Claddaugh: A Symbol of Celtic Love

Valentine’s Day is one of those agnostic holidays– it started off as a celebration of Catholicism (with the belief that St. Valentine himself married Christians despite the pagan, Roman government of the time). But now, it belongs to lovers everywhere. And that can include you and your sweetheart too. If you’re tired of the overwrought and boring Hallmark cards, the chocolate and giant plushies, or if you think that that celebration of love doesn’t really suit you– don’t worry. Alehorn’s got your back.

One thing we get asked a LOT is, “What symbol can I put on a drinking horn to tell someone that I love them?” And honestly? Can we just say that we love the idea of telling someone you love them with a drinking horn? Like, how boss is that? Who needs diamonds or roses when you could have something both elegant and useful? But we also get the question of, “What kind of symbol can I give a friend to let them know that I love them, too?”

There are a large number of symbols perfect for love, but the one that we really… well… LOVE… is the Claddagh. You may have seen a Claddagh around, but usually in the form of a ring. It looks like this:

Two hands holding a heart wearing a crown. Kind of strange, right? But each part holds a great signifigance to lovers. Read on.

The Village of Claddagh
Claddagh (pronounced, “clad-ahh”) is a small village in Ireland, not far from the beautiful city of Galway. The area has been home to humans for thousands of years, and its name comes from the Old Irish word for, “The Shore.”

In this village, a fisherman was due to be married, but before the ceremony could happen, he was captured by pirates. Sound familiar?

It may very well be the basis of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, but who can say? Throughout his time away from his beloved, this fisherman was loyal to her. Even as he gained the attention of his master and was offered the man’s beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage, he still thought of the girl he’d left behind.

And one day, many years later, when he finally returned, he found that she, too, had been loyal. They were married and he presented her with the first Claddagh ring.

The Tradition of Claddagh
It’s such a distinctive symbol, you may be wondering what the Claddagh means. It seems pretty straight forward at first:
– The Crown: loyalty
– The Hands: friendship
– The Heart: love

All three of these things seem pretty simple at first. Loyalty is obviously a big necessity on many peoples’ lists of what they look for in love. But don’t discount the addition of friendship. Friendship is unerringly important in love. You shouldn’t be with someone who you’re just attracted to. You should be with someone who is your friend– who shares your interests, who enjoys your banter, and who generally makes your time on this earth worth living.

Additionally, the Claddagh represents love in friendship and the idea that it’s important to love your friends. Everyone can say they love their friends, sure, but do they show it? How best do you show your love to your friends?

It also presents an idea that is not extremely popular even in the modern day: that we should love our beloved not just as our spouse or partner, but as a friend. You need to have things in common with them that you can enjoy together. You need to feel comfortable turning to them for advice and reassurance. You need to feel comfortable bringing to them you grievances and knowing that you can work together to move forward.

And it also speaks of the friendship and love inherent in loyalty. A king can’t ask for the loyalty of his subjects unless he loves them and is loved by them. And he can’t be loyal to them unless he seeks their best interests– as a friend.

The Claddagh is a three-way street. Each item– loyalty, friendship, and love– is made complete only by the other two. No matter what type of relationship it is made to represent– romance, friendship, or even that between a king/queen and their people– the Claddagh makes us acknowledge the importance of each kind of relationship in our lives.

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Claddaugh: A Symbol of Celtic Love