When we decided to bring our oldest son with us to Ireland, we asked him what he wanted to do most. “I want to drink an Irishman under the table,” came the answer.
“You're on your own with that one,” Dan retorted with a smile. “What else?”
“I want to buy a Claddagh ring in Galway,” Jimmy said, “and I also want to meet our family.”
When Dan's great-grandmother emigrated to the U.S. a century ago, she left many relatives behind in Clifden, County Galway. The largest town in the Connemara region, Clifden has been called one of the most beautiful, unspoiled places in Ireland.
Dan's mother and grandmother had met the Clifden clan a few years ago and promised we would be welcomed with open arms. So we planned our itinerary to include a few days at the end to meet the Irish cousins and to explore the surrounding region.
Buying a Claddagh ring in Galway
The Claddagh ring originates from a fishing village near the shore (claddagh) of Galway city. It shows two hands holding a heart that wears a crown and is traditionally given as a token of friendship or love. Its popularity took off in the 1800s when Queen Victoria began wearing it, as later did Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII.
Read the full story here.
The royal rings were made and supplied by Dillon of Galway (now known as Thomas Dillon’s). Dillon's is the oldest jeweler in Ireland and holds the Royal Patent. The company has been making the ring since 1750. They are, they say, “the only Jewellers that have the right to have “ORIGINAL” stamped on our claddagh rings.”
Actually, the shop is more than a jewelry store; it also contains a free museum. Besides cases of gold and silver rings, the museum also has historical memorabilia, a display with some of the oldest (and most unique!) Claddagh rings in existence and a collection of photos from the owner's private collection of Old Galway. The Dillon's website proudly states, “it has been described as ‘the smallest museum in Europe with the biggest gift shop'.”
For many, the Claddagh also symbolizes pride in one’s Irish heritage, which Jimmy had in spades. Of course we had to visit the original manufacturer to get his ring! Dan had never heard of a Claddagh ring, but once he understood its significance, he offered to buy me one as well. The ring pretty much sums up our marriage relationship: two hands (friendship) clasping a heart (love) and surmounted by a crown (loyalty).
Traditionally, people wear it with the crown pointing toward the fingertip to indicate they are in love or married. On the other hand, the heart points to the fingernail when the wearer is unattached.
To me, a Claddagh ring is the perfect souvenir of Ireland. Whenever I wear it, I think of Jimmy and the wonderful time we spent together.
Walking around Galway
Rather than head out of town directly after making our purchases, we spent an hour or so looking around Galway city center. With the exception of a few delivery vehicles, much of it is a pedestrian area now. We enjoyed meandering about the cobbled streets, admiring the colorful buildings, and overhearing the Irish lilt of passersby in the mundane atmosphere of locals going about their day-to-day business.
Apart from getting my beautiful silver Claddagh souvenir, I have two other favorite memories of Galway. I enjoyed the colorful flower and vegetable stalls in the makeshift markets along the road … and our pub stop. We might have stayed longer, but we were eager to get to our next destination.
- I'll share more about Connemara in a future post, but if you'd like to read about our family visit, Dan has penned a virtual postcard to our grandchildren about our next stop: Clifden, County Galway – I Found My Family Roots.
- For more of the city, you can find more photos in our Galway photo gallery.
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