Europe,  Ireland

The story of the Irish Claddagh Ring

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“Excuse me Miss, I saw your ring. I’ve read if it’s pointing out it means that your heart is available- are you single?”

A little shocked I looked down at the offending ring on my hand. I had bought my Claddagh Ring over a year ago when I lived in Ireland, and wore it every day. But up until now I’d never been approached about the significance of it, and to be honest, at 6am in the morning at a busy bus station, I was regretting wearing it the proper way.

My Claddagh
My Claddagh

Chances are you know what a Claddagh ring is; a pair of hands holding a heart with a crown. The style, though of Irish design, is popular all over North America. But do you know the story behind it?

It is believed that the Claddagh originated in a small town of the shores of Galway Bay where it was used as a wedding ring for over 400 years. A couple of stories exist around the history, though the most common attributes the Claddagh motif to a Galway man by the name of Richard of Joyces. Joyces, while on route to the West Indies, was captured and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith. Upon his release in 1689, he returned to Galway where he opened his own goldsmith shop.

The tradition surrounding the Claddagh ring is in how you wear it. If the heart faces out- towards the nail the, wearer is said to be unattached. If the heart faces downwards, with the crown towards the nail, the wearer is supposed to be in love or marries.

Today the ring can be found throughout Ireland; in silver or gold, with gemstones or cheap rhinestones; for hundreds of Euros or less than twenty. Pop into any Irish Jewellery store and you’re bound to find at least one design. However only one jeweller still creates the original Claddagh design: Thomas Dillon’s at 1 Quay Street, Galway.
Thomas Dillon’s was established in 1750 and is the only jeweller with the rights to the original design. As such, their rings include the ‘original’ stamp on the inside. Their shop is open to all, though some of their past clients include Princess Grace Kelly, Walt Disney, Queen Victoria, and Winston Churchill to name a few. But don’t let the big names scare you; though the gold and gemstone variety will put you back a few hundred Euros, a silver version is available for the much more affordable price of 45 euro.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a ring yourself, take a stroll through this little shop and peek in the back room museum for a look at the history of the Claddagh and some original examples- including a Claddagh ring so small that you need a microscope to see it.


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