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Legend of the Claddagh Ring

Everyone loves a good romantic story…well maybe not everyone, but deep in your heart, you must admit that a few strings are magically tugged (or strummed) when love prevails. In my quest to find romantic symbols to showcase within the Symbols Jewellery portfolio, I was truly elated to discover the Claddagh symbol. One of the most renowned Irish symbols of love is the Claddagh. It is most often featured in ring designs and became popular during the middle of the last century as Queen Victoria and King Edward VII both wore rings with this symbolic design. It is sometimes referred to as a “friendship ring” and features two hands holding a heart, with a crown situated on top of the heart. The Claddagh is a traditional piece of jewellery that has been handed down through generations, as many Irish mothers bestow to their daughters as an heirloom.

There are many legends that surround the Claddagh ring. The most popular of these dates back circa 1700 to the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, which is adjacent to Galway. The story speaks of a man named Richard Joyce, who reluctantly left his betrothed behind, to search for work in the West Indies. However, in an unfortunate twist, his ship was captured and he was sold into slavery in Algeria. He soon became the property of a wealthy Moorish goldsmith, who quickly identified great potential in his new slave. As a result, he invested time and effort to train him in the art and eventually Richard Joyce became an expert in the field. However, memories of his betrothed filled his every waking thought. He poured his desperate feelings of sorrow, hope and love into fashioning the very first Claddagh ring. Within this striking design, the two hands represented friendship, the heart was a symbol of love and the crown represented trust and loyalty.

Thankfully, in 1689, there was an agreement with King William to release subjects who were held in slavery. An elated Richard Joyce was now a free man. His master however, had grown to love him and considered him as a son. As enticement to say in Algeria, his master offered Joyce his only daughter’s hand in marriage as well as half of his wealth. This was certainly not enough to persuade him, as all the wealth in world could not replace the love he felt for his beloved. Not knowing what his future held, Richard Joyce graciously declined this attractive offer and returned to his home in Galway. In a true fairy tale ending, legend indicates that he found his sweetheart had been waiting in earnest hope for his return. He presented her with his gift of the Claddagh ring, full of the hopes, dreams and promise of a wonderful future together. They were eventually married and lived happily ever after. (Well, I added in that last part. Even if they didn’t live happily ever after, I don’t think there is a more romantic gesture that could compare to the symbolism behind the Claddagh.) It is said that Richard Joyce set up as a goldsmith when he returned to Galway. He branded his work with the symbol of an anchor signifying “hope” along with his initials.

Centuries ago, a version of this design (minus the crown) was discovered in a sunken Spanish galleon. Divers discovered it on the hand of a drowned sailor, with an inscription in Spanish which translates, “I have nothing, for it is given unto you”. There are many who actually believe that the “crown” symbol of the design was later added to the traditional style by none other than Queen Elizabeth. The Claddagh ring integrates the “clasped hands” of Fede Rings, which were “Faith” rings that date back to Roman times and represented faith and trust.

There are many versions of the Claddagh symbol that has been integrated into jewellery designs. At Symbols Jewellery, we are proud to feature Claddagh designs with Trinity Knots and Claddagh Crosses, which reinforces the love between God and man. In addition to the traditional Claddagh rings, we are also happy to showcase Claddagh themed Earrings, Bangles and Pendants. Take a look under the “Collections” heading on the home page of and click on “Celtic”. There you will find many elegant and stunning Claddagh designs, which are not only appropriate for sweethearts, but are also suitable to bestow to friends and family members.

The Claddagh symbol represents the deepest love that transcends both time and place. It represents hope that we will always be reunited with those we love, whether in this life or the next. It is a promise of faithfulness and loyalty while apart. It embodies the truest essence of faith that our love is reciprocated and honoured. What better way to show your love for someone special this Christmas and all year through!

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