The design elements of the Claddagh are often said to relate to the qualities of love-the heart, friendship-the hands, and loyalty-the crown. The circular shape of the ring stands for eternity.
Claddagh is the name of the small fishing village in Galway, where this unique symbol first originated over 400 years ago. It was said to be the symbol of the King of Claddagh and was worn by the fishermen of the village. When they came across other fishermen in their waters the ring was used as a form of identification. One of the less plausible legends is that one of the Kings, suffering from unrequited love, had his hands chopped off and placed around his heart as a symbol of his undying love.
In later centuries the ring became a fashionable token for friends and lovers to give each other. With the famine of 1847 through 1849, the ring spread across the Atlantic to North America and beyond as Irish people emigrated in search of a better life. Claddagh rings often became family heirlooms and were handed down for generations or used as wedding rings.