Tag Archives: symbolism

The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring

Joyes Family CrestHistory of the Claddagh Ring

An original symbol of the Galway town of Claddagh, Ireland, (pronounced “klahda”) was first fashioned into the traditional ring back in the 17th Century during the reign of Mary II.
Legend has it that an Irish young man, Richard Joyce, bound for the West Indian slave plantations – no doubt the Irish Caribbean island of Montserrat – was kidnapped himself in rough seas by a band of Mediterranean pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith who over the many long years of his exile helped him perfect the skills of a master craftsman.

When in 1689 King William III negotiated the return of the slaves, Joyce returned to Galway – despite, it said, the Moor’s offer of the daughter’s hand in marriage and a princely dowry of half of all his wealth.

Back in Ireland a young women had never stopped faithful waiting for her true love to return. Upon which time when he presented her with the now famous Royal Claddagh gold ring – a symbol of their enduring love. Two hands to represent their friendship, the crown to signify their loyalty and lasting fidelity, and the sign of the heart to symbolise their eternal love for each other.

They soon married, never to be separated again.

“Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III. from the following circumstance, on the accession of that monarch to the throne of England. One of the first acts of his reign was to send an ambassador to Algiers to demand the immediate release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery, the dey and council, intimidated, reluctantly complied with this demand. Among those released, was a young man of the name of Joyes, a native of Galway, who, fourteen years before, was captured on his passage to the West Indies, by an Algerine Corsair; on his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who observing his slave, Joyes, to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade in which he speedily became an adept. The Moor, as soon as he heard of his release, offered him, in case he should remain, his only daughter in marriage, and with her, half his property, but all these, with other tempting and advantageous proposals, Joyes resolutely declined; on his return to Galway he married, and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success” James Hardiman, The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway.

The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring

The Royal Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity. The hands are there for friendship, the heart is there for love. For loyalty throughout the year, the crown is raised above.

Wearing the Claddagh Ring

  1. Worn on the right hand, with crown and heart facing out, the ring tells that the wearer’s heart is yet to be won.
  2. While under love’s spell it is worn with heart and crown facing inwards.
  3. Wearing the ring on the left hand, with the crown and heart facing inwards, signifies that your love has been requited.

The Claddagh Tradition

The traditional wedding ring of the Irish since the 17th Century, the Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a universal symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity.

Traditionally handed down from mother to daughter the Royal Claddagh ring has also become a symbol of our ties with the past and generations gone by. As Irish people we remember the many many of our people who had to leave Ireland with nothing but their lives during the Great Famine of the 19th Century – many leaving from here in Cork harbour to make the long voyage across the Atlantic to America. The gold Royal Claddagh ring was to become for many the only enduring link with their home country and practically their only savings and family inheritance.

Further reflecting the troubled history of Ireland itself, a hundred years ago the Fenian ring, with two hands and two hearts, was distinguishing by its lack of a crown to represent the struggle for Republican Ireland – however the traditional Royal Claddagh ring has always remaining the Irish standard proudly wearing the crown as a symbol of loyalty, a remembrance of our ancient Irish Kingdoms, and of our own British heritage.

Notable wearers of the Claddagh ring have included Queen Alexandria and King Edward VII of Britain and Queen Victoria of Britain and Ireland as it was then – a woman for whom the streets of Dublin where lined with cheering people. And in the little principality of Monaco, the Claddagh tradition lives on in the Royal family of Monaco and the memory of the beautiful Irish princess – Princess Grace of Monaco.

“The Governor of New York, George Pataki, was accompanied by his mother, Peggy Lynch, among others, at last week’s annual fundraising dinner for the Flax Trust, which promotes economic development in the North, at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Pataki, addressing the guests, said that when Brian Cowen was in New York recently, visiting Ground Zero, he had told him that he was asked by the parents of a missing city firefighter to inquire of the chief of the NYPD if a claddagh ring had been found in the wreckage. “Minister,” the chief told Cowen, “we have found 200 Claddagh rings.”

The ring, by which they had hoped to identify the body of their son, depicts two hands clutching a crowned heart symbolising love, friendship and fidelity. It was designed by Richard Joyce in Galway three centuries ago. It is as popular on the other side of the Atlantic as it is here. The discovery so early of so many in the ruins underlined “the loss suffered here and in Ireland”, said Pataki.” Irish Times, Weekend Sat, Oct 13, 01.

Today in the twenty-first Century, however, perhaps the most famous wearer of the Claddagh ring is the famous Buffy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. A present to her on her 17th birthday from her vampire lover, Angel, the ring was to symbolise their enduring love for each other – in spite of the obvious difficulties and even one day call Angel back from Hell.

“My people – before I was changed – they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty … and the heart … Well, you know … Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this.” Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Episode “The Surprise”.

Jim Morrison’s (The Doors) Secret Claddagh Wedding


Jim Morrison

Jim Morrison

“’Love Hides’ sounds like it may be some romantically inspired improvisation on Morrison’s part, but in fact it was a poem he’d written for Patricia Kennealy Morrison. By the time Absolutely Live was released, the two were deeply involved and had been joined together in a Celtic handfasting ceremony. Their June 1970 marriage was not legally binding, but it was understood to be an exchange of solemn and lasting vows by practitioners of Celtic witchcraft (not to be confused with Satanism). Kennealy and Morrison exchanged traditional Irish wedding rings called claddaghs, which depicted hands holding a crowned heart. Hers was silver, his was gold.”

The Doors: When the Music’s over (Stories Behind Every Song Series); Chuck Crisafulli, Dave Dimartino; p.115

Wedding Ring

The American poet and essayist Lynne McMahon, recipient of an Award for Literary Excellence from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Visiting Poet at the University of California-Irvine, writes a personal history of a stray Claddagh ring. The poem playfully abandons the traditional story “(tell me again the name of this thing?)” for an imagined history for a lowly stray ring found down the back of a seat in an empty Sligo diner – personal, not historic, yet no less real and enduring. “I never take it off”, she ends.

Common all over Ireland, unknown to me,
(tell me again the name of this thing?)
it’s a claddagh, a sweetheart ring,
silver hands clasping a rounded heart,
an apple, I mistakenly thought,
topped by a crown.
I still think of it as my regnant pomme
because it’s French, and wrong,
and invented etymologies pass the time
those days you’re gone.
Irish clichés, like certain songs,
wring from me
a momentary recognition that trash
sent bowling down the street
by sudden wind, or showery smoke trees
whipsawing across the path
their fine debris, means home to me,
and however long
estranged we’ve been, or silvered over
by borrowed themes,
these homely things make meaning of us.
I feel it just as much as you –
that near-empty diner in Sligo
where you found the ring
wedged in the cushioned booth,
rejected, perhaps, or lost,
hidden while the lover nervously rehearsed
his lines, then abruptly interrupted,
who knows how, and now distraught,
had no more thought for such
sentiment as this. I never take it off.”

Lynn McMahon

Billy Collins (Editor), “180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day”, Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2005, ISBN 0812972961.

Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity

Shopping for Identity: The Marketing of Ethnicity

Marilyn Halter

“It becomes more and more plausible to speak of a shift to an increasingly optional ethnicity among, for example, Chinese- or Mexican-Americans in the same way that Italian- and Irish-Americans can be selective. In actual practice, the theoretical underpinnings that explain the role of ethnicity in the lives of whites as distinct from those of non whites turns out to be faulty. As the nation evolves into an increasingly mestizo sociocultural entity, the separate European and non-European trajectories of identity construction edge toward collapse. In one huge arena of practice, the marketplace, such differences ultimately become irrelevant. The market is the great leveler. From kente cloth to claddagh rings, the same appeals to invented and voluntary ethnic identities are being made; the same emotional purse strings are being tugged.”

Ireland Unbound: A Turn of the Century Chronicle

Ireland Unbound: A Turn of the Century Chronicle by Mary P. Corcorna, Michel Peillon

Case Studies in the Localisation of the Global, Carmen Kuhling and Kieran Keohane

“On a visit to Galway, our daughter wanted to go to McDonalds, which in fact was Supermacs, an import-substitute, ‘Irish owned family restaurant’, indistinguishable from McDonalds in every substantial respect. The confusion of McDonalds and Supermacs, even to the keen eyes of a child, epitomises a broad historical process of homogenisation of Irish culture and identity wherein the local is transformed so that it resembles the global: the localisation of the global.

Later the same day she recognised a Claddagh ring as ‘the ring Angel gave to Buffy’ [the Vampire Slayer]. The Claddagh ring, an artefact with a genealogy particular to Galway, has now become a floating signifier of traditional local culture, appropriated by the global culture industry to give connotations of anchorage in community and a sense of historical continuity to brooding, transcendentally homeless Los Angeleans (for LA is the setting of the Buffy spin-off Angel). Irish social structures, institutions, culture and identity are being transformed by processes of globalisation: technologies and markets of production, distribution and consumption generated by transnational corporations; and administrative systems, governmental strategies and legal-rational principles developed by transnational institutions. At the same time, our social structures and institutions are shaped by the re-localisation of the global: local institution, communitarian norms and principles of globalisation, attuning them and making them consonant with local institutions. Irish culture and identity is characterised by the ambiguous and paradoxical ways in which the globalisation of the local and the re-localisation of the global are played out, sometimes in concert, sometimes colliding, in a social field crosscut with anatogism.”


With This Ring With This Ring : The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Jewelry

With This Ring With This Ring : The Ultimate Guide to Wedding Jewelry (Hardcover) by Penny Proddow, Darrin Haddad, Marion Fasel, Suk Hee Ko Publisher: Bulfinch (November 16, 2004) ISBN: 0821228862

“The romantic Irish Claddagh Ring has two hands holding a heart with a crown. During the eighteenth century the design was used as an engagement ring in the fishing village of Claddagh on the western coast of Galway, but the motif didn’t originate there. It was a fancy court style set with diamonds in seventeenth-century Italy. The Irish adopted it, re-created it in gold, and name it after the fishing village. Frequently the rings were engraved with the alternating letters of the couple’s first names, one reading from the right and other from the left. For example, George and Sophia would be GaEiOhRpGoEs. Claddagh engagement rigns were passed down through the generations from mothers to daughter.”

How to Wear the Claddagh Ring

The Royal Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity. The hands are there for friendship, the heart is there for love. For loyalty throughout the year, the crown is raised above.

Worn on the right hand, with crown and heart facing out, the ring tells that the wearer’s heart is yet to be won.

While under love’s spell it is worn with heart and crown facing inwards.

Wearing the ring on the left hand, with the crown and heart facing inwards, signifies that your love has been requited.

“in friendship: on the right hand, with the point of the heart towards the fingertip. engagement: on the right hand, with heart pointing to the wrist. marriage: on the left hand, with heart pointing to the wrist. Claddagh rings are used as wedding rings especially in Connacht.” GreenSpeak