The Irish Claddagh Symbol is named for the Irish coastal town of Claddagh (pronounced “clawh-dah”), where the ring design is attributed to an ancient local legend. The now famous tale, about a townsman kidnapped into slavery, who returns to present a ring to his true love, is one of the most popular romantic tales of Ireland. Despite the romantic story, Claddagh rings are a traditional token of loyalty and friendship as well as romantic love.
The Claddagh design usually appears on rings, but is now used on all sorts of items, from jewelry to napkins to family crests. The hands in the design represent friendship, the heart, love, and the crown, loyalty. Various traditions ascribe different meanings to the ring, depending on how it is worn- as a wedding ring, it is worn on the left hand, with the heart pointed inward. As an engagement ring, it is worn on the right hand, with the heart pointing inward; for friendship, it is worn on the right hand, heart turned outward.
There is probably some relation between the claddagh and Norse “fede” (engagement/betrothal) rings, which sometimes depicted hands clasped around a heart.