The Claddagh ring is one of Ireland’s most popular symbols as well as a best-selling piece of jewelry now available in a dazzling range of styles for every taste and budget. The story of Richard Joyce being captured by pirates shortly before his wedding day and sold into slavery to a goldsmith is well known. He learned to make jewelry, crafted this beautiful ring and returned to his home in Claddagh Village to marry the woman he’d never forgotten while in captivity – giving her a Claddagh ring of course. But what of the village itself? It isn’t called a Joyce ring after all. What about this tiny village made it big enough in the heart and imagination to give its name to one of the beloved jewelry designs of all time?
If you travel by car to Galway City now, you might arrive completely disoriented by the maze of new roundabouts surrounding the town. But travelling by car isn’t really the way to soak in the atmosphere of this tiny bit of land jutting into the Atlantic near the landmark Spanish Arch. You need to stand in the fresh sea air. The Claddagh is now at the edge of bustling, modern Galway City, but you can forget that if you stand near where the thatched cottages of the village once did and look out to the sea. Swans would have swum around the boats moored there as they still do. It is a place of timeless beauty, a place that well deserves to have a classic and distinctive ring named after it.
The Claddagh stood separate from Galway; indeed it appears to have been standing long before Galway City. There is evidence of The Claddagh Village dating back to the fifth century, making it one of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland, while the earliest records of Galway date back to when a fort was built in 1124. The Claddagh was always a fishing village; for centuries locals set off in their distinctive boats, known as hookers, which is how Richard Joyce was captured by pirates. They would take their catch across the river to Galway to the fish markets near the Spanish Arch. The village had its own king and its own traditions that carried on through centuries as Galway expanded and modernized.
It stood proud and separate with its little thatched cottages on the rocky shore at the point where the Corrib River meets Galway Bay until 1930, when the local authorities razed the village and built new houses. It is now officially part of Galway City, but if you stand there with the Atlantic wind in your face watching the waves you can easily forget that. Whether it is worn for the love for a soul mate or a passion for the history of a tiny village sheltering swans and hooker boats from the fierce Atlantic, a Claddagh ring is a powerful symbol of love, loyalty and friendship.