CLADDAGH – the Irish symbol of Love, Loyalty and Friendship…
The Claddagh (Clá-dá) is a well known Irish symbol, but exactly why did the Claddagh become so important to the Irish?
The word Claddagh comes from the Irish word ‘an Cladach’, which means ‘the shore’. People often spell Claddagh incorrectly – cladagh, clladagh, cladaugh, calladagh, cladda. Claddagh is actually a fishing village in Galway where the River Corrib enters Galway Bay and back in the day it was just outside the city walls of Galway. It is one of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland and locals would have sold their catch at the fish market across the river at Spanish Arch. Claddagh had its own king and he led the fishing fleet, using the Hooker boats, combating pirates and deciding when to brave the seas. Claddagh villagers spoke Irish and lived in pretty thatched cottages, unfortunately most of the old village was deemed too dangerous and was pulled down in the 1930s, but the views across Galway Bay are still amazing.
The Claddagh symbol that we know now is the distinctive design of the famous Claddagh ring, which was traditionally used in the village of Claddagh as a wedding ring and now in modern times is often used internationally as a wedding ring and also as an engagement or friendship ring.
The Claddagh design is two clasped hands holding a crowned heart:
- Heart represents love,
- Crown represent loyalty,
- Two clasped hands represent friendship.
So what is the connection between the village of Claddagh and the Claddagh rings?
The story of the Claddagh Ring is surrounded by myth, but it is probable that the Claddagh design is a variation from the European ‘fede rings’ (Italian ‘mani in fede’ = hands joined in loyalty), dating back to Roman times as a symbol of pledging vows. As European trade to Galway increased, this type of ring became known to craftspeople in Claddagh and fashioned to become the Claddagh Ring, which was then used as a wedding ring for centuries in the Village of Claddagh and then by people in Connemara and the Aran Islands. Over time the Claddagh ring’s popularity grew throughout Ireland and during the Victorian period it became popular in the U.K. and eventually beyond.
However, for those who prefer myths, there are two legends surrounding the Claddagh ring.
1) It is said that Margaret Joyce, inherited quite a sum on the death of her husband – Domingo de Rona (a Spanish merchant who traded with Galway). In 1596 Margaret remarried to Oliver Og Ffrench, the major of Galway. She used her inheritance of her first marraige to build much needed bridges all over the west of Ireland. Legend has it that an eagle dropped the first Claddagh Ring on her lap to reward her for her good deeds!
2) Another Joyce – Richard – was out at sea with other fisherman from Claddagh, when they were captured by pirates. Richard, the youngest of the men, had just met his one true love and was distraught at the thought of never seeing her again. He was sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith where over the years he gathered specks of his master’s gold and eventually had enough gold to make a ring for his love back in Ireland. Richard was released along with British slaves following the demands of the English King William III in 1689. He returned to Claddagh where the love of his life had waited for him and he presented her with the very first Claddagh Ring.
The Claddagh ring was often the only heirloom of a fishing family and would have been handed down from generation to generation, a practice that continues across the world to this day.
Depending on which hand it is worn on the Claddagh Ring tells the world the status of the wearer:
- Single and looking for love = worn on the right hand with the heart pointing away.
- Already in love = worn on the right hand with the heart pointing in.
- Engaged = worn on the left hand with the heart pointing away.
- Married = worn on the left hand with the heart pointing in.
The Claddagh is famous as the Irish symbol of ‘love, friendship and loyalty’ – ‘Let Love and friendship Reign Forever’ – and these days can be found on all sorts of items and not just rings …….. browse Totally Irish Gifts to find your perfect Claddagh gift for your loved ones.
Click on a Claddagh image to be directed to that Claddagh gift.