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You've likely heard about or seen a Claddagh ring worn by a bride or groom at an Irish wedding. If you’re not Irish, you may be wondering what this unique-looking piece of jewelry is.
What Is a Claddagh Ring?
A Claddagh ring is a circular gold or silver band featuring two hands clasping a heart with a crown over the heart. It may be given in friendship or used as an engagement or wedding ring.
We consulted with experts Anish Godha and Annie Byrne to share the meaning and history of this romantic ring that symbolizes Irish heritage and pride.
Meet the Expert
The History and Meaning of the Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh ring may have originated from the clasped hand design of the ancient Greek and Roman fede rings named for the Italian “mani in fede” or “hands clasped in loyalty" to express solidarity. After the Roman Empire fell, they grew out of fashion until the Middle Ages when they were known as faith rings. A resurgence of interest occurred during the Renaissance as these rings became a symbol of marriage. Today the Claddagh ring represents Irish identity when used as a wedding ring.
There are many tales on how the Claddagh came to be, the most well-known involving pirates. In a small fishing village called Claddagh, now a part of Galway, Ireland, the local legend says the ring was first created as a love token by a local man. Richard Joyce was captured by Algerian pirates to be a slave in Morocco. He worked for a Moorish goldsmith and became an accomplished goldsmith himself. In 1689 he was released and reunited with his love in Claddagh. He presented her with a ring he had made while in captivity, which she wore as her wedding ring. The symbols on her ring are the same as those today: two hands (friendship) clasping a heart (love), capped with a crown (loyalty).
You will also find the Claddagh used in tattoos, art, carvings, cufflinks, pub signs, glassware, throw pillows, drum covers for Irish pipe bands, a sporran worn with a kilt, brooches, flasks, stationery, jewelry and much more.
Claddagh Ring FAQs
Where does the name of the Claddagh ring originate?
The original fishing village of Cladach is near the old city of Galway. The Irish term "An Cladach” means flat, stony shore. It is spelled with the “gh” to approximate the glutaral pronunciation in the Irish language.
Who buys the ring?
It is bad luck to buy your own Claddagh ring. As a symbol of friendship or love, it must be given to you. Irish mothers may pass down heirloom Claddagh rings to their eldest daughters.
Is it an engagement or wedding ring?
“The beauty of the Claddagh ring is that it can double as both an engagement ring and a wedding ring,” explains Godha. “Once you are married, you keep it on your left hand but turn it around so that the heart points inwards.”
“We find that many couples, Irish and American alike, choose to use the Irish traditional Claddagh ring as a pre-engagement ring,” says Byrne. “The groom will propose with a Claddagh, which could have diamonds or gemstones, and then shop for a more modern engagement ring later.”
Do brides and grooms both wear the Claddagh?
Yes, both men and women wear them. It’s very popular as the groom’s wedding ring. “Often our couples who elope to Ireland will shop for their Claddagh wedding rings when they arrive in Ireland a few days before their wedding,” adds Byrne. “They can exchange those rings with each other on the wedding day in conjunction with a Celtic hand-fasting ceremony.”
How is the Claddagh ring worn?
It’s easy to tell the romantic status of the wearer by the way the ring is worn. On the right hand, with the heart worn facing outwards, the wearer is available for courtship. Worn on the left-hand ring finger with the heart facing out indicates that the wearer is romantically involved and perhaps engaged. When married, the ring is on the left hand with the heart pointing towards the wearer's heart.
Are there different styles, and what do they cost?
Although the essential detail of the hands, heart, and crown is always the same, the ring is made in gold or silver and custom designs can use platinum and precious gems. Average prices range from a simple ring in sterling silver at under fifty dollars, a mid-range 18 Karat Gold men’s ring for under seven-hundred dollars, to a custom ring made with precious gems like emeralds, diamonds, rubies and sapphires in platinum for thirty-thousand dollars.
Many modern-day Irish American couples forgo diamonds in their engagement rings and wedding bands in favor of emeralds to show that they are descendants of the “Emerald Isle.”
Where do you buy Claddagh rings?
If you are going to be in Western Ireland, you'll want to look at Claddagh rings made by jewelers in Galway. But there are several online jewelers based in the United States who import directly from Ireland, or they will custom design your ring.
How to Use the Claddagh Ring In Your Wedding
If you have worn your Claddagh ring as your engagement ring, and want to use it as your wedding ring, you may take it off during the ceremony to have it blessed by the officiant. Your partner will put it on your left hand while saying their ring vows to you. The point of the heart will now be facing towards your heart to show that your heart is taken.
For your wedding, you can incorporate your Claddagh ring symbols as a charm tied into a bride's bouquet, stitched on the ring pillow, groom's cufflinks, imprinted on cocktail napkins, invitations, programs, place cards, thank you notes, toasting glasses, aisle runner and even the decorating the wedding cake.