Many myths and fables surround the History of the Claddagh Ring. However the most substantiated and historically accurate history of the claddagh would be the story of Richard Joyce who learnt his craft of Goldsmithing in a rather romantic way.


Whilst on a voyage in the Mediterranean he was taken captive by Algerian pirates, and spent many years in captivity in Tunis. There he acquired his skill as an artificer in precious metals. When William III came to the throne of England in 1689, he concluded an agreement whereby all his subjects who were held in captivity by the moors were to be allowed to return to their homes.


Joyce's master had become so attached to him that he attempted to keep the Galway man by offering his most beautiful daughter as his bride. This offer, however, Joyce refused, and returned to his homeland to follow his career.


Several examples of Joyce's works are still in existence. He flourished as a craftsman in gold and silver in Galway up to about 1730. Some of his Claddagh Rings and Silver Chalices still survive in Museums and collections throughout Ireland.


Whether Joyce came upon the Claddagh symbolism on his travels or if it was originally his design we will never know. What we can ascertain is that the Claddagh Ring enjoys an antiquity of at least 300 years and Richard Joyce is the earliest known maker of this unique ring.


No particular reason could be advanced as to why the quaint village of the Claddagh should be held to have almost proprietary interest in these rings-they are found to have been worn the whole way across Galway County - but it is certain that by the middle of the nineteenth century they were more popular here than elsewhere.


They were kept as heirlooms with great pride and passed from grandmother to granddaughter. They were used as wedding rings, and the Claddagh folk were prepared to stint themselves to make money to purchase good examples.


The Claddagh Village has now disappeared, but up to about 70 years ago, it was a highly self-contained community, with something approaching local autonomy. There was an elected 'king' who controlled their activities, and their fishing fleet - their main source of income. He alone was allowed to use white sails on his hooker, and he had the rare distinction of flying a flag. So far as we know, it has not been possible to find out what devices appeared on this flag, but it would not be too fanciful to hope that it was some form of joined hands supporting a crowned heart.


Rings like our Claddagh ring have been worn in Brittany and in Spain, but it would hardly be scientific to assume from that fact that the emblem embodies some primitive Celtic archetype. Gaelic literature throws no light on the mystery of the emblem's origin.


In more recent years the Claddagh Ring has developed world-wide renown and is given and worn as a symbol of love, friendship and loyalty. It is also worn with great pride by the Irish Diaspora throughout the world as a symbol of their Irish heritage, linking 1st , 2nd and 3rd generation Irish with the romantic and endearing home of their ancestors.


Wearing the Claddagh Ring:


  • The ring worn on the right hand, crown turned inwards tells that the wearers heart is yet unoccupied, worn with the crown turned outward reveals love is being considered.


  • Worn on the left hand the crown turned outwards shows all, that the wearers heart is truly spoken for.


© History of the Claddagh Ring by Fallers of Galway