History of the Claddagh
A design that is widely recognized by all those who live in, visit or explore Ireland, the Claddagh has long been known to be a token of love, loyalty and friendship. Although known around the world, this grouping of a heart wearing a crown and being clutched by two hands holds a long history and a deep meaning to those who gift it and wear it.
Although the Claddagh ring is steeped in Irish history, very little is known of its history aside from folklore. Dating back to the 17th century, the Claddagh design is said to have originated from a small fishing village on Galway Bay. There are two popular stores of how the first Claddagh came to be, both of which are associated to the Joyce name.
Margaret's story is of a Galway native who inherits her Spanish merchants' husband's wealth. Upon her husband's death, Margaret returned to Galway and used her wealth to build bridges in Galway and Sligo. The story says that an eagle dropped the first Claddagh ring into her lap, as a thanks for all her work and charity in the community.
The story of Richard Joyce tells of an adventurous silversmith who is captured while en route to the West Indies by Algerian corsairs and sold into slavery. Richard Joyce was bought by a goldsmith whom admired his skill and had him work as an apprentice. Joyce was later released from slavery upon the order of William III of England and returned to his native Galway, where he set up his own jewellery business. It is here that he designed the now iconic symbol, and it has been said that his initials are engraved on the earliest known Claddagh ring.
The meaning of the Claddagh
Steeped in tradition, the meaning of the Claddagh ring has varied throughout the years and dependent on whom is wearing it. The design displays a heart wearing a crown and embraced in two hands. The hands represent friendship, while the heart represents love and the crown, loyalty. Traditionally known to be a token of love, it is not uncommon for the Claddagh ring to be worn as a wedding ring or an engagement ring. However, with the meaning also closely tied to loyalty and friendship, it is a popular gift amongst friends or from a parent to their child.
How to wear a Claddagh ring
Historically, the Claddagh ring has been used as a token of love and a way for the wearer to display their relationship status. If the wearer is single, the ring can be worn on the right hand with the heart facing outwards. If the wearer is committed or in a relationship, they can wear the ring on the right hand with the heart pointing inwards. If engaged, it is popular to wear the ring on the ring finger of the left hand, with the heart facing outwards. If the Claddagh ring is to be used as a wedding ring, it should be worn on the left hand with the heart facing inwards.
However, as the Claddagh design also represents Loyalty and Friendship, it can be worn in whichever way the wearer see's fit. Nowadays the Claddagh is seen on a variety of bracelets, necklaces and earrings.
The Claddagh design in fashion
The Claddagh design in fashion
In more recent times, the Claddagh ring has grown in popularity outside of Galway and even outside of Ireland. It is said to be the only ring made in Ireland to be worn by Queen Victoria, this ring was crafted by Dillon's of Galway, the longest standing jewelers since 1750 and an original maker of the Claddagh. Other monarchs known to have had the Claddagh ring include Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.
The Claddagh design in it's growing popularity has been adapted to create meaning for all those who wear it. Adapting from the original smooth finish, it is popular to have a gemstone set in the heart of the design, usually a birthstone or even a precious diamond.