Irish Claddagh Rings: A Love Token for your Gaelic Man

by JoHarrington

Originating from Galway, in Ireland, Claddagh rings were historically worn by men. They were clues towards love and friendship (and politics).

Freedom pounds its bodhran beat in the heart of the Irish. Even when the flame is kept alive only in rebellion, it will never go out.

That fierce pride finds its expression in ways that you might not imagine. In the songs, the poetry and the bloody struggles to be sure. But also in romance.

The humble Claddagh ring has a lot to tell you about the gentleman wearing it. Not least, it will direct you to the keeper of his heart.

Claddagh Ring
Claddagh Ring

As Irish people have spread across the world, they have taken the tradition of the Claddagh ring with them.

Men and women alike have worn them, but for the purists it should only be the men.

Historian Ida Delamar researched the ring and discovered that all of the earliest versions were too wide to have been worn by the ladies. It was the Gaelic men who were wearing their hearts on their sleeves.

It is a romantic heritage that invokes images of 18th century Irish men casting out for love in the same way they caught their fish.

This is because the Claddagh ring isn't merely a piece of jewellery. The way that it is displayed can tell a lot about this Galway boy. The design is loaded with symbolism. The heart indicates whether and how they are in love, while the clasped hands talk about friendship and loyalty.

Even the crown above has its meaning, though this one is political. More about that in a moment, though the major clue is that the Fenian rings omit that feature entirely.

A Gaelic man passing along the street would be like a walking advertisement to the ladies that he met. She could tell, at just a glance at his fingers, whether it was worth flirting with him. She knew before she ever gave him the eye whether he was already attached, and to what degree, and where his national interests lay. She might even be able to guess his religion and what kind of a life they might expect together.

Of course, wives and girlfriends would also want their man to wear one. It announced to the world, loud and clear, that he was taken. Everyone else could just look elsewhere.

All that just from a ring.

How Should You Wear Your Claddagh Ring?

This Irish ring isn't just jewellery. It can be used to send a message to the world about your romantic availability.

Treat Your Irish Man to a Gents Claddagh Ring

Buy a gift, full of Gaelic charm, to show love like they do on the Emerald Isle.

The Politics of the Claddagh Ring

With the English making all of the rules, Claddagh men had a stark choice - king OR country.

The earliest existing Claddagh rings all date from the 1700s, though there is some evidence that they were being used before. It is only the solid gold jewellery that has survived and they all bear a crown.

Of course, the impoverished Irishmen wouldn't have been able to afford such fine metal. Their rings would have been cheaper, hand-made and lost to history. How many of them would have shown just the heart and hands alone?

Ireland entered the 18th century having suffered defeat at the Battle of the Boyne. The British were in charge and with them came the Penal Laws.

In a country where the majority were Gaelic speaking and Catholic, these two attributes set them at a disadvantage. No Catholic could legally vote or hold office. The language of government was English. By the end of the century, the entirety of Ireland had been divided between British land-owners.

For the native Irish, allegiances became a matter of life and death. They did have the choice of converting to Protestantism and learning English. They would have to raise their children to disdain all things Gaelic, despite their own ethnicity. Even then, opportunities would remain limited with preference in all things being given to British workers emigrating to Ireland.

Those Irish who opted to keep their own language and culture were punished. Their land was seized and they had to pay rent to their new English overlords. The cost was kept high enough to plunge the Irish families into abject poverty.

Naturally the Irish continued to fight back. This was the era of the Whiteboys and Wolfe Tone. It was a century that ended with a massive pitched battle, between the English and Irish in Wexford. The spirit of rebellion never did die, for all that the British did in retaliation, and eventually the country was won back as the Republic of Ireland.

The Claddagh rings became highly popular during the backdrop of this bitter 18th century struggle. Those men adding a crown to their rings were stating loud and clear that they supported British rule. The Fenian Claddagh rings were worn by men prepared to starve or die, living the rest of their lives in poverty and persecution, rather than give up their Gaelic heritage. They did not accept the right of the British to rule over Ireland. They did not wear the crown.

Fenian Claddagh Rings for Men

Romance over Politics: The Claddagh Ring Today

Since the 1840s, this most Irish of love tokens has been worn by men and women alike. It is now just about marriage and courtship.

Before 1841, the Claddagh ring was unknown outside the twelve miles surrounding the village of Claddagh, in County Galway. Then a journalist and his wife published a three volume series of books, entitled Ireland, its Scenery, Character etc, which was widely read throughout the English speaking world.

Mr and Mrs Samuel Carter Hall described the ring as something worn by women. They said that each example had been passed from mother to her eldest married daughter, as an heirloom. There was no mention at all of the political nature that could be incorporated. They made it seem like every ring bore a crown.

Their observations are largely discredited now, but the idea of the Claddagh ring being feminine has lingered into the modern day. Throughout the world, but especially in Ireland, they are sold to both men and women.

Claddagh rings can be presented as tokens of friendship, but more commonly they are given to a romantic partner.  Those with even a drop of Irish blood in their veins are increasingly using them as wedding rings.

If you have a beloved man to buy a gift for, then this would be the perfect option. You will be telling all who know the symbolism that he is most definitely attached to you.

Brighten up your wall with a poster of Claddagh Quay

Long Walk View from Claddagh Quay, Galway Town, County Galway, Connacht, Eire (Ireland)

Do you wear a Claddagh Ring?

How to Say I Love You to your Irish Sweetheart

The native language of Ireland is Gaelic. Before you hand over the Claddagh Ring, equip yourself with these romantic words and phrases.

According to the 2010 census, 1.7 million people in Ireland are fluently speaking their native language. This figure is growing by the day, as all children now learn it in school.

There are many more people outside the country, in the United States and Britain especially, who have at least a few words in Gaeilge. The Irish diaspora took more than their Claddagh ring traditions with them. They took their language too!

You can add to their number by learning a few romantic words and phrases.

English Irish Gaelic Phonetically

I love you 


Is tú mo ghrá Iss too moh guh-raw

I love you


Gráim thú Graw-him hoo
My pulse

(used as my darling)

Mo chuisle Moh khish-la

My dear

Mo Mhuirnín Moh wer-neen

My love

Mo ghrá Moh guh-raw

Will you marry me?

An bpósfaidh tú mé? Un bose-ah too may


Please note that, in Irish Gaelic, the word for 'my' can change, if you're talking to your lover.  'Mo' is the correct word, but the more informal 'a' is usually used instead. For example, 'mo chuisle' becomes 'a chuisle', when saying it aloud, rather than writing it down. 'A' is pronounced 'ah'.

Enjoy inserting a little Gaelic love into your life!

More Claddagh Rings Designed for Men

Purchase a love token from Ireland's green shores. It will tell everyone that he is yours!

Meet Fellow Wizzley Author Katiem2

She's got an article for you about how Claddagh rings can be given to the ladies too!

There are lots of wonderful writers in Wizzley.  They encourage, advise and share a laugh with the whole community.

But none more so than the 'big, beating heart of Wizzley' herself: Katie!

She's also been writing about Claddagh rings, with some truly gorgeous examples to share with you.  I personally have my eye on the Alexandrite gem ring, just in case anyone was thinking of proposing. ;)

Check out her Wizzle to learn more about the legends connected with this style of Irish jewelry, as well as how women may wear them too.

The Irish Claddagh ring is given as a symbol of loyalty, friendship and or love. Get the best deals on Claddagh rings here in a wide range of the most popular assortments.

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Updated: 03/05/2014, JoHarrington
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


JoHarrington on 08/06/2012

I'm glad that you liked it. Did you learn how to say the Irish terms of endearment?

I do love history in all its forms, but especially social history. When I'm writing actual history Wizzles ( I do try to find the more unusual stories. They're the ones which are the most fun to research and, I hope, to read!

Thank you for reading.

Mira on 08/06/2012

What a wonderful, well-researched and well-written article! That bit of Gaelic at the end was the cherry on the cake. A bit of social history showing rings were worn by men, a bit of political history to make us understand why the crown may or may not be there, the book that made these rings popular for both men and women . . . wonderful! Look forward to your next piece :-).

JoHarrington on 08/05/2012

Thank you very much! And it's a pleasure.

katiem2 on 08/05/2012

This is amazing advice on how to give a guy a Claddagh ring. Many chic's do pop the question to the man they love, this is a great guide and a perfect complimentary article to mine, rings for women. Thank you for highlighting me on your page, you are such a great Wizzley author and friend. I'm both thrilled and honored to be included. :)K

JoHarrington on 01/23/2012

Ever since the Carter Hall books made them popular (1841-43) women have been wearing them too. That's pretty much a tradition of its own now.

I'm glad that you found this interesting.

Kari on 01/23/2012

Very interesting. I knew of the symbolism of the ring itself, but not the position and hand info. I was also unaware it was originally intended for men. Interesting to know. :)

JoHarrington on 01/23/2012

You're a woman after my own heart. Things like this fascinate me no end. It's nice to find a subject which I can share with others too!

Thank you for commenting.

AJ on 01/23/2012

I love pages like this about old customs and culture.

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