly by women.
Can I wear a Claddagh ring even if I’m not Irish?
Yes, of course. People all around the world have been wearing Claddagh rings since the 19th century when they were first taken out of Ireland, and sold in outside countries.
Can I wear a Claddagh ring if I’m single?
Yes, rings can be worn by single, engaged or married people.
Are Claddagh rings made of gold or silver?
Claddagh rings come in all shapes and sizes, including different metallurgies. The most common are sterling silver, yellow and white gold.
Do Claddagh rings make a good promise ring?
Yes, absolutely! The earliest rings were mostly used as promise rings. The person giving the ring gave their word that they would tie the knot with the person receiving the ring one day.
Oftentimes couples wear rings as a pair and others wear them as faith rings.
Do Claddagh rings make good heirlooms?
Yes, in Irish culture it’s a family tradition for some to give rings to their children or a family member, particularly the eldest daughter. The Claddagh ring design makes it an excellent choice for a family heirloom.