The Deep History and Meaning of the Claddagh Symbol

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By Anna Marikar

Today, we’re diving into the mystical and captivating world of symbols. Every culture and era has its treasured symbols, but few have resonated so deeply and universally as the Claddagh.

It’s more than just a piece of jewelry; it’s a testament to love, loyalty, and friendship. Let’s explore its deep history and the spiritual wisdom it holds for us, by digging into the meaning of the claddagh symbol.

history and meaning of the claddagh symbol

The Origins of The Claddagh Symbol

The Claddagh symbol finds its roots in the ancient Irish fishing village of Claddagh in Galway, Ireland. Legend tells of a man by the name of Richard Joyce, who was captured and sold into slavery in the 17th century. 

Legend whispers that after being captured by Algerian pirates, Richard was sold into slavery to a Moorish goldsmith. Here, he honed his skills and dreamt of his true love back in Ireland.

Away from his beloved, he toiled for years but never lost hope. During his captivity, he fashioned a ring with symbols that reflected his deepest feelings – a heart for love, hands for friendship, and a crown for loyalty.

history and meaning of the claddagh ring symbol

When William III ascended the throne, he demanded the release of all British subjects held in captivity. This included Richard Joyce.

When Richard returned, he brought back more than just his longing for home; he carried the Claddagh ring design that he’d created.

The claddagh design — a crowned heart held by a pair of hands — symbolized love, loyalty, and friendship. 

Upon his return to the small fishing village of Claddagh, he gifted it to his love. Richard’s first Irish Claddagh ring was presented as an engagement ring to his beloved upon his return. 

claddagh fishing village in Galway Ireland

Her name is often cited as Margaret Joyce. Margaret, also known as “Margaret of the Bridges” in some tales, is renowned in Galway legends for her charitable deeds, especially for building bridges in Connacht.

But beyond this touching story, the Claddagh can also be considered by some to hail from ancient Roman times where “fede” rings, depicting two hands clasped, symbolized trust and faith in a relationship.

Dissecting the Symbol: Love, Loyalty, and Friendship

Now that we understand the origins of the ring, let’s take a look at the claddagh ring meaning, and the different aspects of this celtic symbol. 

The Claddagh ring, over time, has evolved into more than just an engagement ring. It’s often used as a wedding ring, representing the promise of love and commitment. In Irish tradition, a mother would hand down her Claddagh ring as a family heirloom to her daughter’s hand. And in the city of Galway, where its origins lie, it’s not just a piece of Celtic jewelry; it’s a token of Irish heritage.

Irish Americans and enthusiasts of Irish history wear it with pride, celebrating its deep connection to the Emerald Isle. Historical figures such as Queen Victoria and Ronald Reagan have donned the Claddagh, magnifying its reach and significance.

Even in popular culture, the Claddagh ring has made appearances, with shows like Vampire Slayer showcasing it.

history and meaning of the claddagh symbol

Heart in the Center

This heart symbol represents love. But it’s not just romantic love; it’s the kind of love that you share with yourself, the world, and the divine universe.

The heart reminds us of our inherent ability to give and receive love.

In the context of self-love, this traditional Irish ring symbolizes that core of love within each one of us.

Hands Holding the Heart

These stand for friendship and togetherness. It’s a nudge to reach out, to connect, and to cherish the bonds we create.

Friends are the spiritual family we choose, and they walk with us through the ebbs and flows of life.

Crown Atop the Heart

This signifies loyalty. Loyalty is that unwavering trust, the anchor that holds relationships firm.

To be loyal is to be steadfast in love, even when the tides of life try to pull you apart.

The Spiritual Essence of Claddagh

Spirituality is about connections – to the self, to others, and to the universe. The Claddagh symbol beautifully embodies this trinity of connections.

The heart, hands, and crown can also be seen as the soul, the physical realm, and the divine connection respectively.

When worn as a ring, its position carries a message too, giving a hint towards your relationship status 

history and meaning of the claddagh ring
  • Worn on the right hand with the point of the heart facing toward the fingertips: The wearer is single and may be looking for love.
  • On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: The wearer is in a relationship.
  • On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: The wearer is engaged.
  • On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: The wearer is married.

These positions mirror the spiritual journey of love – from seeking and finding to committing and deepening.

The term ‘Claddagh’ itself comes from the Irish word ‘Fáinne Chladaigh’, translating to ‘flat ring’.

This speaks volumes about its design – simple, yet profound in meaning. Some believe that wearing it the correct way – heart pointing towards the wearer if they’re taken and outward if they’re single – is essential to harness its full symbolic meaning.

The Metals of the Claddagh: Does Choice Influence Meaning?

The Claddagh ring, rich in symbolism and history, has been crafted from various metals throughout the years.

While the original design and its core meanings — love, loyalty, and friendship — remain unchanged, does the choice of metal add another layer of meaning? Let’s explore.

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White Gold

A popular choice for many modern jewelry pieces, including the Claddagh, white gold gives a fresh, contemporary touch to this ancient design.

White gold is often seen as a symbol of purity and new beginnings. When the Claddagh is made of white gold, it can symbolize a love that is pure and untainted.

claddagh ring white gold with diamond
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Yellow Gold

Traditional and timeless, yellow gold resonates deeply with the Claddagh’s origins. Gold has always been a symbol of value, both material and emotional. In the case of the Claddagh, a yellow gold ring might be seen as representing a love that’s eternal and ever-shining.

claddagh ring with diamond
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yellow gold claddagh ring
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Sterling Silver

Silver is often associated with the moon and its calming, feminine energy.

A Claddagh ring made of sterling silver might evoke feelings of deep intuition, inner reflection, and a connection to the mysterious aspects of love.

silver claddagh ring with celtic knot band
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silver claddagh ring
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Rose Gold

A more contemporary choice, rose gold, with its pinkish hue, is evocative of romance and warmth.

It can symbolize a love that’s nurturing, compassionate, and full of warmth.

rose gold claddagh ring
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While the metal used in a Claddagh ring might not change its original meanings, it can certainly add personal layers of symbolism and connection for the wearer.

Whether you’re drawn to the modern elegance of white gold or the classic allure of yellow gold, each metal brings its own special touch to this emblem of love, loyalty, and friendship.

Claddagh in Today’s World: A Symbol of Self-Love

In our modern journey towards self-awareness and spiritual growth, the Claddagh can serve as a powerful talisman. Just as it symbolizes the union of two people, it can represent the union of our physical and spiritual selves. It’s a call to cherish the love within, to build genuine connections, and to stay loyal to our spiritual journey.

With its rich history and roots deeply embedded in Irish soil, the Claddagh ring remains a beloved symbol worldwide.

Whether as an heirloom, a promise ring, wedding band, a token of friendship, or the ultimate symbol of love, it’s more than just metal and design. It’s an embodiment of good deeds, the dedication of good work, and the enduring spirit of love.

The Claddagh, rich in history and spiritual significance, is more than just an emblem of Irish culture. It’s a universal reminder of the love that binds us all, the friendships that nourish our souls, and the loyalty we owe to our true selves.

Let it inspire you to embrace love in all its forms, and may it guide you towards a deeper spiritual connection with the universe.

More Celtic Symbols 

We hope our guide helped you to understand and appreciate the history and meaning of the claddagh symbol and what it represents, in Ireland and beyond.

You might also like to find out more about some of these Irish symbols 

Sending you all love, light, and positive vibes. Until next time, stay connected, stay blessed! 💖✨

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Anna is a Wales-based writer and graduate from SOAS University of London.
As the voice behind On Your Journey, she empowers women to embrace holistic well-being and spiritual growth through her expert insights into wellness and symbolism.
When she isn't writing thought-provoking articles, you'll find her busy crafting and raising her 4 children.

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