The CLADDAGH RING is a traditional Irish ring which represents Love, Loyalty, and Friendship. The Hands represent Friendship, the Heart represents Love, and the Crown stands for Loyalty.
The design and customs associated with it originated in the Irish fishing village of the same name in Galway. The ring, as currently known, was first produced in the 17th Century.
The Claddagh ring belongs to a group of European finger rings called "fede rings". The name "fede" derives from the Italian phrase mani in fede ("hands [joined] in faith" or "hands [joined] in loyalty"). These rings date from Roman times, when the gesture of clasped hands was a symbol of pledging vows, and they were used as engagement/wedding rings in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.
Towards the end of the 20th Century there was an explosion of interest in the Claddagh ring, both as jewelry and an icon of Irish identity. In recent years, it has been embellished with interlace designs and combined with other Irish/Celtic symbols, but this is a very recent phenomenon that corresponds with the worldwide expansion in popularity of the ring as an emblem of Irish Identity.
As to origins, Galway has produced Claddagh rings continuously since at least 1700, however, the name "Claddagh ring" was not used before the 1830s. Although there are various myths and legends around the origin of the ring, it is almost certain that it originated in or close to the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway.
As an example of a maker, Bartholomew Fallon was a 17th-century Irish goldsmith, based in Galway, who made Claddagh rings until circa 1700. His name first appears in the Will of one Dominick Martin, also a jeweller, dated 26 January 1676, in which Martin willed Fallon some of his Tools. Fallon continued working as a goldsmith until 1700. His are among the oldest surviving examples of the Claddagh ring, in many cases bearing his signature.
An account, written in 1906 by William Dillon, a Galway jeweller, claimed that the Claddagh ring was worn in the Aran Isles, Connemara and beyond. Knowledge of the ring and its customs spread within Ireland and Britain during the Victorian period, and this is when its name became established. Galway jewellers began to market it beyond the local area in the 19th century. In his 1911 book Rings for the Finger, American Mineralogist George Frederick Kunz addresses the importance of gold wedding rings in Ireland, but doesn't mention the Claddagh. He does include a photo of one, captioned with the correct name. It is unclear exactly how or when the ring was brought to the United States.
While Claddagh rings are sometimes used as friendship rings, they are most common as engagement/wedding rings. Sometimes Mothers give them when Daughters come of age. Other times, it is handed down Mother to Eldest Daughter or Grandmother to Granddaughter.
According to Irish author Colin Murphy, a Claddagh ring was worn with the intention of conveying the wearer's relationship status:
1. ) On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is single and may be looking for love.
2.) On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is in a relationship.
3.) On the left ring finger with the point of the heart toward the fingertips: the wearer is engaged.
4.) On the left ring finger with the point of the heart toward the wrist: the wearer is married.