What do St. Patrick's Day, the shamrock, and the Celtic knot have in common? They all represent symbols of Ireland's rich culture.

The Celts began to build their own civilization many centuries ago. They represented a collection of tribes from central Europe that shared religious beliefs, a common language, cultures, and traditions. The Celtic culture began to evolve as early as 1200 B.C. and spread throughout western Europe, with many of their legacies becoming most prominent in Ireland and Great Britain.

One such legacy is the history of the Claddagh ring. It is a symbolic Irish wedding ring that consists of two hands holding a crowned heart.

It is often worn as a symbol of heritage, but it's more popularly used to define a relationship status, more commonly an engagement or marriage. It is the ultimate symbol of love, loyalty, and friendship that holds a fascinating history. 

Read on to learn some interesting facts about the Claddagh ring's origins and symbolism.

The Symbolism of Rings

The importance of rings started with the ancient Egyptians. They viewed its circular form as a powerful symbol.

The band represented eternal life and love as it had no end. The opening of the ring represented a path to unknown worlds. Egyptians exchanged rings as signs of loyalty, while the Greeks exchanged them as symbols of endless love.

However, almost 5,000 years ago, the Romans were the first to use the ring as a symbol of matrimony. The fede ring was the most common wedding ring. It depicted two hands clasped together, symbolizing a couple's agreement to honor and love one another.

These rings were popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe. Changes in the original design led to the current iteration of the Claddagh Ring.

History of the Claddagh Ring

There are many versions of the story of the first Claddagh ring. One depicts an eagle dropping the ring into the lap of a charitable woman. It was a reward for her good deeds.

The most popular story is from the 17th century and involves Richard Joyce and the love of his life, Margaret. Richard was from Claddagha small village in Ireland, and a fisherman by trade.

Spanish soldiers captured his boat and sold it. They also sold the crew into slavery on the North African coast. Richard was the youngest of the crew and the most affected because he was afraid he would never see Margaret again.

Years passed, and throughout his enslavement, Richard continued to dream of his return to his village and Margaret. He was eventually sold to a goldsmith who began to teach him the trade. Each day, Richard stole a piece of gold and eventually made a ring.

He hoped that one day, he would be able to give it to Margaret. The story isn't clear as to whether he escaped or was freed, but Richard eventually made it back to Claddagh. He found that Margaret had waited patiently for him.

He presented her with the ring he created, which is now known as the Claddagh ring. Legend has it that his 'maker's mark' or initials were on the earliest known surviving Claddagh ring.

8 Claddagh Ring Facts

The Claddagh ring is a symbol steeped with Irish history. Here are some facts about its origin, meaning, use, and how it has changed over the years.

1. The First Claddagh Ring

The design's earliest appearance was in 1700 in an Irish fishing village called Claddagh. Claddagh is now a part of the city of Galway. This is where the many versions of Claddagh ring history started. 

2. The Claddagh Ring's Category

The Claddagh ring is part of a broader category of rings called fede or faith. Mani in Fede is an Italian phrase that means 'hands joined in fidelity.' It symbolized a promise of friendship and love.

3. Most Popular Use of the Claddagh Ring

The Claddagh ring is a popular version of a design used for an Irish wedding ring, vows, and pledges. It dates back to the ancient Romans.

4. Claddagh Ring Meaning

Each element found on the Claddagh ring has significant meaning when used as a wedding ring:

  • The two hands represent friendship
  • The heart represents love
  • The crown represents loyalty

It is why it is considered the ultimate symbol of love and unity.

5. Claddagh Ring Tradition

Poor fishing families kept the Claddagh ring as a symbol of an investment. Mothers passed it on to their daughters or daughters-in-law. The tradition became even more significant in the 19th century when millions of Irish fled to America and Australia seeking a better life.

6. Claddagh Ring Rules

There are simple rules regarding the wearing of the Claddagh ring:

Single and looking for love? - Wear it on the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertip. The heart turned away from the wearer shows that their heart is open to love.

In a relationship? - Wear on the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist. The heart turned inward means the wearer's heart is taken.

Engaged? - Wear it on the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertip.

Married? - Wear it on the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist.

7. Famous Claddagh Ring Wearers

Princess Grace of Monaco and Queen Victoria are two well-known figures who have worn Claddagh rings. 

The ring was also featured in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Buffy received it as a present for her 17th birthday, from Angel, her vampire boyfriend. It was a symbol of their everlasting love.

8. A Presidential Gift

Two US presidents received Claddagh rings as gifts when they visited Ireland. John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie received theirs in 1963. The rings were to honor his Irish roots.

Ronald Reagan received his ring in 1984 from the people of Galway.

A Piece of Irish History

Being gifted with a Claddagh ring is a great honor. The traditional design found in any article or story about the history of the Claddagh ring is still popular. However, more modern versions include other Celtic and Irish symbols, such as knots interlacing around the ring band.

The Irish Jewelry Company is the largest online Celtic jewelry store and a leading Irish jeweler. View our beautiful collections to select the perfect piece of jewelry to symbolize Irish culture and tradition.