The Claddagh Ring: A Short Biography

In honor of Saint-Patrick’s Day, this week’s blog is a short biography of that most Irish of jewellery, the claddagh ring.

Origin: The claddagh ring is believed to have originated in the early 1700s in a small fishing village of the same name in County Galway, Ireland.

Name: The word “claddagh” comes from the Irish an Cladach, which means « the stony beach » or “the shore”

Father of the Claddagh: The claddagh ring motif is attributed to Richard Joyce (or Joyces). For a time, Joyce was enslaved to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him.
Upon is return to Galway, he began producing the claddagh ring.

Symbolism: The hands represent friendship, the heart represents love, and the crown represents loyalty.

Use: The claddagh ring is used as a wedding ring and as a token of friendship by members of either sex. If worn with the crown facing the hand, the wearer is single. If the ring is worn with the crown facing away from the hand, then the owner is in a relationship.

Popularity: The claddagh ring remained a local Galway tradition until the mid-19th century when it gained popularity across the British Isles after Queen Victoria began to wear one. The Irish Potato famine and consequent mass immigration to North America, also in the mid-19th century, brought the claddagh to the New World.

Genealogy: The claddagh ring belongs to the family of fede rings. The fede ring is an engagement or wedding ring symbolizing the bond, or trust, between the couple. Indeed, the word “fede” means trust or faith in Italian. The fede ring can trace its history as far back as Ancient Rome, where it was originally a simple iron band. Soon, however, these rings began to include depictions of clasped hands, and, eventually, hearts and crowns.
The practice of wearing fede rings as engagement or wedding rings mostly died out during the nineteenth century. Only the claddagh ring continues to be regularly used as a fede in the 21st century.

Fun fact: The smallest claddagh ring sits on top of a tailor’s pin and can be seen, under a magnifying glass, at the Claddagh Ring Museum in Galway, Ireland.

Further Reading: The Claddagh Ring by Malachy McCourt provides an in-depth look at the ring’s history, from its mythical beginnings to 9/11.


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