Symbol of friendship, love or marriage, this piece of jewellery is as much loved as a tattoo as it is an icon of the Emerald Isle.

The Claddagh Ring; in Irish Gaelic “fáinne Chladaigh”) is the famous piece of jewellery which stands for love, friendship and loyalty.

It takes its name from Claddagh, a small fishing village in Galway Bay first settled way back in 1232. In Irish, the word “claddagh” refers to the “rocky sand” typical of that place.

Michael Munter, Hunter Gatherer Tattoo, Philadelphia, USA
Michael Munter, Hunter Gatherer Tattoo, Philadelphia, USA

The fishermen of Claddagh have always held with tradition and, over the course of the centuries, done everything in their power to preserve their beloved local symbols. This naturally included the Claddagh Ring.

Gaia Leone, Hardtimes Tattoo, Torino, Italy
Gaia Leone, Hardtimes Tattoo, Torino, Italy

It may be that the ring was first created in Roman times but has been handed down to us thanks to the mastery of Irish goldsmiths. The first examples (forged in gold, silver and bronze) are masterpieces of craftsmanship and can be found in the National Museum of Ireland and in London in the halls of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Whitt, W Tattoo, Tyler, USA
Whitt, W Tattoo, Tyler, USA

Nowadays the Claddagh has become a traditional wedding ring though this does not mean it has lost its use as a universal symbol of above all loyalty.

Normally it is passed down from generation to generation and this has made it a powerful symbol of connectedness with the past. During the dreadful famine in Ireland in the 19th century it became the only lasting link between the motherland Ireland and those Irish who emigrated to the United States to escape hunger and hardship. In fact this massive exodus to the West only consolidated the fame of the Claddagh Ring.

Kyle Behr, Integrity Tattoo, Royesford, USA
Kyle Behr, Integrity Tattoo, Royesford, USA

As we know, the Claddagh Ring takes the form of two hands clasping a heart surmounted by a crown. The hands symbolise friendship, the heart love and the crown loyalty. These meanings become more clear according to the way in which the ring is worn. In order to represtent friendship, the Claddagh is worn on the right hand with the point of the heart towards the fingertips. To indicate that the wearer is involved with somebody, it is still worn on the right hand, but with the point of the heart towards the wrist. Finally, for marriage it is worn on the left hand with the point of the heart towards the wrist.

Lucy Harrington, Girls Don't Cry Tattoo, Dublin, Ireland
Lucy Harrington, Girls Don’t Cry Tattoo, Dublin, Ireland

The original symbol of the Claddagh comes from ancient times of the gods of the Celts who walked the land before the arrival of men. Dagda (also known as Dagda-Mor) was the father of the gods and could even make the sun shine uninterruptedly for nine months during which time he conceived a child with one of the goddesses with whom he was madly in love.

Joe Pepper, Graceland Tattoo, Wappingers Falls, USA
Joe Pepper, Graceland Tattoo, Wappingers Falls, USA

Dagda, from this point of view, is the right hand of the Claddagh Ring. Anu (or Danu), the ancestress and universal mother of the Celts, represents the left hand. The crown is Beathauile (from “Beatha” meaning “life” and “Uile” the Gaelic word for “all”), meaning life as a whole, from birth to death. Finally, the heart represents the vital organ of each and every member of the universal human family.

Another interesting interpretation of the Claddagh Ring is connected with the Irish shamrock, one of the oldest symbols of the theological Trinity. In this version, the crown is the Father, the left hand is the Son and the right hand is the Holy Spirit. All concentrated and turned towards the heart at the centre which stands for humanity.