The Claddagh ring (pronounced “klahda”) enjoys a distinctive design. It features two hands (representing friendship) holding a heart (symbolizing love) and usually topped by a crown (loyalty) and can be worn as an engagement ring or wedding band. While the meaning is clear, the history of the Claddagh ring is clouded by a number of legends as to its origins.
One legend surrounds a woman by the name of Margareth Joyce (from the Joyce clan). She is said to have married a Spanish merchant by the name of Domingo de Rona. She left her homeland and went with her husband to Spain, but he died and left her a large amount of money. The legend says she returned to Ireland and, in 1596, married the mayor of Galway (town where the ring originated), Oliver Ogffrench, and used the money she had inherited to build bridges in Connacht. As a reward for her charity, one day an eagle dropped the Claddagh ring in her lap.
A second story is about a prince who fell in love with a commoner. In his effort to convince the girl's father that he truly loved the girl, and had no intentions of "using" her, he designed the Claddagh ring with the symbols representing love, friendship, and loyalty. He proposed with the ring, and when the father heard the explanation he gave the couple his blessing.
A third legend that also links the Joyce clan and the Claddagh ring centers around a man by the name of Richard Joyce, a native of Galway. He left home to go work in the West Indies, and planned to marry the girl he loved when he returned to Ireland. However, his ship was seized, and he was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith. As a slave, he learned his master's craft, and then when William III became king, he ordered all British prisoners released. His master held Joyce in high esteem and offered his daughter and half his wealth to the man if he stayed. However, Joyce rejected the offer and returned home to marry the girl he loved. Luckily, she had waited for him, and to her surprise he presented her with a Claddagh ring which he made while a slave.
How to Wear the Claddagh Ring
How you wear the Claddagh ring changes what it means. Traditionally, the Claddagh ring is worn on the right hand with the heart facing outward away from the body. This symbolizes that the person wearing the ring isn't in a serious relationship, and may even be looking for a relationship – that "their heart is open." When worn on the right hand with the heart facing the body, it indicates "someone has captured their heart" and that they aren't available.
When the Claddagh ring is worn as an engagement ring or wedding ring, it is worn on the left hand ring finger. It the heart faces outward, it generally means the person is engaged. If the heart faces inward, toward the body, it means the person wearing the ring is married.
The Claddagh ring is traditionally handed down from mother to daughter, a custom that represents our ties with past generations.
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