The Claddagh ring is a piece of jewelry that not only has an interesting story behind it; it can also tell you a lot about the person who wears one. Dating back to the 17th Century, the design combination of clasped hands and a crowned heart came from a much older ring. The clasped hands design dates back to medieval and Renaissance Europe where it was often fashioned into an engagement or wedding ring. The symbolic meaning at the time was of pledging vows as in making a promise.
The 17th Century design that added a crowned heart increased the symbolic meaning to include love and friendship and loyalty. The ring was named after the tiny Irish fishing village of Claddagh which was located near Galway. Galway was the hometown of Richard Joyce, a silversmith who was captured and enslaved during a trip to the West Indies. Joyce had left behind a sweetheart and while a slave he designed the ring as a gift to her.
Some versions of the story say that Joyce made a promise to present the ring to his beloved and ask her to marry him should he ever be released. While enslaved, he picked up the craft from a Moorish goldsmith. While perfecting the skill, Joyce designed the ‘promise’ ring and after a number of attempts finished the one he wanted to take back home. After fourteen years as a slave, Joyce was granted freedom on the orders of King William II who demanded the release of all British subjects enslaved in Algeria.
As the legend goes, Joyce returned to Galway, found his sweetheart and gave her the ring he designed in captivity. They married and he became a successful goldsmith. The tradition of using Claddagh rings as friendship, engagement and wedding rings spawned from there. In fact, the rings are often passed down from generation to generation among women in families in Ireland, the United States and Canada. Typically a mother will pass one on to her eldest daughter or a grandmother will hand one down to a granddaughter. While it is commonly a ring that is gifted to and worn by a female, it has become more commonplace for both partners in a relationship to exchange Claddagh rings to solidify their commitment to each other.
The most interesting aspect of the Claddagh ring is that the wearer can tell you her relationship status just by where and how she wears one. If it is on the right hand the wearer can tell you if she is single and available by pointing the tip of the heart away from her. Pointed the other way means she is in a relationship. When on the left hand and the tip of the heart is pointed away from the wearer it means she is engaged. With the heart pointing the other direction the message is that the wearer is married.
The legendary symbolism of love, friendship and loyalty is still attached to the Claddagh ring and that is what continues to keep it a popular ring to give between friends, family and those in a committed relationship.