Oldest Known Claddagh in the World Returns to Galway

Dating from 1700, the oldest-known Claddagh ring in the world has been returned to Galway City having been purchased by the Galway City Museum and is now being considered a national treasure.

Galway City Museum
Galway City Museum

The history and intriguing story of this ring has come full circle as the story of the Claddagh emerged from the nearby fishing district where these beautiful rings originated designed with a centerpiece of a heart for love, surrounded by hands for friendship and topped with a crown for loyalty. The 2,100sq m museum fittingly overlooks the Claddagh district of Galway.

Claddagh rings continue to be popular spanning the centuries and staying relevant to this very day and are widely worn as jewelry either as rings, necklaces, earrings and brooches.

This ring, which was in the collection of the late Guinness heir Garech Browne at his estate at Luggala, County Wicklow was sold at an auction at Sotheby’s last February for over 9,000 euro. It is thought that this small ring was made by Richard Joyce around 1700. He is credited with the modern design of the ring and was thought to be a member of the original Tribes of Galway - merchant families who were important politically and commercially.

Astonishingly, Joyce was captured by pirates and sold in Algiers to a wealthy Turkish goldsmith. Realizing he was an educated slave, he was taken on as an apprentice until he was released and returned to Galway. His work includes the Saint Prendergast Chalice in Saint Patrick’s College, Thurles in Tipperary.

The Claddagh rings of Joyce are very rare and it is considered to be somewhat of a coup for the museum to now have this as part of their collection. There are some mysteries to the ring which makes its story fascinating. It bears the inscriptions of MRC and LcM and curators at the museum point out that these rings were not always used as wedding rings but sometimes tokens of friendship. They were sometimes passed down through the female line so the initials could be a mother and daughter or family members or friends and investigations and research is ongoing.

The ring will be shown in the new Atlantic Museum in 1922 and form part of an “Atlantic People’ story and this will fittingly be housed in the medieval walls close to the Claddagh village and Spanish Arch in Galway.

While mysteries remain about the full story of this ring - it now has a permanent, important and well-deserved place in the museum collections of Ireland.

View our Claddagh ring collection
View our Claddagh ring collection

Posted on September 30, 2020

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