The Claddagh ring (Irish: fáinne Chladaigh) is a traditional Irish ring given which represents love, loyalty and friendship (hands represent friendship, heart represents love, crown represents loyalty). The design and customs associated with it originated in the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, located just outside the old city walls of Galway, now part of Galway City. The ring as we know it was first produced in the 17th century.
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 "Fenian" Claddagh ring, without a crown, is a slightly different take on the design. Claddagh rings, with or without the crown (most commonly with a crown), have come to denote pride in Irish heritage, while continuing to be symbols of love or marriage.
Claddagh rings are often used as friendship rings, but are most commonly used as engagement/wedding rings. In Ireland, America and other places, the Claddagh is handed down mother-to-daughter or grandmother-to-granddaughter. The way a Claddagh ring was worn on the hand was usually intended to convey the wearer's relationship status, according to Irish author Colin Murphy:
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 (suggesting their heart has been "captured").
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.