The Claddagh Ring
Known worldwide as a symbol of love and friendship, the delicate Claddagh (pronounced Clod-uh) ring is probably a design you’ll recognize, even if the name is new to you—the symbol of two hands holding a heart topped with a crown. Over the years this iconic design has also become a symbol for Ireland and its diaspora.
Claddagh rings first appeared sometime in the 17th century, although the design was based on a much older European tradition, dating back to Roman times. The hands are said to represent friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart love—the three ingredients of a perfect marriage.
Originally, the ring was a wedding band worn facing out for engagement and facing in for marriage. Though no longer widely worn as a symbol of marriage, it is still frequently worn as a friendship ring and makes a lovely memento. The first rings were made in Galway—or more precisely, just over the Father Griffin Bridge, on the west bank of the River Corrib, in the town of Claddagh. It’s now a residential satellite to Galway, but in ancient times it was a kingdom with its own laws, fleet, and customs.
Thomas Dillon’s jewelry store on Quay Street claims to be the original creator of the Claddagh ring—it has been doing a roaring trade in the traditional souvenirs since 1750.
By the 15th century, 14 wealthy merchant families ruled Galway Town, giving it a nickname it still bears today—“City of Tribes.” These families, mostly of Welsh and Norman origin, ruled as an oligarchy. As you walk around Galway City, look for these names on storefronts and businesses: Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Deane, Font, French, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris, and Skerret.
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