Looking for a piece of jewelry that signifies the love, loyalty, and friendship you share with your partner? Look no further than the Claddagh ring. But what is a Claddagh ring (and what does it mean) anyway?
What Is A Claddagh Ring?
Even if you don't recognize the name, you'd probably know one of these rings on sight. After all, it's the unique design that makes a Claddagh ring.
So, what is a Claddagh ring?
Visually, the traditional Claddagh design features two hands grasping a heart, topped with a crown. While there are countless different takes on this original design, these three elements are pretty much always present.
So that's the typical appearance of a Claddagh ring. But this isn't the only factor separating this jewelry from other common designs.
One of the most unique traits of the Claddagh ring is its changing meaning depending on the specific way the wearer chooses to don it. Specifically, how it communicates their relationship status.
If you know what to look for, you can learn a lot about someone's personal life just by looking at the Claddagh ring on their hand. Few, if any, other types of jewelry carry so much meaning.
Origins Of The Claddagh Ring
If this is the first time you've ever heard of the Claddagh design and its significance, it might be because you've had little exposure to Irish culture throughout your life.
The Claddagh ring comes from Celtic culture, specifically from Ireland (though the Scottish do have a similar symbol, the Luckenbooth). While its use has spread throughout the world and to different cultures, it's still firmly rooted in Irish culture.
However, not all questions about the Claddagh's origin have a clear answer.
Where does the name come from?
The name "Claddagh" can be a bit of a conundrum for non-Gaelic speakers — in more ways than one.
First, in case you're wondering, it's pronounced klah-duh. This pronunciation isn't 100 percent loyal to the original Gaelic pronunciation, but it's the preferred way of saying this word today.
You might think that "Claddagh" has some poetic translation about love and loyalty. But, actually, this name has nothing to do with the answer to, "What is a Claddagh ring, and what does it mean?"
Instead, Claddagh is simply the name of an old Irish fishing village. Some believe that this is where the first Claddagh ring was designed, hence the name. We have no solid proof one way or another, though, so this claim is up for debate.
When was the Claddagh ring first created?
The origin of the Claddagh ring is remarkably mysterious for such an innocuous object. We don't know exactly who first created the design or where in Ireland this ring first emerged.
In fact, we don't even know exactly when the concept first appeared.
We do know, though, that the Claddagh ring bears a striking resemblance to the fede ring. This ring symbolized love and loyalty and often served as a wedding band. And with a design that features two hands clasping each other, it's not hard to see why historians think these two designs are connected.
Fede rings have been around for centuries, if not longer, with many historians believing they have Roman origins. Since the Romans had control of most of Europe at one point or another, it's no surprise that these rings found their way into many different cultures.
Compared to most of the region, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales experienced minimal Roman presence. But perhaps the Claddagh ring took direct inspiration from what little Roman influence did cross paths with Celtic culture.
Why is the Claddagh ring still popular today?
The fede ring faded away during the late-18th Century, possibly because of more formal marriage laws and ceremonies. However, you can still find Claddagh rings at Rennaisance Faires, high-end jewelers, and even your local mall.
You might stumble across one of these rings and ask yourself, "What is a Claddagh ring doing in 21st Century America?" Well, the answer to that question requires a quick history refresher.
It's no secret that famine brought millions of Irish immigrants to North America between 1820 and 1930. Naturally, they brought facets of their culture and traditions along with them.
Today, it seems like everyone has some amount of Irish in their family. But at the time, discrimination against these newcomers was rampant.
However, this discrimination played a major role in the resilience and lasting relevance of Irish culture. Each year, the United States throws countless Saint Patrick's Day celebrations. And for much the same reason, the Claddagh ring has maintained some level of popularity throughout the years.
Unraveling The Meaning
And Symbolism Behind The Claddagh
We briefly mentioned that the Claddagh ring design represents love, loyalty, and friendship. However, this is more than just a general meaning.
Instead, this design is draped in many layers of symbolism, including the three elements that make a ring a Claddagh ring in the first place.
So, let's circle back to the iconic Claddagh design itself: the heart, hands, and crown.
What is a Claddagh ring if not a symbol of love?
When it comes to the heart in a Claddagh design, the symbolism is pretty obvious. The most widely accepted meaning for this design element is, of course, "love."
The Claddagh ring is popular among romantic couples, whether the wearer is male or female, but some close friends or family will also exchange these rings. In families with strong Irish roots, a Claddagh ring may even pass down from generation to generation.
There's a misconception that the Claddagh design is inherently religious. While this isn't always the case, these rings do have ties to Catholicism.
In a religious context, the heart typically symbolizes the Christian God.
If the Claddagh design is a direct descendant of the fede ring, the hands are the most obvious similarity. Not only do the hands of a Claddagh visually resemble those of a fede ring, but they also share the same meaning.
While the heart is a sign of love, whether romantic or platonic, the hands represent friendship. Again, this can mean just standard, platonic friendship. But some couples interpret this as the friendship within a relationship, distinct from romantic love.
As far as the religious symbolism of these hands, some see them as representations of Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
Finally, the crown symbolizes loyalty. However, there are multiple ways to interpret this symbolism.
Some, especially romantic couples, might see this as a pledge of fidelity. Others, though, prefer to interpret the crown as a pledge of brotherhood, like that of kindred soldiers marching into battle.
Unlike the heart and hands, though, there's no clear religious meaning behind the crown.
How To Wear Your Claddagh Ring
Again, the Claddagh is draped in many layers of symbolism. Because of this, we can't answer a question like, "What is a Claddagh ring?" without mentioning its actual wear.
You might remember us mentioning that the Claddagh ring, or how one wears it, can say a lot about someone's romantic relationships. Traditionally, these rings are always worn on the ring finger. However, this still leaves four different ways to wear your ring.
Here's how to wear your Claddagh ring if you're:
If you're single and looking for love, the proper way to wear your Claddagh ring is on the right hand with the heart's point facing your fingertip. This shows that your heart is open and available to potential suitors.
When couples exchange these rings with each other, they obviously skip this position. But in families that pass down an heirloom Claddagh ring from mother to daughter, this is often the first position the daughter wears.
If you're in a committed relationship, but not yet engaged or married, your ring should stay on your right hand. However, since your heart is now closed off to potential suitors, the heart's point should face toward your wrist.
Not everyone knows the meaning behind the Claddagh ring and its wear, at least not to the extent that the average person recognizes a wedding band. But you still might be surprised by how many people recognize this symbol of your relationship status and stop their pursuit.
Now, we switch over to the left hand. When a Claddagh ring serves as an engagement ring, it naturally goes on the left ring finger.
If you want to wear your ring the proper way, though, most people agree that engaged couples should once again turn the heart's point toward their fingertips.
At this point, you've probably guessed how to wear a Claddagh ring in marriage. Just flip the heart around, still on your left hand, and position the heart's point toward your wrist.
After all, what is a Claddagh ring better suited for than life as a wedding ring?
Heirloom Jewelry With A Purpose
Like many Irish traditions, the Claddagh ring is no longer a strict symbol of Irish heritage. Instead, it has been adopted by countless other cultures, including the United States, and is worn by those both with and without any Irish blood.
And it's no surprise that so many people are approaching jewelers to ask, "What is a Claddagh ring?" After all, few, if any, other styles of jewelry carry so much meaning and symbolism.
Some couples turn to Claddagh rings as an alternative to a modern promise or engagement ring. Others don these rings to show potential suitors that they're off the market.
No matter your reason for wearing a Claddagh ring, there's no denying why this design is so sentimental for countless people.
Does your family have an heirloom ring that passes from one generation to the next? Let us know in the comments below!