Claddagh Ring – symbol of union and loyalty

The invention of the Claddagh ring is often attributed to Richard Joyce, a fisherman from the village of Claddagh near Galway.

Claddagh Ring Celtic symbol. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Richard was engaged to be married when, one fateful day, the fishing boat he was on was attacked by pirates who kidnapped the entire crew and sold them into slavery in Northern Africa.

Claddagh Ring copyright Ireland Calling

The image of two hands clasping a heart topped with a crown, symbolising love, loyalty and friendship, the heart standing for love, the hands friendship and the crown loyalty or fidelity.

Richard was bought by a goldsmith in Algeria where he was put to work as a goldsmith’s apprentice. There he stayed, learning the craft and never forgetting the girl he’d left behind.

Joyce awarded his freedom

Richard Joyce was awarded his freedom after many years of service and set off on the long journey home. On his return to Ireland he found that his true love had never lost hope that they would be reunited and had waited for him all the years of his absence.

He used his new found skills as a goldsmith to invent the Claddagh ring for her.

Beautiful Irish Sterling Silver pendants
The Claddagh, Galway copyright Joe Desbonnet cc3

The Village of Claddagh today, now part of Galway

Finally the couple were married and according to the story, lived happily ever after in the village of Claddagh.

More rings from that period

This romantic story is one of a few legends surrounding the origin of the ring. The initials RJ can be found on one of the earliest Claddagh Rings but there are also three other Claddagh rings from the same time period which bear the mark of Thomas Meade.

Fede Ring 15th century copyright Victoria and Albert museum

15th century Fede Ring

The Claddagh ring is a variation of the ‘fede rings’ that date back to Roman times. These rings display the image of clasped hands symbolising union and loyalty.

The Claddagh ring can mean a number of different things depending on how and where it is worn.

How the Claddagh ring is traditionally worn

  • When the ring is worn on the right hand with the bottom of the heart pointing towards the fingertips, suggests the wearer is free and single, and not in a relationship and may be approached.
  • If the ring is on the right hand with the bottom of the heart pointing towards the wrist, the wearer is spoken for to somesone special, though not yet engaged or married.
  • When the ring is worn on the left hand with the bottom of heart pointing towards the fingertips, the wearer is engaged.
  • If the ring is on the left hand with the bottom of the heart pointing towards the wrist then the wearer is married, and your love and friendship will reign forever never to be parted.

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