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Traditions Around
Irish Claddagh Rings

On this page find out about traditions associated with the Irish Claddagh ring. You might be in for a surprise. The ring traditions are pretty simple! These original traditions we write about here have been embellished a lot by salesmen and advertisers. But here is the real deal, told to you by the owner of the oldest license for making this ring.

Jonathan, tell us about the traditions associated with Irish Claddagh rings.

Jonathan Margetts, owner of the original Claddagh ring shop in Galway, Ireland.

Johnathan Margetts

There are some misunderstandings about traditions of Irish Claddagh rings. A lot of people these days buy the ring for themselves, and it is an absolute myth that you shouldn’t. It is perfectly fine to buy a ring for yourself.

If you are in a relationship, you wear it in such a way that the point of the heart faces your body. If there is no significant other and you are available for a love relationship, the point of the heart faces out the way as if you were giving it away. This is the only tradition there is around the Claddagh ring. A lot of embellishments have been invented by jewellery traders who like to mystify the story, but this is the only original Irish Claddagh rings custom.

As to traditions of making the rings, there are all sorts of Claddagh rings available these days, for example diamond Claddagh rings or rings with other precious stones, ones that are embellished and decorated and what not. Personally I think that when you are making Irish Claddagh rings like that you are taking away from them.

I chose to stick with the traditional design, a simple gold Claddagh ring, or a simple silver Claddagh ring. Richard Joyce was a silversmith, and these are the types of rings he made, simple ones. I find that often, less is more in terms of design. I also like to stick close to tradition. In fact, my business is built around it.

Poster for 250th anniversary of Dillon's Claddagh ring jewellers, Quay Street, Galway, Ireland.

Poster commissioned by Jonathan for the 250th anniversary of T. Dillon's and Sons, the company behind the original Claddagh ring.

The poster is exhibited in the shops museum, a room at the back that contains antique rings like the gold Claddagh ring shown below, and associated items such as tools and documentation relating to commissions. Entry to the museum is free.

Why is the ring called a Claddagh ring?

If the truth be told, nobody knows why it is called Claddagh ring. Funnily enough, the Claddagh people are the only ones who don’t use that word. They call it ‘heart and hands ring’.

A mid-1800's travel novel written by a pair of English tourists is often credited with coining the term Claddagh ring. In their writings, they talked about seeing practically everyone they met in the Claddagh wear these rings in gold. In reality, Claddagh people were very poor and it seems likely that they wore lesser alloys.

Antique Claddagh ring at the museum at Dillon's Jwellery shop, Quay Street, Galway, Ireland.

The ring was never made in the Claddagh by the way. It was made across the river from there, in the town of Galway.

But the Claddagh people, too, wore it as a wedding band, probably from the mid seventeen hundreds on.

Who buys Irish Claddagh rings these days, Jonathan?

The wedding band business is only a small percentage of the business. Only about one in fifty customers will buy it as a wedding band. Instead, the ring has become a symbol for Irishness. Some young Irish people buy it before they emigrate. They want to be seen as fun loving, easygoing, intellectual and great craic, all these things that are associated with Irishness these days. The Claddagh ring helps them to be recognised as being Irish.

Young Americans of Irish descent love the ring. Owning it, for them is like owning a piece of Ireland. It makes them feel more Irish.

Young people also like the idea of the tradition around the ring. They like that wearing the ring in the appropriate direction enables you to tell the world without words whether you are available for a relationship or not.

More About The Irish Ring

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Thanks so much and warmest regards from Ireland from Susanna and Colm.

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