Available in a wide variety of styles, Claddagh rings are incredibly popular, particularly among those of Irish descent who see the rings as a way to celebrate their heritage. The history of the Claddagh ring spans centuries, and today, the rings are fully engrained in Irish culture both in the Emerald Isle and beyond. Its this rich history that makes the Claddagh such a sentimental treasure and an enduring symbol of love, fidelity and Irish pride.
The Claddagh ring story begins far away from Ireland in Ancient Rome, where rings were often exchanged to symbolize vows and promises, particularly those of marriage. Because clasping hands was the customary way to mark an agreement, Roman jewelry makers produced rings carved into the shape of two hands intertwined together. These rings were called dextrarum iunctio, the Latin phrase for “joined hands.”
During the Middle Ages, the tradition of wearing rings shaped like clasped hands continued. Typically exchanged at weddings, these rings were known as fede rings. The tradition of exchanging fede rings endured through the Renaissance time period and gradually spread beyond Italy to the rest of Europe, including to Ireland.
In the late 17th century, the design of the classic Claddagh ring emerged. An extension of the fede design, the Claddagh includes a heart to symbolize love and a crown to represent loyalty. The earliest known Claddagh rings date back to 1700 and were produced in a small Irish village called Claddagh in the area now known as Galway, explains the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Initially, designs for the jewelry were mainly womens Claddagh rings. The tradition was that a father would purchase a ring for his daughter to wear and symbolize her status as available for courting.
Wearing a Claddagh ring on the right hand with the point of the heart facing the fingertips showed the men in the village that a woman was eligible to date, and once she began seriously courting a man, the woman would turn the ring toward her wrist to show she was spoken for. After a formal betrothal, the ring was worn on the left hand facing outward, and after marriage, a lady would turn the ring to point toward her heart.
As people married and moved from Claddagh, they took the tradition of wearing a Claddagh ring with them, and soon, people all over Ireland were wearing Claddagh rings. The jewelers in Galway received requests for rings from people all over the country and then eventually from all over England as well. Eventually, Claddagh rings for men came into fashion as well.
Today, many jewelers outside of Ireland produce Claddagh rings, and many men and women choose Claddagh styles for engagement jewelry and wedding bands, becoming a part of the rich tapestry of Claddagh ring history.