What is a Claddagh Ring?
There are very few people in Ireland who don’t know what a claddagh ring is, but for those further overseas, it is a traditional Irish ring that was customary for lovers to give one another during the 19th and 20th century, although that wasn’t how it originated. It is still popular today and often given as keepsakes, or for visitors to take home as souvenirs. The design is attritbuted to Richard Joyce, who was a slave in the West Indies when he was captured by mediterranean pirates. He was sold to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him, before setting up a jewellery business when he eventually got back to Galway in the 17th century.
The ring was adopted by the people of Claddagh, a village just outside the walls of Galway city (now more of a suburb of the city) whose inhabitants were well known for their staunch resistance of British influence and passion for sticking to their own customs, language, and way of life. The village was largely self sufficient, with the men heading out every day on boats known as Galway Hookers to catch fish from Galway Bay. When they returned, the women would bring the catch across the water to the city to sell. The fishermen of the village wore the ring as a sort of identification; so if anyone was found fishing in their territory and wasn’t wearing the ring, there would be a lot of trouble.
Claddagh Ring Symbolism
Eventually the ring made its way across the country to Dublin, where fashionistas fell in love with it and it became a must have accessory. Designs became more ornate with added jewels, but the basic elements stayed the same; a heart held by two hands with a crown on top; because of this particular design certain symbolism that the claddagh ring is now famous for became established. The heart was attributed to love, the hands to friendship, and the crown to loyalty. The ring became a popular gift for friends and lovers to give each other, and with increased emigration spread across the water to Britain, the United States, Canada and even some further flung places. Claddagh rings became family heirlooms or were even used as wedding rings.
An etiquette of sorts emerged about how to wear the ring in regard to your relationship status, although how this started and where it came from isn’t known. It all depends on which hand you wear the ring and in which direction. On the left hand, if the heart is pointing inwards towards your body, you are taken and it is a very serious relationship. On the right hand if the heart is pointing inwards, you have a special someone but you’re not necessarily committed to them; the ring was usually worn this way if given by a friend. If the heart points outwards on a right hand, you’re not in a relationship but you would like to be in one, and if it’s pointing outwards on the left hand, you’re definitely on the lookout for a spouse.
Walt Disney and his wife apparently purchased a pair of claddagh rings during a trip to Ireland, and wore them often. Walt’s statue in Disneyland even has the claddagh ring included on his outstretched hand, but the heart is pointing outwards. Either someone made a grave mistake, or Walt didn’t know how to wear his ring properly.