The Claddagh Ring is believed to have originated in the fishing village situated near the "shore" or "Claddagh" of Galway Bay.
The Claddagh outside the City Walls, and further separated by the River Corrib, was exclusive community or fisher-folk forbidden to use spade or hoe and ruled by a periodically-elected "King" whose sole distinguishing mark was his right to use a white sail on his fishing hooker.
The ring shows two hands holding a heart which wears a crown. This motif is explained in the phrase: "Let Love and Friendship reign", and ideal poesy for a wedding ring used by a small community for over four hundred years.
This distinctive design is associated with one of the Tribes of Galway, the Joyce family. Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spaniard, who, when he died, left her his fortune, which she subsequently used to build bridges in the Province of Connacht.
Margaret, who later married Oliver Of Ffrench, Mayor of Galway 1596, was providentially rewarded for her good works and charity by an eagle which dropped a gold ring into her lap. This fanciful legend had a more factual opponent in the story of Richard Joyce, or Joyces.
Richard en route to the West Indies, was captured by Algerian corsairs and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him.
Released from slavery in 1689, at the demand of William III of England, Joyce, in spite of substantial inducement to stay, returned to Galway and set up as a goldsmith. His work marked with an anchor signifying Hope and initials R.I. still exists.
The Claddagh Ring motif is attributed to him.
The Claddagh Ring became popular outside the Claddagh about the middle of the last century, especially as it was the only ring made in Ireland worn by Queen Victoria and later by Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII.
These rings were made and supplied by Dillon of Galway to whom the Royal Patent was granted. This tradition has been carried on to this day.
On the occasion of the visit of Our Lady's Choral Society top Monaco in 1962, a brooch and cuff-links in 18 carat gold, embodying the Claddagh motif, and set with Connemara marble, were presented to Their Serene Highnesses, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco.
Many firms make different versions of the Claddagh Ring. Dillon of Galway is the only firm still in existence since 1750 making the Original Ring at 1, William Street, Galway.
The ring grows daily in popularity because of its unique design, peculiar history, sentimental appeal and close association with ancient Claddagh of Galway on the River Corrib.
The tradition of how to wear this ring is very distinctive. If the owner of the ring wears it with the crown pointing towards the finger nail, he or she is said to be in love or married. To wear the ring with heart pointing to the finger nail, he or she is said to be unattached to anyone.