As Valentine’s Day approaches, people give quite a bit of thought to a choice of card and gift that will express their love to another. Symbolism is often lost in today’s world, this article explains the symbolism behind the Irish Claddagh Ring.
If you are Irish or your sweetheart is Irish, consider something different that is always appreciated, consider giving a Claddagh Ring as a gift. Before the day of giving, though, be aware of the symbolism behind the wearing of this ring from Ireland and prepare yourself for its placement on your Valentine’s finger.
The Claddagh Ring can be of gold, silver, or any metal. It features a heart with a crown on top in the center with the band around the finger ending in two opened hands which hold the heart. Modern design may show a jewel in the center of the heart as well. There are variations with other Celtic images, but the traditional design is as shown here.
The History of the Claddagh Ring
The ring style that is known today as a Claddagh Ring is thought to have originated in the village of Claddagh, Ireland.
The first design of the Claddagh Ring was created by Richard Joyce, a native of County Galway in Ireland. In 1689, Richard was captured and put on a ship heading to the West Indies where he was to be sold as a slave to plantation owners there. The ship was overtaken in the Mediterranean by pirates and he was then sold to a man that happened to be a jeweler.
Richard Joyce was then trained in the craft of gold-smithing and jewelry making. Eventually, he was released by his mentor and returned to Galway. There Joyce set up shop, as a jeweler, in the small town of Claddagh. Claddagh is a small fishing village with a rich heritage of generations of fishermen within families. Joyce designed the ring to represent the “Fishing Kings of Claddagh” who used the motto “In Love and Friendship, Let Us Reign” with the two hands being love and friendship, while the heart with a crown meant to reign.
Another form of the story is that Richard Joyce was kidnapped right before he was to be married. When he returned, his beloved had not married another, so he designed the ring to give to her as an engagement and wedding ring.
The Claddagh Ring became very popular with people, its popularity spreading to other parts of Ireland. The design incorporates ideas that could be attributed to ancient Druid mythology but also to Christian teachings of The Trinity with the heart and crown being God the Father, and the two hands, God the Son or Jesus, and God the Holy Spirit. St. Patrick was famous for using the three leaf clover or shamrock to describe The Trinity.
During the Great Famine in Ireland 1847 – 1849, there was a mass exodus of people to other countries. A mother owning a Claddagh Ring would pass it on down to her daughter or allow a son to give it as a promise of marriage. These were prized possession of the families that fled Ireland without much wealth. Hence began the tradition that someone else always gives a Claddagh Ring, you do not buy it for yourself.
Symbolism of the Claddagh Ring
This is the symbolism developed over time and now accepted by all Irish folk for those wearing a Claddagh Ring:
- Worn on the right hand, with the heart facing out and the crown towards the wearer, means that the person is free to love. Their heart is open and not taken by anyone. Now is the time to scan the fingers of those you would hope to date to see if there is a signal being sent out to the world of which you were unaware until now.
- Worn on the right hand, with the heart facing in towards the wearer and the crown facing out implies that the person’s heart is open, but they are currently spoken for. Now this is a tricky state of Claddagh Ring wear. It is implies serious dating, but not quite engagement, and not yet married. You will have to decide for yourself, what to do in this case. All is fair in love and war, as the saying goes.
- Worn on the left hand, with the heart facing in and the crown facing out, symbolizes that the person is happily married for all time. Their heart is taken.
- For engagement and marriage purposes:
- Place the Claddagh Ring on the third finger of the left hand, with the heart facing out.
- After the wedding, turn the ring around with the heart pointing inwards towards your heart.
The symbolism of the wearing of the Claddagh Ring prompts me to believe the version of the story that Richard Joyce made this ring for his beloved, more than the “fishing kings” version. It feels right because of the endurance of this ring, from generation to generation, among the Irish who are a very romantic folk. I myself have a Claddagh Ring that was handed down to me from an aunt. However, I will not say how I wear it!
If you decide to give a Claddagh Ring for Valentine’s Day, consider carefully the state of romance that its wearing implies and either be prepared to give a suggestion to your sweetheart, or be prepared for their wearing of the ring after it has been given. It could be a very romantic gift, even a pre-engagement or engagement ring among those of Irish tradition.
Here’s wishing you the “Luck O’ the Irish” if you do give such a gift!