The origin of the Claddagh Ring is uncertain, although the best story by far is that it was designed by Galwayman Richard Joyce while working as a slave in North Africa, over 300 years ago!
Legend has it that Richard was due to be married to his love in Galway, but was captured and sold into slavery just one week before his wedding. He was bought by an Algerian goldsmith, who trained him in the craft. With thoughts of his love far away in Galway, Richard designed and crafted the very first Claddagh ring.
The ring shows two hands holding a heart, which wears a crown. The hands signify friendship, the heart signifies love and the crown denotes loyalty.
Richard was eventually released from slavery and, although he was offered the hand of his master's daughter in marriage, returned to Galway, where his sweetheart still waited for him. He presented her with a Claddagh ring and they were married soon after.
The ring was the only ring the Claddagh people wore continuously, and it was the custom of each generation to hand it down to the next generation as a marriage heirloom. The ring became popular in the middle of the 19th century, especially as it was the only ring made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward V11. It is now used worldwide as a wedding ring.
It was a custom that it is not right for a Claddagh person to buy a Claddagh ring, they must obtain it as a gift. The Claddagh ring has its own customs on how it is to be worn. For example, when you wear the ring on your hand with hand with the heart turned outwards the world will know your heart has not yet been taken. Wear it on the right hand with the heart the turned inwards and it shows you have friendship and love is being considered. But when worn on the left hand with the heart turned inwards, it means two lovers have joined forever or that they are married.