How to Look at a Claddagh Ring

Claddagh Ring
MacKerricher, Courtney. Open Heart. 2018. Electronic image.

© Copyright 2018 Courtney MacKerricher, Ryerson University.

Every ring has a story; whether you wear it daily or specifically for special occasions, it serves a purpose. Some wear rings to demonstrate their wealth, while others wear them to symbolize their love for a significant other. Some even wear the ugliest of rings because their best friend got it for them for their birthday. So, in the attempt of not wanting to hurt their feelings, they sit through Sunday morning brunches with the ring on their finger, calculating the minutes until they can take it off again.

Fortunately, Claddagh rings usually fit into the category of demonstrating admiration for another. They are rings that signify the characteristics of: friendship, loyalty, and love. Each element of the ring holds value to these three attributes: the two hands as a symbol for friendship, a crown for loyalty, and at the centre of the ring, a heart for love. These symbols are not just welded pieces of sterling silver, they are an indicator of a journey.

Created hundreds of years ago, a Claddagh is the Irish rendition of an Italian Fede ring. Though most commonly associated with marriage and engagement, Irish Mothers tend to give their daughters these rings as symbols of loving direction. Many contain engravings such as “grá mo chroí” translating to “love of my heart” or even “is breá an saol,” meaning to “love life”.

Typically, Claddagh rings are given to others to highlight a significant moment in a relationship: a wedding, an anniversary, or even a week after meeting someone who made you feel weak in the knees. When worn for several years, a Claddagh ring begins to show its age, especially when they are only made of silver and do not have embedded jewels. Wearing it upside down, as a sign of openness to love, tends to damage the ring more than if it is right side up. This is due to the ring’s crown getting caught in clothing, or its heart’s convex appearance scratching along the edges of tables, counters, and several other surfaces.

Each ring is specific to its owner. The scratches indicated on the heart of the ring, occurred when it was thrown across a room, after experiencing the death of the owner’s significant other. Most of the scratches are hard to witness in the photo and can only be seen as wounds hidden by the heart. Emotional pain cannot always be captured through facial features; thus, a Claddagh has the ability of orchestrating this emotions through its physical positioning.

When a Claddagh ring is taken off, it provides a warning sign, a signal of complication. Like a bell ringing to a lover that his relationship is in trouble. Claddagh rings placed anywhere but the finger demonstrate a signal of internal struggle. A fingerless ring indicates that the owner does not know whether they are still in love, or if they should be single.  Its hands clasp only the heart and not the finger of the lover. It encapsulates the emptiness of the room in juxtaposition to the lover’s heart.


Works Cited

Elkins, James. “How to Use Your Eyes.” (2000)

MacKerricher, Courtney. Open Heart. 2018. Electronic image.

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.