The Claddagh is quite possibly the most recognizable Celtic ring design in the world. While trinity knots and Celtic crosses have certainly left their imprint on art – including jewelry – in all its forms, the Claddagh is a timeless symbol of fidelity and love that exploded into popularity in the 19th century.
The Hands, the Heart and the Crown
This iconic design always illustrates two hands holding a heart, which is topped with a crown. Some Claddagh rings are made of simple but beautiful metal while others are outfitted with heart-shaped stones. No matter the details that the consumer incorporates into their ring design, the symbolism of the traditional Claddagh remains the same.
The two hands holding the heart are representative of friendship.
The heart that’s being clasped indicates love.
The crown that sits atop the image represents loyalty.
The Holy Trinity
Considering the close ties between Ireland and the Christian faith, it is no surprise that religious institutions have adopted their own meaning behind this timeless design. It is quite common for the crown atop the heart to be symbolic for God itself, while the left hand represents Jesus and the right hand symbolizes the Holy Ghost.
Wearing the Claddagh
How one wears their Claddagh is of great significance. The meaning of the ring changes depending on what hand it is worn on, as well as what direction the heart is facing.
If a person is single, the ring should be worn on their right hand with the heart facing outwards. If they are in a relationship but not engaged or married, the ring stays on the right hand but the heart is turned inward.
Once engaged, the Claddagh should be moved to the left hand with the heart pointing outward. After marriage, the heart should be turned inward to indicate the union.
The Origins of the Claddagh
While there are disputing tales regarding exactly how the Claddagh came to be, it is established that the design quite possibly originated in – and was then named for – The Claddagh village located outside of Galway.
The design did not reach North America in great numbers until the Irish made the difficult journey overseas. The Claddagh is traditionally passed down from mother to daughter, and at that time it was often the family’s only wealth. This heirloom possessed as much material value as it did sentimental value and would often be regarded as the daughter’s inheritance.
Now, one can find a Claddagh in many homes across the United States and Canada.
All Celtic jewelry designs are rooted deeply in symbolism and history, with each piece possessing a unique story. However, few have become as widely-recognized as the iconic Claddagh.