Category Archives: Claddagh History

The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway (1820)

Extract from “The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway From the Earliest Period to the Present Time“, 1820, By James Hardiman, Esc. (Member of the Royal Irish Academy and Sub-commissioner on the Public Records).

Map of Old Galway Hardiman’s Map of Galway

Joyes or Joce

This old Galway family is of ancient and honourable English descent, and was allied to the Welch and British princes. Thomas Joyes, the first of the name that came to Ireland, sailed from Wales in the reign of Edward I, and arrived with this fleet at Thomond in Munster, where he married Onorah O’Brien, daughter of the chief of that district; from thence, putting to sea, he directed his course to the western part of Connaught, where he acquired considerable tracts of territory, which his posterity still inhabit. While on the voyage, his wife was delivered of a son, whom he named Mac Mara, son of the sea, he extended his father’s acquisitions, and from him descended the sept of the Joyces, a race of men remarkable for their extraordinary stature, who, for centuries past inhabited the mountainous district, in Iar Connaught, called from them, Duthaidh Sheodhoigh, or Joyce country, now forming the barony of Ross, in the County of Galway, and from which where formerly tributary to the O’Flaherties.38 Walter Jorse, Jorze or Joyce, brother of Thomas, Cardinal of Sabina, of this name and family, was Archbishop of Armagh, he resigned in 1311, and was succeeded by his brother Roland. The former was confessor to Edward II. and was author of several works.39 The families of Joyes-grove in the County of Galway, Oxford in Mayo, and Woodquay in the town of Galway, with that of Merview, near the town, are the present descendants of this old family.

Arms. Argent, an eagle displayed, with two necks, gules, over all Fess Ermine.  Crest. A demi wolf-rampant, argent, ducally gorged, or.40  Motto, Mors aut honorabilis vita.


38 Mac Mara Joyes was first married to the daughter of O’Flathery, prince of Iar Connaught. The most remarkable of his descendants, besides the above, was William Joyes, who was married to Agnes Morris, being on his travels from Italy to Greece, he was taken prisoner by the Saracens, and brought to Africa, from whence, after a variety of adventures, and undergoing a captivity of seven years, he escaped to Spain; while here, his exalted virtues were rewarded by heaven according to the pedigree of the family, in an extraordinary manner; for, as they relate, an eagle flying over his head, pointed out to him a place, where he discovered vast treasures; with which returning to Galway, he contributed larges sums towards building the walls, church and other public edifices of the town. He dies, leaving three sons James, Henry and Robert, and was interred in the Franciscan friary.

Heaven was again propitious to another of this family; Margaret Joyes, great grand daughter of the above names William, who was surnamed, Margaret na Drehide, Margaret of the Bridges, from the great number which she built. The story of this singular woman is till current amongst her descendants. They relate she was born of reduced but genteel parents and was first married to Domingo de Roma, a wealthy Spanish merchant who traded to Galway, where, he fell in love with, and married her; and soon after departing for Spain, died there, leaving her mistress of an immense property. Upon his decease, having no issue by him, she married Oliver Oge Ffrench, who was Mayor of Galway in 1596. So far the narrative is probable and consistent but what follows will try the credulity of the reader. It relates that this lady, during the absence of her second husband, on a voyage, erected most part of the bridges of the Province of Connaught, at her own expense! and, that as she was one day sitting before the workmen, an eagle, flying over her head, let fall into her palm, a gold ring adorned with a brilliant stone, the nature of which no lapidary could ever discover. It was preserved by her descendants, as a most valuable relique in 1661 (the date of the MS. from which this account is taken,) as a mark supposed to have been sent from Heaven of its approbation of her good works and charity!! This fable though still piously believed, by some of this family, was humorously ridiculed by Latocaaye, an incredulous French traveller, who visited Galway about the end of the last century.

Cornet Joyes commanded the guard that conducted Charles I to the scaffold, but it does not appear that he was of this descent.

Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III. from the following circumstance, on the accession of that monarch to the throne of England. One of the first acts of his reign was to send an ambassador to Algiers to demand the immediate release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery, the dey and council, intimidated, reluctantly complied with this demand. Among those released, was a young man of the name of Joyes, a native of Galway, who, fourteen years before, was captured on his passage to the West Indies, by an Algerine Corsair; on his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who observing his slave, Joyes, to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade in which he speedily became an adept. The Moor, as soon as he heard of his release, offered him, in case he should remain, his only daughter in marriage, and with her, half his property, but all these, with other tempting and advantageous proposals, Joyes resolutely declined; on his return to Galway he married, and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success, and , having acquired a handsome independence, he was enabled to purchased the estate of Rahoon, (which lies about two miles west of the town,) from Colonel Whaley, one of Cromwell’s old officers. Joyes, having no son, bequeather his property to his three daughters, two of whom only were married, one, to Andrew Roe French, ancestor to the late Andrew French, of Rahoon, to whom, in addition to their own, the unmarried sister left her third; the second daughter was married to the ancestor of the late Martin Lynch, a banker, who, in her right, inherited the remainder of the estate. In gratitude for this act of King William, this family long after solemnised his accession to the throne by bonfires, and his victories in Ireland by exhibiting Orange lilies, on the 1st and 12th of July. Some of Joyes’ silver work, stamped with his mark, and the initial letters of his name, are still remaining. A very curious pedigree of this family, is recorded in the Office of Arms. Vol. 10.

39 Ware and De Burgo.

40 This is the crest on the map, that now used, is a Demi Griffin, sergeant.

The Letters of “Norah” on her Tour Through Ireland (1882)

The Claddagh was a great disappointment to me. I heard that it was not safe to venture into it alone. I got up early and had sunshine with me when I strolled through the Claddagh. I saw no extreme poverty there. Most of the houses were neatly whitewashed; all were superior to the huts among the ruins at Athenry. The people were very busy, very comfortably clothed, and, in a way, well-to-do looking. Some of the houses were small and windowless, something the shape of a beehive, but not at all forlornly squalid. They make celebrated fleecy flannel here in Claddagh. They make and mend nets. They fish. I saw some swarthy men of foreign look, in seamen’s clothes, standing about. You will see beauty here of the swarthy type, accompanied by flashing black eyes and blue black hair, but I saw lasses with lint white locks also in the Claddagh. The testimony of all here is that the Claddagh people are a quiet, industrious, temperate and honest race of people. I am inclined to believe that myself. It is a pretty large district and I wandered through it without hearing one loud or one profane word. I was agreeably disappointed in the Claddagh. Claddagh has a church and large school of its own.

There is difference perceptible to me, but hardly describable between the Galway men and the rest of the West. The expression of face among the Donegal peasantry is a patience that waits. The Mayo men seem dispirited as the Leitrim men also do, but are capable of flashing up into desperation. The Galway men seem never to have been tamed. The ferocious O’Flaherties, the fierce tribes of Galway, the dark Spanish blood, have all left their marks on and bequeathed their spirit to the men of Galway. I met one or two who, like some of the Puritans, believed that killing was not murder, who urged that if the law would not deter great men from wrong-doing it should not protect them.” – Margaret Dixon McDougall; “The Letters of “Norah” on her Tour Through Ireland”; 1882.

The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring

Joyes Family CrestHistory of the Claddagh Ring

An original symbol of the Galway town of Claddagh, Ireland, (pronounced “klahda”) was first fashioned into the traditional ring back in the 17th Century during the reign of Mary II.
Legend has it that an Irish young man, Richard Joyce, bound for the West Indian slave plantations – no doubt the Irish Caribbean island of Montserrat – was kidnapped himself in rough seas by a band of Mediterranean pirates and sold to a Moorish goldsmith who over the many long years of his exile helped him perfect the skills of a master craftsman.

When in 1689 King William III negotiated the return of the slaves, Joyce returned to Galway – despite, it said, the Moor’s offer of the daughter’s hand in marriage and a princely dowry of half of all his wealth.

Back in Ireland a young women had never stopped faithful waiting for her true love to return. Upon which time when he presented her with the now famous Royal Claddagh gold ring – a symbol of their enduring love. Two hands to represent their friendship, the crown to signify their loyalty and lasting fidelity, and the sign of the heart to symbolise their eternal love for each other.

They soon married, never to be separated again.

“Several individuals of this name have long felt grateful to the memory of William III. from the following circumstance, on the accession of that monarch to the throne of England. One of the first acts of his reign was to send an ambassador to Algiers to demand the immediate release of all the British subjects detained there in slavery, the dey and council, intimidated, reluctantly complied with this demand. Among those released, was a young man of the name of Joyes, a native of Galway, who, fourteen years before, was captured on his passage to the West Indies, by an Algerine Corsair; on his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who observing his slave, Joyes, to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade in which he speedily became an adept. The Moor, as soon as he heard of his release, offered him, in case he should remain, his only daughter in marriage, and with her, half his property, but all these, with other tempting and advantageous proposals, Joyes resolutely declined; on his return to Galway he married, and followed the business of a goldsmith with considerable success” James Hardiman, The History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway.

The Meaning of the Claddagh Ring

The Royal Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity. The hands are there for friendship, the heart is there for love. For loyalty throughout the year, the crown is raised above.

Wearing the Claddagh Ring

  1. Worn on the right hand, with crown and heart facing out, the ring tells that the wearer’s heart is yet to be won.
  2. While under love’s spell it is worn with heart and crown facing inwards.
  3. Wearing the ring on the left hand, with the crown and heart facing inwards, signifies that your love has been requited.

The Claddagh Tradition

The traditional wedding ring of the Irish since the 17th Century, the Claddagh ring is worn by people all over the world as a universal symbol of love, loyalty, friendship and fidelity.

Traditionally handed down from mother to daughter the Royal Claddagh ring has also become a symbol of our ties with the past and generations gone by. As Irish people we remember the many many of our people who had to leave Ireland with nothing but their lives during the Great Famine of the 19th Century – many leaving from here in Cork harbour to make the long voyage across the Atlantic to America. The gold Royal Claddagh ring was to become for many the only enduring link with their home country and practically their only savings and family inheritance.

Further reflecting the troubled history of Ireland itself, a hundred years ago the Fenian ring, with two hands and two hearts, was distinguishing by its lack of a crown to represent the struggle for Republican Ireland – however the traditional Royal Claddagh ring has always remaining the Irish standard proudly wearing the crown as a symbol of loyalty, a remembrance of our ancient Irish Kingdoms, and of our own British heritage.

Notable wearers of the Claddagh ring have included Queen Alexandria and King Edward VII of Britain and Queen Victoria of Britain and Ireland as it was then – a woman for whom the streets of Dublin where lined with cheering people. And in the little principality of Monaco, the Claddagh tradition lives on in the Royal family of Monaco and the memory of the beautiful Irish princess – Princess Grace of Monaco.

“The Governor of New York, George Pataki, was accompanied by his mother, Peggy Lynch, among others, at last week’s annual fundraising dinner for the Flax Trust, which promotes economic development in the North, at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Pataki, addressing the guests, said that when Brian Cowen was in New York recently, visiting Ground Zero, he had told him that he was asked by the parents of a missing city firefighter to inquire of the chief of the NYPD if a claddagh ring had been found in the wreckage. “Minister,” the chief told Cowen, “we have found 200 Claddagh rings.”

The ring, by which they had hoped to identify the body of their son, depicts two hands clutching a crowned heart symbolising love, friendship and fidelity. It was designed by Richard Joyce in Galway three centuries ago. It is as popular on the other side of the Atlantic as it is here. The discovery so early of so many in the ruins underlined “the loss suffered here and in Ireland”, said Pataki.” Irish Times, Weekend Sat, Oct 13, 01.

Today in the twenty-first Century, however, perhaps the most famous wearer of the Claddagh ring is the famous Buffy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame. A present to her on her 17th birthday from her vampire lover, Angel, the ring was to symbolise their enduring love for each other – in spite of the obvious difficulties and even one day call Angel back from Hell.

“My people – before I was changed – they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty … and the heart … Well, you know … Wear it with the heart pointing towards you. It means you belong to somebody. Like this.” Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, Episode “The Surprise”.

Nuala O’Faolain, Irish Times Magazine (2001)

“The governor of New York, for example, mentioned recently that roughly 200 Claddagh rings had been recovered already. I suppose that might have something to do with the number of Irish-Americans lost.” Nuala O’Faolain, Irish Times Magazine, 3rd November 2001.

Murmur Galway: The Claddagh

“[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations. We collect and make accessible people’s personal histories and anecdotes about the places in their neighborhoods that are important to them. In each of these locations we install a [murmur] sign with a telephone number on it that anyone can call with a mobile phone to listen to that story while standing in that exact spot, and engaging in the physical experience of being right where the story takes place. Some stories suggest that the listener walk around, following a certain path through a place, while others allow a person to wander with both their feet and their gaze.
The stories we record range from personal recollections to more “historic” stories, or sometimes both — but always are told from a personal point of view, as if the storyteller is just out for a stroll and was casually talking about their neighbourhood to a friend. It’s history from the ground up, told by the voices that are often overlooked when the stories of cities are told. We know about the skyscrapers, sports stadiums and landmarks, but [murmur] looks for the intimate, neighbourhood-level voices that tell the day-to-day  stories that make up a city. The smallest, greyest or most nondescript building can be transformed by the stories that live in it. Once heard, these stories can change the way people think about that place and the city at large.
All our stories are available on the [murmur] website, but their details truly come alive as the listener walks through, around, and into the narrative. By engaging with [murmur], people develop a new intimacy with places, and “history” acquires a multitude of new voices.
The physical experience of hearing a story in its actual setting – of hearing the walls talk – brings uncommon knowledge to common space, and brings people closer to the real  histories that make up their world.
The stories are as personal as the relationship people have with the spaces they inhabit. Secret histories are unearthed, private truths unveiled and tales as diverse as the city itself are discovered and shared. All members of a community are encouraged to participate and contribute, so that the “voice” of [murmur] reflects the diverse voices of the neighbourhood.
These are the stories that make up the city’s identity, but they’re kept inside of the heads of the people who live here. [murmur] brings that important archive out onto the streets, for all to hear and experience, and is always looking for new stories to add to it’s existing locations.”

The Connacht Tribune (1964): The Claddagh

“Dr. Micheal Mac Liammoir has lamented the passing of the Claddagh, the old Claddagh of thatched cottages. He regrets its disappearance as he regrets the decay into a heap of rubble of Lady Gregory’s house at Coole near Gort. Speaking at the Yeat’s International Summer School in Sligo last week Dr. Mac Liammoir said: Lady Gregory would not be glad about a lot of things that are now being done in Ireland. It is criminal to allow Lady Gregory’s house at Coole, County Galway, to fall into ruin from a commerical point of view. Those people who got rid of the house, and the Claddagh in Galway and would not put up a plaque on the house in which Yeats was born are in the next breath crying out for tourists, and what have they to show tourists?”

Dr. Mac Liammoir is probably lamenting the disappearance of the Claddagh of the picture post cards. That was a quaint place. Women in red petticoats sat in the sun outside neat, white-washed cottages of golden thatch, and ducks ambled in a row on the green that fronted the houses. He must have come to know the real Claddagh during the time, now nearly forty years ago, when he and his equally famous colleague of the theatre, Hilton Edwards, launched Taibhdhearc na Gaillimhe. The real Claddagh was very different, but the picture of it may have been wiped out of Dr. Mac Liammoir’s mind by the post card. The real thing was a jumble of bedraggled cottages, many of them with sagging or broken roofs, crowded together in a crazy network of alleys, some cobblestoned, some clay-surfaced, but all pitted and holding water whenever rain fell. It was an unsanitary place, the passing of which is not to be regretted.

This country shows scant respect for some ties of historical, archaeological and cultural significance, but to claim for the old Claddagh that it should have been preserved as something of tourist value is asking too much. When demolition was about to take place it was suggested that some of the houses should be preserved as museum pieces. Even if the Claddagh had been all that it was represented to be by the postcards no part of the worth while quality would have been preserved by a few of the cottages.

If blame is to be attached to anyone, associated with the change that took place in the Claddagh about thirty years ago it should be directed against the Local Government Department that provided the plans for the new houses and that, instead of providing something attractive, gave Galway a dull, drab housing area. Because it was a distinct community outside the walls of Norman Galway and because of the distinct way of its old life the Claddagh is still written of in tourist booklets, but it must be a disappointment to those who visit it. And so much could have been done had the housing section of the Department a sense of aesthetic values, in those days.”

‘The Connacht Tribune’ on Saturday September 5th, 1964.

Claddagh at the V&A Museum



Place of origin: Galway, Ireland (made)
Date: 1750-1800 (made)
Artist/Maker: Robinson, Andrew (goldsmith)
Materials and Techniques: Engraved gold
Credit Line: Given by Mrs K. Ticher
Museum number: M.12-1961
Gallery location: Jewellery, room 91, case 12, shelf A, box 6
Public access description
The ‘Claddagh’ ring takes its name from the Irish village. It is formed of a crowned heart held between two hands. It draws upon older
traditions of rings with clasped hands and hearts and is still a popular item of jewellery.
Descriptive line
Gold claddagh ring inscribed inside ‘JMM’, with two hands clasping a crowned heart, mark of Andrew Robinson, Galway, Ireland, 1750-1800.
Physical description
Gold claddagh ring inscribed inside ‘JMM.A’, with two hands clasping a crowned heart, mark of Andrew Robinson.
Museum number
Object history note
Historical significance: A variety of fede ring traditional to the Claddagh district of Galway

Ireland’s Royal Style Connections

Ireland’s Royal Style Connections.

“Queen Victoria was the proud wearer of one of Ireland’s Claddagh rings back in the 19th Century. Thomas Dillons of Galway made her gold Claddagh ring, and their cosy jewelers-cum-museum in Galway is described as “the smallest museum in Europe with the biggest gift shop.” Ireland’s oldest jewellers having been in business since 1750, also provided handmade Claddagh rings for King Edward and King George V.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, New York, 1911, vol. XI, “Galway”.

GALWAY, a seaport, parliamentary borough and the county town of county Galway, Ireland, on the north shore of Galway Bay, and on the main line of the Midland Great Western railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 13,426. Some of the streets are very narrow, and contain curious specimens of old buildings, chiefly in antique Spanish style, being square, with a central court, and a gateway opening into the street. The most note-worthy of these is the pile known as Lynch’s Castle. This residence takes its name from the family of whom James Lynch Fitzstephen, mayor of Galway in 1493, was a member; whose severity as a magistrate is exemplified in the story that he executed his own son, and thus gave origin (according to one of several theories) to the familiar term of Lynch law. The principal streets are broad and contain good shops. St Nicholas church is a fine cruciform building founded in 1320, and containing monuments, and a bell, one of a peal, which appears to have been brought from Cavron in France, but how this happened is not known. The church was made collegiate in 1484, and Edward VI. created the Royal College of Galway in connexion with it; but the old college buildings no longer serve this purpose, and the church ceased to be collegiate in 184o. There are remains of a Franciscan friary founded in 1296. St Augustine’s church (Roman Catholic) is modern (1859). The town is the seat of a Roman Catholic diocese. There are grammar, model and industrial schools, the first with exhibitions to Trinity College, Dublin; but the principal educational establishment is University College, a quadrangular building in Tudor Gothic style, of grey limestone. It was founded as Queen’s College, with other colleges of the same name at Belfast and Cork, under an act of 1845, and its name was changed when it was granted a new charter pursuant to the Irish Universities Act 1908. The harbour comprises an extensive line of quays, and is connected for inland navigation with Lough Corrib. The shipping trade is considerable, but as a trans-Atlantic port Galway was exploited unsuccessfully. The fisheries, both sea and salmon, are important. The chief exports are wool, agricultural produce and black marble, which is polished in local mills. Other industrial establishments include corn-mills, iron-foundries, distilleries, and brush and bag factories. The borough, which returned two members to parliament until 1885, now returns one.

Galway is divided into the old and new towns, while a suburb known as the Claddagh is inhabited by fishermen. This is a curious collection of small cottages, where communal government by a locally elected mayor long prevailed, together with peculiar laws and customs, strictly exclusive inter-marriage, and a high moral and religious standard. Specimens of the distinctive Claddagh ring, for example, were worn and treasured as venerated heirlooms. These customs, with the distinctive dress of the women, died out but slowly, and even to-day their vestiges remain.

The environs of Galway are pleasant, with several handsome residences. The most interesting point in the vicinity is Roscam, with its round tower, ruined church and other remains. Salthill, with golf links, is a waterside residential suburb.

Little is known of the history of Galway until after the arrival of the English, at which time it was under the protection of O’Flaherty, who possessed the adjoining district to the west. On the extinction of the native dynasty of the O’Connors, the town fell into the hands of the De Burgos, the head of a branch of which, under the name of M’William Eighter, long governed it by magistrates of his own appointment. After it had been secured by walls, which began to be built about 1270 and are still in part traceable, it became the residence of a number of enterprising settlers, through whom it attained a position of much commercial celebrity. Of these settlers the principal families, fourteen in number, were known as the tribes of Galway. They were of Norman, Saxon or Welsh descent, and became so exclusive in their relationships that dispensations were frequently requisite for the canonical legality of marriages among them. The town rapidly increased from this period in wealth and commercial rank, far surpassing in this respect the rival city of Limerick. Richard II. granted it a charter of incorporation with liberal privileges, which was confirmed by his successor. It had the right of coinage by act of parliament, but there is no evidence to show that it exercised the privilege. Another charter, granted in 1545, extended the jurisdiction of the port to the islands of Aran, permitted the exportation of all kinds of goods except linens and woollens, and confirmed all the former privileges. Large numbers of Cromwell’s soldiers are said to have settled in the town; and there are many traces of Spanish blood among the population. Its municipal privileges were extended by a charter from James I., whereby the town, and a district of two miles round in every direction, were formed into a distinct county, with exclusive jurisdiction and a right of choosing its own magistrates. During the civil wars of 1641 the town took part with the Irish, and was surrendered to the Parliamentary forces under Sir Charles Coote; after which the ancient inhabitants were mostly driven out, and their property was given to adventurers and soldiers, chiefly from England. On the accession of James II. the old inhabitants entertained sanguine hopes of recovering their former rights. But the successes of King William soon put an end to their expectations; and the town, after undergoing another siege, again capitulated to the force brought against it by General Ginkell.

Sunny Side of Ireland (1895)

Second Edition. Re-written and Enlarged.


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No visitor to Galway will fail to find out the Claddagh. It is the most conservative community in Ireland, and with them neither old times are changed nor old manners gone. The colony inhabit a number of low-thatched cottages apart from the town. They live mostly by fishing. The Claddagh women dress in blue cloaks and red petticoats, and their rings, which visitors procure as keepsakes, represent two hands holding a harp. Hardman, in his “Rare History of Galway,” wrote of them as follows:—

“The colony, from time immemorial, has been ruled by one of their own body, periodically elected, who is dignified with the title of Mayor, regulates the community according to their own peculiar laws and customs, and settles all their fishery disputes. His decisions are so decisive and so much respected that the parties are seldom known to carry their differences before a legal tribunal or to trouble the civil magistrates.”