Usage and symbolism of the Claddagh Ring
The Claddagh's distinctive design features two hands clasping a heart, and usually surmounted by a crown. The elements of this symbol are often said to correspond to the qualities of love (the heart), friendship (the hands), and loyalty (the crown). A Claddagh ring, without a crown, is a slightly different take on the design. Claddagh rings, with (more commonly than not) or without the crown, are relatively popular among the Irish and those of Irish heritage, such as Irish Americans, as culture symbols and/or as symbols of engagement, marriage, or love.
Claddagh rings are often used as friendship rings but are most commonly used as engagement/wedding rings. Mothers also give these rings to daughters when they come of age. When the hands that hold the heart are angled towards the girl, that means she is taken, when the heart faces out, the girl is single. This has become common largely due to the sentimental motto: "This is my heart which I give to you crowned with my love." Also associated with the ring is this wish: "Let love and friendship reign." In Ireland, the United States, and other places, the Claddagh is handed down mother-to-eldest daughter or grandmother-to-granddaughter. According to Irish author Colin Murphy, the way in which a Claddagh ring was worn with the intention of conveying the wearer's relationship status:
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is single and may be looking for love. (This is most commonly the case when a young woman has first received the ring from a relative, unless she is already engaged.)
- On the right hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is in a relationship.
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the fingertips, the wearer is engaged.
- On the left hand with the point of the heart toward the wrist, the wearer is married.
There are other localised variations in the traditions involving the hand and the finger upon which the Claddagh is worn. Folklore about the ring is relatively recent, not ancient, with "very little native Irish writing about the ring". Hence, the difficulty today in finding any source that describes or explains the traditional ways of wearing the ring.