Sunday, 18 May 2014

Claddagh - The Village & The Ring

A well-worn gold Claddagh ring
A well-worn Claddagh Ring
(photo by Lisa Clarke)


Noun. Early 20th century.
[from Claddagh, a fishing village on the edge of Galway city, Ireland.]

A symbol formed from two hands holding a crowned heart, which represents friendship, love, and loyalty.
Chiefly attributive, designating jewellery bearing the symbol;
Claddagh ring, a ring given traditionally in Ireland as a token of love.

When I first moved to Ireland in 2001, I lived for a time in an area of Galway called the Claddagh, which was once a separate fishing village whose fleet of hookers supplied the city with fish. Although nothing remains of the old village and its thatched cottages since they were demolished in the 1930s, the Claddagh remains one of the most picturesque parts of the city, being within walking distance of the city centre in one direction and the promenade and beaches of Salthill in the other. One of my greatest pleasures while living there was the daily walk to work in the centre, taking in the salty smell of the sea and the views from Claddagh Quay across to Long Walk and Spanish Arch.

While the Claddagh is popular with both locals and tourists, perhaps nothing has made this historic village as famous as the Claddagh Ring, a symbol that can be seen not just throughout Ireland but throughout the world, particularly where there are strong Irish communities. The symbol consists of two hands holding a crowned heart, representing the three elements of friendship (the hands), love (the heart) and loyalty (the crown), sometimes associated with such Irish sayings as 'Let love and friendship reign forever.'

There are various stories about the origins of the Claddagh symbol and the Claddagh Ring, but one man that's often credited with its design is Galwayman Richard Joyce. While on a voyage to the West Indies in 1675, Joyce was captured by pirates and made a slave in Tangiers, where he was compelled to work as a goldsmith's apprentice. When he was finally freed fourteen years later, he returned to Galway and presented a Claddagh Ring to his sweetheart, a ring he had fashioned during his many years away, and which symbolically represented him holding his heart and then giving it to his true love.

While it has been difficult for historians to separate the truth from legend, what is certain is that the Claddagh Ring has existed in Galway since at least the 1700s and Richard Joyce was a successful goldsmith. It is still popular today, often given as a coming-of-age gift from mothers to daughters, or grandmothers to granddaughters. How it is worn is also significant, with the hands and heart facing outwards meaning that the young woman has not yet found love, but with them facing inwards meaning that she is already taken.

A view onto Long Walk, Galway City, on a sunny day
The view from Claddagh Quay across to Long Walk, Galway
(photo by Eoin Gardiner)
Are you from or have you visited the Claddagh?

Do you have a Claddagh Ring?

Do please leave any comments in the box below.


  1. I have a beautiful Claddagh ring given to me by my true love on our last anniversary. He holds my heart in his hands everyday 💖

    1. Aww. Well that's just the sweetest comment we've ever had on Lexicolatry : o )

  2. Never visited. And Ireland beckons such a strong call on me that I keep postponing visiting until I can stay and live there...
    Imagine creating these histories, mystery and fairytale that would last the centuries until Eternity... Good old times without computers. I wonder if ever again Humans will create beauty, lasting beauty, in the same fashion.
    Feeling nostalgic but then beautiful rings I do not owe always do that to me ;).

    1. Ireland is indeed special, Teresa. You should definitely visit.

  3. Supposedly there's some connection between the phrase "putting it on the long finger" and the claddagh ring - can anyone tell me if there's truth in that?
    In regards to my own personal experience with the claddagh ring, although being of Irish origin, it was, in fact a friend from Lithuania that revealed the interpretation of the way a claddagh ring is worn. I had being wearing it facing inwards, and she was offended I had not updated her with my "new" relationship status..of course, I had not realised the significance of what direction I faced the heart. So there you go. Even other nations can teach us more about our own than we know ourselves!
    Ms Juxtaprose

    1. This is very interesting and the answer (I'm sorry) is that I don't know.

      However, I suspect that the phrase "to put something on the long finger" doesn't have anything to do with the Claddagh Ring specifically, because none of the sources I looked at when researching the Claddagh Ring for this post mentioned it. However, it is most definitely Irish, as a number of dictionaries including the OED state so unequivocally. As to its origin, however, and what it is about long fingers that signifies delay to the Irish, they're frustratingly silent.

      Being the internet, of course, there is plenty of conjecture out there. One of them is that perhaps a girl would put a ring on her middle finger (her long finger) if she was going out with someone but not yet engaged, or engaged but without a definite wedding date. It's an idea anyway. I will keep searching on this, and if I find anything, I will post the answer here.

      Of course, if anyone else knows anything, please do share.

  4. Yes that's what I have heard too - that ot referred to a girl's "status"

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