The enduring symbol of Irish affection, the Claddagh is a heart being held by a pair of hands with a crown above. The two hands represent friendship, the crown-loyalty, the heart-love.
The Claddagh ring is worn worldwide by the Irish, either on the right hand with the heart pointed outwards showing that the wearer is "free" for romance, or with the heart turned inwards to denote that his or her heart is "taken". Moved to the left hand, with the heart facing inwards, it shows that the wearer is happily married.
The original expression which accompanied the passage of the "Claddagh" was: "With these hands I give you my heart and I crown it with my love."
The ring was developed by Richard Joyce, native of Galway. He was stolen away on his wedding day, and while being transported to the plantations of the Moorish West Indies as a slave was captured by pirates in the Mediterranean. Sold to a goldsmith in Italy, he made this ring and sent it home to his bride-to-be, asking her to wait for him. He was set free in 1689 and he returned to Galway to marry his loyal beloved, and to set up shop as a jeweler.
A Dublin version of this ring appeared about 100 years ago with two hearts and two hands and no crown. This is the Fenian Claddagh.