How to Wear a Claddagh Ring

In honour of the up-coming Irish holiday, an account of tough, stubborn Irish spirit: I wear on my right hand a Claddagh Ring.

Pronounced “Ka-la-da,” the ring originated in its namesake Irish Fishing Village, Claddagh, located just outside the city of Galway, Ireland. (Some of you might remember a movie called PS I Love You in which cryptic letters are sent from beyond the grave to a widow. The fictional couple met in the town of Galway. This is unfortunately the memory triggered when I hear “Galway” as opposed to actual real life memories of the place…. which in this instance would have been far more poetic a connection to draw.)


Originally the ring was given as a token of friendship, love or marriage, and you would wear the ring to reflect your “status” in life:

  • Right hand ring finger with the heart pointing outwards if you are single;
  • Right hand ring finger with the heart pointing inwards if you are taken;
  • Left ring finger and heart pointing outwards if you are engaged to be married;
  • Left ring finger and heart pointed inwards, married.

These traditional ring-wearing rules are more common knowledge then you would assume, yet for a while I blindly went about my life in a state of "Claddagh ring ignorance". At the same time I had also managed to overlook rules about plain old engagement rings, because since acquiring, I had been wearing the ring on my left hand ring finger. A slight oversight on my part.

Of course this changed quickly after someone in a bar in Toronto asked me  “Are you really engaged?”

Unfortunately the question had been stated in such a way that he sounded skeptical, as opposed to hopeful that I was still single… My internal responsive dialogue to this:

“What. Don’t I look like I could be engaged?”

In fact, I’ll tell you, it’s actually quite a lovely story of self-empowerment, the way I came to wear the ring.

I purchased it. For myself. When I was traveling in Ireland.

On closer speculation ... it's mostly a straight forward story and rather a tad on the “Eat, Pray, Love” side of the narrative spectrum. (If you have read the book, you might know what I mean.)

Despite this fact and my desire to avoid all instances of anything "self-discovery", I often use it as my response of choice and I dress the story up with wildly colourful and narrative details of picking it out in a quaint little village when people ask why I wear it or "who gave you the ring?" Please understand this sort of response is a necessary defense mechanism in a family like mine.

(Disclaimer: I wish these comments were made up, but they are all so so sadly true)

“Emily… so nice to see you… it’s been so long… now let me see your left hand. What STILL no engagement ring?? Tut tut” (How timely. You have managed to ask me that the weekend after I’ve been broken up with.)

“Emily your younger (read: younger then you) cousin wants to know when you were given your Claddagh ring. He’s wondering at what point in his relationship with his girlfriend it would be appropriate to give her one. He wants it to really mean something.”

And my *personal* favorite:

“Emily who gave you the Claddagh ring?” I respond: “Oh, well I bought it for myself when I was traveling in Ireland.” “What? You couldn’t have afforded to travel to Ireland!” (Somehow irrelevant.. and you are missing the point. I did travel to Ireland)

My sister was given a beautiful Irish family heirloom Claddagh ring that had been in her husband’s family for a few generations. So yes, the Claddagh ring to me is about friendship, love and marriage.

BUT if you must know, to me it’s also a souvenir. And a sore point of contention at family gatherings.

And I will also take this moment to add that yes, on occasion, it has helped me channel my fiery, stubborn Irish heritage.