The Claddagh ring is one of Ireland’s great historical mysteries, as nobody can be sure exactly how it came to exist. There are literally dozens of origin stories, but many of them are rich in folklore and symbolism, none of them appearing to be entirely factual. A few things however, can be certain, like how this beautiful design got its name.
Centuries ago, the clasped hands and heart ring made its first official appearance in small fishing village located just outside Galway, Ireland called Claddagh. A number of sources connect the specific design of the ring with a particular family or “clan” known as the Joyce clan. Some tales include divine providence or reward, whilst others feature true and everlasting love, citing it as the inspiration behind the joining of three elements: love, loyalty, and friendship.
The heart, representing love, is crowned with loyalty, and held by two hands coming together in a pact of camaraderie. If any Irishman wished to win the hand of a beautiful woman, the presentation of a claddagh ring as his engagement gift would surely have proven his devotion.
Today, the tradition begun in Ireland is repeated by Irish and non-Irish alike. To wear the claddagh on your right hand with the point of the heart facing outward means you’re looking for love, while pointing the heart inwards means your heart has been captured or isn’t open to new prospects. Similarly, when worn on the left hand, a heart pointing out is the sign of engagement, and pointing inwards indicates a marriage or common-law relationship.
One of the more unique things about the claddagh ring in particular, is that it’s used not only by women, but men as well. For many in modern times, the claddagh indicates Irish ancestry, and in simpler versions is most certainly unisex. Over the years variations including gems, colors, or the addition of other Celtic motifs have sprung up, but the symbolism behind the iconic designs remains unchanged and beautifully romanticized.