This area of Galway city, once a fishing village, is renowned as the origin of the traditional Claddagh ring. Its design, two hands together upon a heart with a crown on top, signifies love, loyalty, and friendship.
Claddagh RingsCladdagh rings are passed down through the generations by female family members. Unmarried women wear them with the heart facing outward, while married women wear them with the heart facing inward.
The Legend of the Claddagh Ring
Legend has it that the ring was invented by a local Claddagh man, Richard Joyce, who was captured by pirates in the late 1600s. While working for his Algerian captors, he learned their metallurgy skills. Returning to Galway after 17 years, he presented a ring he had fashioned to his sweetheart, who had waited for him -- and he became a successful goldsmith. Since this legend is oral, it is unclear how much of it is myth, but Joyce certainly existed, as did piracy, and he did produce Claddagh rings, which were indeed associated with the people of Claddagh. Joyce's initials have been found on at least one of earliest examples of a Claddagh Ring, dating to around 1700. However, other Claddagh rings from that period also exist, and they bear the mark of another goldsmith, named Thomas Meade, who lived in Kinsale (County Cork) from 1689 to 1730, casting doubt on the Joyce legend.
Claddagh Village History
The village of Claddagh, named from Cladach, meaning "stony or marshy ground" was a small, close-knit, Irish-speaking community. A fishing village, it was situated just outside the walls of Galway city, and some historians believe it predates the city itself. The Claddagh fishermen sailed a small sailboat called a hooker, and they sold their fishing hauls at an area in Galway city near Claddagh known as the Spanish Arch -- which remains popular as a congregating / chilling out area for Galway's many young inhabitants and visitors today. The Claddagh remained isolated and independent up until around the 1930s, when the villagers' traditional thatched cottages were replaced with contemporary houses and many of the villages old traditions gradually disappeared. The rings have always remained popular and, more recently, descendants of the Claddagh have revived another old custom -- annually electing a "king of the Claddagh", an honourary role.
Old boat on the Claddagh. Image by Eoin Gardener
Claddagh Ring Shop in Galway. Image by Alessandro Farese
A Claddagh Ring. Image by Lisa Clarke