The History of The Claddagh Ring
Galway History

The History of The Claddagh Ring

An ancient ring steeped in tradition, there is no doubt about its meaning of love, friendship and loyalty, and yet the origin of the famous Claddagh Ring is steeped in legend and myth, faithfully carrying its tradition and significance through centuries.

Its famous motif shows two hands clasping a crowned heart which can be explained in the phrase: “Let Love and Friendship reign”. If the owner of the ring wears it with the crown pointing towards the fingernail, he or she is said to be in love or married. To wear the ring with heart pointing to the fingernail, he or she is said to be unattached to anyone.

Claddagh Ring

Its design is strongly associated with the Joyce family, one of the fourteen Tribes of Galway. The most popular story tells of the trials and hardships of Richard Joyce. As he was on route to the West Indies, Joyce was captured by Algerian corsairs and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who taught him the craft of making jewellery. At the demand of William III of England, Joyce was released from slavery in 1689, and returned to Galway where he set up as a goldsmith. Joyce forged the Claddagh Ring as a symbol of love and loyalty and gave it to his sweetheart as a proclamation of his love and asked for her hand in marriage. She accepted his proposal and they were married. Joyce's initials can still be seen engraved in one of the earliest surviving Claddagh Rings.

There is, however, another legend surrounding the Joyce's family connection to the ring. As legend tells, Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant. Following his death he left her all his fortune which she then subsequently used to build many bridges in Connacht. Margaret later married the Mayor of Galway, Oliver of Ffrench, and was fortunately rewarded for her generosity by an eagle which dropped the now famous ring into her lap.

Boyd Challenger Claddagh
Photo by Boyd Challenger

The Claddagh Ring became increasingly popular outside the Claddagh area in the middle of the 20th century, as it was the only ring made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII, and attracted many other famous clients through the years such as Maureen O'Hara, John Wayne, Walt Disney, Prince Rainer of Monaco and Princess Grace Kelly.

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Due to its unique design, fascinating origin, sentimental appeal and its connection to the fishing village in the ancient Claddagh area on the River Corrib, the ring's popularity grew with time, causing many different versions of the ring to be created. However, Thomas Dillon's of Galway is the only jewellers in existence since 1750 to make the original Claddagh Ring at their store location at 1 Quay Street, Galway and are the only jewellers who have the right to have “original” stamped on their Claddagh Rings.

T Dillon Claddagh Ring

Today, the ring is a timeless gift that people all over the world continue to wear as a symbol of their love, friendship and loyalty. Shop HERE

"The hands are for friendship

The heart is for love

And loyalty is shown

With a crown up above."