Whilst a classic gold wedding band is still the most popular type of wedding ring, some couples prefer to celebrate their cultural heritage in the design of their wedding rings. One of the most culturally significant ring designs is the claddagh ring (also seen spelt as cladag, cladagh and cladaugh). This type of ring derives from Irish and Celtic history and has a very distinctive design consisting of a heart clasped by two hands. Usually a crown is on top of the heart and occasionally one heart is replaced by two hearts. The elements of the design signify love (the heart or hearts), friendship (the hands) and loyalty (the crown).
Claddagh rings are used as friendship, eternity and engagement rings as well as for wedding rings. However, the way in which they are worn is different. When given as engagement or wedding rings, claddagh rings are worn on the ring finger of the left hand with the heart pointing towards the wearer's heart (i.e. not towards the finger tip). This signifies that the wearer has given their heart to someone.
The History of The Claddagh Ring
This beautiful ring design has its roots in Roman times, when the use of clapsed hands on ring designs symbolised the exchange of vows. In medieval and Renaissance Europe, these so-called 'fede rings' (fede meaning hands joined in faith and loyalty in Italian), were also used for wedding rings.
The Irish folklore related to the Claddagh ring's origins dates back over 300 years to the small fishing village of Claddagh in Ireland. The first story revolves around a wealthy Irish widow,Margaret Joyce, who used her inherited wealth to build many bridges in the local area. The first claddagh ring was said to have been dropped in her lap by an eagle as a reward for her work. The second story concerns an Irishman named Richard Joyce who was captured by Algerian pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith. Trained by his master, Joyce is often attributed to creating the first Irish claddagh ring for his beloved back home.
The romanticism of the legends surrounding the creation of the claddagh ring definitely help add to its lure. Many Irish couples wear claddagh rings today as a celebration not only of their love, friendship and loyalty, but also as a celebration of the Irish storytelling tradition that is as strong today as it was 300 years ago. Queen Victoria and her son, Edward also wore claddagh rings back in their day, the only rings crafted in Ireland that they were to wear.
Claddagh rings are popular today with couples who want to wear matching rings as they are robust and decorative, without being 'frilly' and therefore suit masculine and feminine styles.