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Traditionally, Claddaghs are expressions of love and friendship. Like most traditional symbols, the origin of the Claddagh has been obscured by the passage of time. It is almost certainly from the Irish fishing village of Claddagh, near Galway. Some stories say that a Claddagh ring was found on the hand of a sailor of a Spanish galleon that went down near the Irish coast. Others say the design was brought back from the Crusades by a young man captured by the Saracens.
Whatever its history, the Claddagh has become an enduring symbol of affection. The heart in the center of the design represents love, the hands that surround it represent friendship, and the crown at the top (if present) is symbolic of fidelity. Claddaghs are worn on the left hand, facing inward, if your heart is spoken for. If you are unattached, wear the ring on your right hand, facing outward.
The Irish Claddagh Ring is made of sterling silver. It measures just a hair over 3/8" wide, from the base of the heart to the top of the crown. How do I pronounce "Claddagh"? "Clah-dah" is pretty close, but purists add a little choky, guttural sound at the "gh" that really doesn't have a counterpart in English.
Are claddaghs always gifted from a lover to their sweetheart? Often, but not always. It's also common for such rings to be handed down from a parent to a child.