Irish Claddagh rings have been worn as symbols of friendship and/or marriage in Ireland since the 17th century. Although they’re closely associated with a famous fishing village outside Galway known as “The Claddagh” (torn down to make room for more modern housing by the Irish government in 1934), the symbolism behind them is even older.
Claddagh rings traditionally carry a design showing a pair of hands holding a heart, which carries a crown on top of it. The heart is meant to symbolize love, the hands friendship and the crown loyalty. How one wears the ring is meant to send a message about either being romantically available or already taken.
Sending A Message Wearing a Claddagh ring on the right hand with the design facing outward (away from the body) is generally taken to mean that the wearer is not involved in a promising relationship. Placement on the right hand, but facing inward means that one has fallen in love. Wearing the ring on the left hand with the design facing outward is meant to convey that the wearer is engaged, while having the ring on the left hand facing in means one is married.
Though there are several legends about the origin of Claddagh rings, the one believed to be most accurate involves a member of the Joyce clan from Galway who sailed to the West Indies, and who was captured and sold into slavery, working for a Moorish goldsmith in Algiers. During his 14 years imprisonment, he learned the goldsmith’s art and created the Claddagh ring design as a tribute to his love back in Ireland. When William III became king in 1650, he demanded that the Moors release all British prisoners. The prisoner Joyce brought back the jewelry design with him, and became a successful goldsmith in Ireland.
Claddagh rings became widely known in America after Irish immigrants brought them over, mainly in the 18th century. They remain popular, both as wedding rings and decorative adornments. Many of the rings are now passed down through Irish-American families ad heirlooms.