Which is Which: Luckenbooth vs. Claddagh

When it comes to Celtic symbolism, the devil really can be in the details. One small change could be the difference between the proposal of your dreams, and a life of spinsterhood caused solely by miscommunication. 

Terminology can transform an item from a purely decorative jewel to a substantial symbol and gesture of love. Ensuring that you are fully clued up on your vocabulary is imperative to help you invest in the best possible item.

It’s time to return to an age-old battle as Ireland takes on Scotland once more. Just what are the differences between Claddagh and Luckenbooth? Which is the best pick for your preference? And does the difference matter? Time to discover everything you never knew you needed to know!

So Which Is Which?

To better understand the differences, we need to make sure we are clear on what the terms themselves mean. There are several similarities between the two designs; they tend to focus primarily around love, loyalty, and friendship and are often exchanged as a sign of devotion. 

At the most basic level, the differences are geographical: Luckenbooth is Scottish, while Claddagh is Irish. The meanings of each also differ slightly, though there are recurrent themes in both: love and loyalty.

luckenbooth brooch

The Luckenbooth

Typically worn as a brooch, the Luckenbooth is a Scottish symbol, dating back to the 17th century. It consists of a heart or, more commonly, two hearts entwined, with a crown above. As you may expect, these represent love and loyalty, respectively. The Luckenbooth is usually given as a token of friendship, affection, or betrothal.

The History

 Trinkets bearing the symbol were commonly sold from shops – or ‘locked booths’ in the Royal Mile of Edinburgh. This association is where the shape received its famous name – ‘Luckenbooth.’ These were the first permanent shops to appear in the city, and from the 16th century were used to house trades such as jewelry makers. The first Luckenbooth symbol was likely on a brooch and would have been made from silver.


Initially, the brooches were tiny and exchanged between sweethearts upon their betrothal. As well as a token of affection, it was also thought to act as a lucky charm. Some wearers also sought protection against evil eyes. There were other powers; if attached to the skirt of a woman, the Luckenbooth could help ease the pain of childbirth and ensure a steady supply of breastmilk following birth. If pinned to the shawl of a baby, the symbol could also help to prevent fairies from stealing the child.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Luckenbooth symbol became larger and designs more elaborate. They began to include inscriptions on the back, depending on the nature of the gift. The initials of a couple and the date of their betrothal was usually included for weddings. Biblical references were also popular. 

The symbol remains a popular wedding gift to this day and is usually presented to the bride for luck and love throughout the marriage.

claddagh ring

The Claddagh

The Claddagh symbol has a similar story to tell. The image is instantly recognizable and consists of a heart enclosed by two hands, with a crown above the three. The hands symbolize friendship, the crown represents loyalty, and the heart – unsurprisingly – is a symbol for love. When rings are exchanged, the traditional expression is “Let love and friendship reign.”

The position of the symbol is crucial; it often appears on a ring. If worn on the right hand, with the point of the heart facing the fingertips, the wearer is single. If, however, the point of the heart is facing the knuckles, the wearer is married or taken. 

claddagh earrings

The History

The first Claddagh symbols worn as jewelry began as rings, back in the 17th century. According to legend, the Claddagh symbol was used as an alert system for natives in the town of Claddagh, a fishing community close to Galway. 

The sailors from the village would display the symbol on clothing and the sails of ships, which showed that they had permission to fish. Any foreign vessels caught fishing would face death for their entire crew. 

Some tales also attribute the Claddagh to a Galway native, Richard Joyce. He was prohibited from marrying his lover after being captured at sea and sold to a Moorish goldsmith. During his capture, he learned the craft of goldsmithing and was freed following a decree from Willian III. 

His captor was impressed with Joyce’s manners and respectful nature and offered his daughter’s hand in marriage as a persuasion for him to stay. Still besotted with his betrothed, however, Joyce returned to Galway and proposed using the Claddagh ring he had created while in captivity. 

Some favor an alternative style of Claddagh symbol, known as the Fenian Claddagh Ring. This design is said to have originated in Dublin over a century ago. It differs from a traditional Claddagh thanks to a lack of crown and a single pair of hands. 

Now, the Claddagh is a symbol seen on all manner of items. Jewelry such as necklaces, brooches, and rings are the most prominent, but the image can also be woven into clothing, added to homeware, or included in art. 

claddagh wedding ring

Which To Choose?

If you are stuck between designs, the choice is inherently personal. You may pick the option which is the closest fit to your heritage, or that of your significant other. Perhaps you feel an affinity to Ireland over Scotland or vice versa, or are looking to commemorate a particular location or memory.

The two symbols were traditionally presented in different forms; the Luckenbooth as a brooch, and the Claddagh as a ring. It is possible, therefore, to celebrate both symbols in harmony and allow two ancient traditions of love, loyalty, and friendship to reign. These are images designed to be shared with someone you love, and so an excess of these qualities can only be a good thing!

Regardless of your final selection, wear it with pride, and fully grasp the rich and varied histories and stories behind each symbol. Most importantly, remember to wear your Claddagh ring the correct way round, or you could find yourself staying single for longer than you anticipated…


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