Your Complete Guide to Claddagh Rings – History, Meaning and Types (with Images)

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Claddagh rings are an Irish ring design that has endured for centuries and captured the imagination of the world. It’s one of the oldest ring designs and is steeped in Irish history.

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This Irish emblem has become universally popular and is highly sought after especially by young couples. You don’t have to be Irish to love the Claddagh design. It is a universal symbol of love, friendship and loyalty.

The Claddagh adds a layer of meaning to any ring, be it a friendship, engagement, wedding or promise ring. If you’re looking for a historical, traditional or meaningful ring, the Claddagh fits the bill perfectly.

Let’s explore everything you need to know about Claddagh rings.

Claddagh Ring History – A Ring with Many Tales

Like gimmel rings, Claddagh rings belong to the category of European finger rings known as fede rings. These rings feature hands and hearts and were worn to symbolize betrothals and vows.  

irish claddagh ring design
Typical Claddagh Ring Design. See this here.

The actual origins of the Claddagh ring are a little hazy. There are several different versions of the story of how the design was created. Here are three:

1. Margaret Joyce

She was a wealthy philanthropist from the 16th century who spent the money her husband left her on building bridges in the Connacht province of Ireland. A Claddagh ring was dropped into her lap by an eagle as a reward for all her good deeds.

2. The Prince’s Tale

A prince fell in love with a maid and designed the Claddagh ring to prove his love for her and the honorable intentions he had toward her. His father, the king, who had initially disapproved, approved of the marriage after finding out the symbolism of the ring.

3. Richard Joyce

This third story is more likely to be true than the other two. A native of Galway called Richard Joyce, left his country to work in the West Indies. The love of his life was waiting for him to return once he had earned enough to settle down with her. However, he was captured and sold into slavery and bought by a Moorish goldsmith. He learned goldsmithing from his master and created a gold Claddagh ring during his years as a slave.

Finally, his master was so enthralled by Richard that he offered his daughter’s hand in marriage and half his fortune. Richard refused this offer and instead requested to be allowed to return to his true love. When he returned to Ireland, he proposed to his love with the Claddagh ring and continued working as a goldsmith in Galway.

So which is the true origin story? No one really knows. However, what everyone agrees on is that the ring design originated in a little fishing village called Claddagh in Galway.

We also know that the inspiration for these rings came from Rome, reaching back to the days of the gimmel/fede rings which were Roman in origin. However, the European ring designs did not feature a crown, which is an Irish addition.

Claddagh Ring Meaning

Claddagh ring meaning explained

The Claddagh ring features two hands clasping a heart. Often, a crown is featured on the heart. Each of these components of the design holds meaning, with the heart representing love, the hand symbolizing friendship, and the crown standing for loyalty.  

How you wear the Claddagh also indicates your relationship status:

  1. Left hand, heart facing your body – indicates that you are married
  2. Left hand, heart pointed outwards – indicates that you are engaged
  3. Right hand, heart towards you – indicates that you’re not available and may be in a relationship
  4. Right hand, heart pointing outwards – you’re single

The Claddagh was the original relationship status indicator, years before Facebook was invented!

Claddagh Ring Religious Meaning

Ireland is a country that is linked closely to Christianity. You can interpret the meaning of the Claddagh to represent the Holy Trinity – God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Some Claddagh ring designs feature a crown of thorns and a Christian cross, like this one. For a religious person, this interpretation of the Claddagh makes the ring even more meaningful. 

Who Can Wear the Claddagh Ring?

The Claddagh ring is a unisex design and can be worn by both men and women. This is part of its allure, making it an ideal relationship ring that both parties can wear. However, there will be differences in the style of the men’s and women’s Claddagh rings, such as the metal used, the thickness of the band, and the overall size of the ring.

Walt Disney Statue in Disneyland
Close-up of Walt Disney Statue in Disneyland Via Pinterest

There’s a famous statue of Walt Disney in Disneyland with a Claddagh ring on the ring finger of his outstretched right hand. Some other famous personalities to sport the Claddagh include Kim Kardashian, Julia Roberts, Liam Gallagher, and John F. Kennedy.

Do you have to be Irish to wear the Claddagh? Certainly not. The meaning of the Claddagh symbol has transcended national boundaries and has become a universal symbol of love.

Claddagh Ring Designs

While traditionally the Claddagh ring is made of gold, today, there are many ways that the Claddagh is depicted. You’ll find classic styles that are always relevant and modern, contemporary Claddaghs that have been stylized to reflect current fashions.

Here are some of our favorite Claddagh ring variations.

1. Claddagh Ring with Celtic Knots

Solid Gold Celtic Knot Claddagh Ring
A popular variation to the classic Claddagh ring design. See this here.

This is the most popular variation of the traditional Claddagh ring. instead of featuring two hands holding the heart, their ring features a Celtic knot design that wraps around your finger and is fixed to the heart and crown. The Celtic knot represents many different things, including faith, love, friendship, loyalty, and sometimes the Holy Trinity. This makes it perfect as a meaningful engagement ring.

2. Claddagh Ring with Gemstones

sapphire claddagh rings
A gemstone Claddagh ring featuring a blue sapphire. See it here.

Adding gemstones to a Claddagh ring not only gives color to the ring design but can add value and make the ring stand out. Typically, the heart of the Claddagh can be substituted with a heart-shaped gemstone, but you can also include a gemstone in the crown of the ring design, like this one. If choosing a gemstone Claddagh for your engagement or wedding ring, ensure that it’s durable enough for daily wear.

3. Claddagh Wedding Ring Set

claddagh wedding ring set
A Claddagh wedding ring set in a rockabilly style. See it here.

You can sometimes find Claddagh wedding ring sets, where the crown is detachable and forms a wedding ring on its own. Together with the heart and hands, it creates a complete Claddagh design but can be worn as two separate rings as well. This is a versatile and unique way to wear the Claddagh ring design.

4. Wooden Claddagh Rings

wooden claddagh ring design
A unique take on the Claddagh ring. See this here.

It’s hard to find a beautiful wooden Claddagh ring and often these aren’t very strong for daily wear. However, picking out a wooden ring that has a Claddagh design engraved on it is a much smarter choice. Not only is this durable, but it is also affordable, meaningful and a minimalist approach.

5. Rustic Minimalist Claddagh Rings

simple rustic claddagh rings
Keeping it simple with modern design. See this here.

Some people love elaborate Claddaghs but others just want their jewelry to be minimalist. A rustic Claddagh ring is sure to delight someone who is drawn to simple styles. Different metal tones can make the design look intriguing while hammering and other rustic finishes will add texture.

6. Chunky Claddagh Rings

chunky claddagh rings
A chunky Claddagh ring. See this here.

A chunky version of the Claddagh ring, this one really stands out. While it keeps all the traditional elements of the design, it also adds a fresh and modern twist, giving the ring a fun and interesting look.

7. Skeletal Claddagh Ring

skeletal claddagh rings
Not for the faint-hearted. See this here.

While we can agree that a skeletal Claddagh ring, like the one featured here, is not for everyone, we have to admit that it’s intriguing and eye-catching. The ring design features skeletal hands and a representation of an actual heart. You could interpret the meaning of this ring as, ‘I’ll love you till death do us part’ or ‘to infinity and beyond’. This is perfect for someone who wants to walk their own path and do things their way.

Other Types of Claddagh Jewelry

claddagh design pendant
The Claddagh design is perfect for all types of jewelry. See this here.

While the Claddagh is most popular worn as a ring, it can also be modified to create beautiful jewelry like pendants, earrings, and charms. These can be as elaborate or as minimalist as you like.

Where to Buy Claddagh Rings

There’s no better place to buy a Claddagh ring than in Ireland. Much like buying a sunstone from Oregon or an evil eye from Turkey, buying a Claddagh ring from Ireland makes the ring even more meaningful.

You can search on Etsy, a platform for artisans, where beautiful, handcrafted jewelry designs can be found. There is an impressive range of Claddagh rings on Etsy, making it easy for you to compare prices, check availability and buy the ring that best suits you.

Do you have to be Irish to wear the Claddagh? Certainly not. The meaning of the Claddagh symbol has transcended national boundaries and has become a universal symbol of love.

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