Claddagh Ring: The Essence of Loyalty and Faithfulness

Claddagh Ring

Updated On: April 20, 2024 by   Ciaran ConnollyCiaran Connolly

The Irish culture is a unique one. First, Irish history is full of incredible tales that keep it alive. One more thing: the Irish have their very own traditions and customs. They barely resemble those of their counterparts. However, they indeed share some similarities with the world surrounding them. Not only will you get to know fantastic tales, but you’ll also learn about loyalty and allegiance. How is that? Well, among the Irish traditions, you will cross paths with what is known as the Claddagh Ring. Love and fidelity are a language that the whole world speaks. On the other hand, when it comes to the Irish Claddagh Ring, the voice gets louder and more precise. You may think it’s only a ring, but there’s more to it than just a finger wrapper. Take a quick tour of the little world of the Irish faithfulness.

Claddagh Ring


It is a ring; however, it is not a regular one. As we previously stated, the Claddagh Ring belongs to the Irish culture. It is a traditional ring that represents loyalty and love. By love, we do not only refer to the romantic type but also that found in friendships. According to history, the ring originated in the 17th century. The ring comes in three different shapes, each with meaning. The latter depends on several factors, be they traditional or religious ones.

This ring was trendy and has always been so. However, it gained more popularity during the last years of the 20th century. People showed interest in the ring as both an icon of the Irish identity and a regular jewellery piece. In our modern times, people have shown interest in those rings. They are found in brand-new designs and are combined with different Irish symbols. The world has become familiar with the Claddagh Ring as part of Ireland’s identity.

The Fede Rings

In the European culture, a group of finger rings embraces the Claddagh Ring as one of them. They are the Fede Rings, dating back to the Roman times. “fede” derives from the Italian phrase “mani in fede.” The literal meaning of this phrase is “hands joined in faith or loyalty. People in ancient Roman times used to use the ring to plead vows. The sign of the clasped hands symbolised pledging vows; that is why they used the ring. Over and beyond, those rings were also ones for weddings and engagements. That was the tradition during the medieval times and in Renaissance Europe.

The Origin Of The Claddagh Ring

With the existence of a custom, there is always an origin to return to. Learning about the origin of something gives you further insight into it. You know more about its symbolism and meaning according to the culture from which it originates. Thus, let us take a moment to learn about the reason behind the existence of the Claddagh Ring. Since the 1700’s, Galway- a city in the West of Ireland- kept producing those rings unceasingly. However, people did not refer to it with a specific name. It was only a ring to most of people. A century later, people started referring to the ring with a specific name. Before 1830, people were not familiar with the term Claddagh Ring.

Jewelers of Galway

William Dillon was a jeweller in Galway who wrote an account in 1906. In this account, he claimed that people in Connemara and Aran Isles wore the Claddagh Ring. During the Victorian period, people around Ireland and Britain became aware of the ring and its existence. People established the name of the ring, and it became one of the culture’s most prevalent customs. Being part of the culture’s identities, the jewellers in Galway started to market the ring. In the 19th century, they began marketing for the ring beyond the local areas. Through the 20th century, people recognized the ring as very beautiful.

Long before Dillon came into being, Bartholomew Fallon started the journey of marketing and promoting the ring. He was an Irish goldsmith who lived in Galway and existed during the 17th century. People learned about Fallon from a will that Dominick Martin wrote. Martin was also a jeweller, and in 1676 he willed his tools to Fallon. He used the tools and kept working as a goldsmith until 1700. The jewels he used to create were significant ones, and some of them even survived. Among the oldest jewels that survived was the Claddagh Ring; some of them also bear his own signature.

The Claddagh Ring in Books

Old books have mentioned the ring in their contexts, declaring their prevalence. Moreover, those books have made it clear that the notion of the ring travelled beyond the borders of Ireland. George Frederick Kunz was an American mineralogist whose name appeared in the book Rings for the Finger. The book was published in 1911, and Kunz stressed the significance of gold wedding rings in Ireland. However, he did not address the Claddagh one directly, but he included a picture. The photo belonged to the ring; even the caption said the ring’s name. People are still unsure how the ring reached the United States.

“Rings for the Finger” was not the only book that emphasized the ring’s significance. Finger Ring Lore is another book that mentions it. The author of the book was a Victorian antiquarian, Sir William Jones. He used the Chambers’ Book of Days as a source, stating that the Galway community cares about the ring. Jones also said that one of its styles was the most prominent in the fashion scene.

The Symbolism And Meaning Of The Claddagh Ring

Every ring in the world usually carries the meaning of loyalty and commitment. That is probably why people wear them when they get married or engaged. Likewise, the Claddagh ring is one of those rings used for engagements and weddings. On the other hand, some people use it as a ring of friendship instead of intimate love. Over and beyond, the ring plays a significant part as a meaningful symbol in Ireland. It is also one that mothers hand down to daughters. Mothers usually give this ring to their daughters when they reach a mature age. The cycle of handing down continues to highlight the prominence of the ring.

Well, what is the meaning of the ring? Or what does it symbolize, right? This depends on the shape of the ring. Interestingly, the Claddagh ring comes in different shapes and designs. Each of them has its meaning. So, let’s check them out.

The Different Designs of the Ring

This is one thing that makes the ring very unique. It has different designs, yet people can recognize them easily. One of the most distinctive designs is the two hands that clutch together and form a heart shape. Usually, the hands have a crown surmounting them. People claim that each shape is a symbol of something. For instance, the shape of the heart is the symbol of love. On the other hand, the two hands symbolize friendship or companionship. At last, the upper part, which is the crown, symbolizes loyalty and fidelity.

There is another Irish ring; people call it the Fenian Claddagh ring. It quite resembles the regular Claddagh ring; however, it has no crown. It has a slightly different design but is as inimitable as its counterpart regular ring. However, the popularity of the Fenian ring is not as significant as the regular one. The one with the crown is much more popular, especially among non-Irish cultures. Ireland’s communities are more familiar with the Fenian rings than the other cultures.

The Significant Uses of the Ring

People mainly use the ring for engagement and wedding purposes. However, there are specific ways in which people wear the ring that convey the wearer’s relationship status. Colin Murphy was an Irish author; he claimed the methods that show the marital status of whoever wears the ring. Murphy said the wearer can put the ring on either the right or the left hand. Each side has its meaning.

For example, wearing the ring on the right hand has two meanings. If the heart faces the fingertips, the wearer is open to a new relationship. Conversely, if the heart faces the wrist, the wearer is already in a relationship but neither married nor engaged. Getting to the other side, a ring on the left hand always conveys either marriage or engagement. If the heart faces the fingertips of the wearer, he/she is engaged. On the contrary, if the heart points toward the wrist, it means the wearer is married.

The History Of The Claddagh Ring

The ring dates back to the old times of Ireland. It has been around for almost three centuries. As we previously mentioned, the first appearance of the ring’s tradition was in an Irish fishing village. That village used to have winding streets and houses with muddy roofs. The word Claddagh comes from the old Irish ‘A Cladach.’ The term’s literal meaning is “a flat, stony shore.” Interestingly, the village still exists but has undergone several modifications that make it more modern. Despite the village’s alterations, the tradition of the ring remains still.

The Joyce Family

The first appearance of the ring has always been related to a small fishing village. However, two different theories tell us tales about how it first appeared. Both theories have to do with the Joyce family. The two tales sound a bit visionary, but you may find one of them sounds realistic for you.

Margaret Joyce- The First Theory

The association of the ring with the Joyce family starts with Margaret Joyce. Legend has it that this family was the one behind the design of the ring. Margaret was the wife of a wealthy Spanish merchant. His name was Domingo de Rona. When he died, he left a considerable fortune for his wife. Later, she married the Mayor of Galway, Oliver Og French. She used the money left by her first husband for charity. Margaret built a lot of bridges in the Province of Connacht. That woman did a lot of good deeds, and her reward was the Claddagh Ring. An eagle flew right over her and dropped the gold ring into her lap.

Richard Joyce- The Second Theory

The second tale revolves around Richard. He was journeying to the West Indies when the Algerians caught him. They sold him to a Moorish goldsmith responsible for teaching and training Richard. In 1689, William III of England declared that all slaves should be free. Gladly, Richard Joyce was one of the slaves who retained their freedom once again. The Moorish goldsmith offered him his daughter for marriage and a significant portion of his wealth to stay. However, Richard refused the tempting offerings and insisted on returning to his hometown. He returned to his native city with the Claddagh ring in his hands.

The story of Richard Joyce may seem a bit more realistic than Margaret’s. But, how he got to the Claddagh ring seems mysterious, for it was not mentioned.

The Popularity of the Ring

Claddagh Ring

Claddagh was the city where the ring became popular. The popularity of it extended beyond the border of the Claddagh during the middle of the last century. Ireland witnessed only that unique ring during that time, so it became prominent in no time. Royal figures wore it, making it even more popular, including Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, and King Edward VII.

The Irish Wedding Tradition

The Irish culture has its very own identity. Consequently, it is unsurprising to learn that it has unique traditions and customs. Every culture has its own identity, but when it comes to weddings, most of them are similar. The wedding in Ireland shares a lot of traditions of those of the European world. On the other hand, some make up the Irish individuality. These traditions include the Claddagh ring. It is a vital part of an Irish wedding.

Knowing that the ring symbolises marriage and romance, it is easy to realize its importance in weddings. It is a tradition that people use the ring. Even the groom uses one. As surprising as it may sound, males use this ring too. The male rings are heavier than the ones created for the ladies. However, men are not as concerned with jewellery as women are. Designers who sell these rings allow ordering a pair of Claddagh for both genders. In Ireland, a tradition makes it improper for you to buy a Claddagh ring for yourself. It is more common to earn or inherit it as a gift. The other traditions the Irish wedding embraces include the magic hanky and the ringing bells.

To learn more about those traditions, Click Here.

Ireland seems to be one of the most exciting cultures you will ever learn about. The Irish heritage includes a lot of fascinating tales alongside enthralling traditions. And did we mention the legends of Irish mythology? They are one more thing that you don’t want to miss. Oh, and the Irish food; there are just plenty of delicious dishes that you should try.

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