History of Irish Claddagh Rings

Today we're talking about rings again. I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood and these little claddagh rings - you know, it’s that one with the two hands holding the heart.

What is a claddagh ring?

First, let’s talk about how you even SAY this word! Claddagh is pronounced like CLAD-Uh. The emphasis is on the first syllable. Now that you know how to say the word, you should know the hands represent friendship, the heart means love, and the crown is for loyalty. Although this particular ring stye is pretty new, the symbolism of clasped hands goes all the way back to Roman times.

Joining hands together was a way to pledge loyalty to a person. The symbol was common for engagement and wedding rings in medieval times and during the Renaissance in Europe. So for over 1,000 years (from the 500’s to the 1600’s).

The rings with two hands were called fede rings. Because “mani in fede” means “hands joined in loyalty” in Italian.

Antique fede ring, precursor to the Claddagh ring
An antique fede ring, precursor to the Claddagh ring

So the Claddagh ring is a more modern type of fede ring. And of course, it’s Irish!

A claddagh love story

It’s always nice when you can trace a design back to a love story. Supposedly, an Irish man named Richard Joyce was captured and sold into slavery by some Algerians. You may wonder what Algerians were doing way up in Ireland, but it turns out our friend Richard was sailing to the West Indies when he was captured by pirates. That was back in 1675. Now in Algeria, Richard spent his 14 years as a slave under a Moorish goldsmith, who taught him the trade. Later, all slaves in Algeria who were British subjects were released and allowed to go home.

He brought a ring back to Ireland with him, presented it to his sweetheart, and they married. Apparently, he became quite a successful goldsmith.