When we decided to spend two weeks in Ireland, we kept a long-standing promise to take our eldest son along. He was nuts about the Emerald Isle and had wanted to visit for decades.
“Dublin and Blarney are already on our list. What else do you want to do there?”
“I want to drink an Irishman under the table,” Jimmy retorted.
“We can’t help with that one,” Dan responded with a smile. “What else?”
“I want to buy a Claddagh ring in Galway,” he said. “And I also want to meet our family.”
When Dan’s great-grandmother emigrated to the U.S. a century ago she left her family 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 aunt and grandmother had met the Clifden clan a few years before and they assured us that we would be welcomed with open arms. So we planned our itinerary to include a few days in Galway to meet our Irish cousins, to explore the surrounding region, and to buy Jimmy’s ring.
What is a Claddagh ring?
The Claddagh ring (or fáinne Chladaigh in Irish) has an interesting history. It 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.
For many, the traditional Claddagh ring is more than just a piece of Irish jewelry. It also symbolizes pride in one’s Irish heritage. Jimmy had that in spades, so of course we had to visit the original manufacturer to buy his ring!
Dan had never heard of a Claddagh ring, but once he understood its significance, he wanted to buy one for me as well. The ring pretty much sums up our marriage relationship: two hands (friendship) clasping a heart (love) and surmounted by a crown (loyalty).
How to wear a Claddagh ring
Exactly how to wear a Claddagh ring varies, depending on your relationship status.
- If you’re in love or married, wear the ring with the tip of the heart pointing toward your heart.
- If you’re unattached, the heart should point toward the fingertip.
Claddagh rings come in both men’s and women’s styles, and they can be made from gold or sterling silver. These days, you can find Claddagh jewelry as earrings, bracelets and necklaces as well.
Buying the Claddagh Ring in Galway
The royal rings were made and supplied by Dillon of Galway. Now known as Thomas Dillon’s, they are the oldest jeweler in Ireland and hold a Royal Patent. As they have been making the ring since 1750, they say they are, “the only Jewellers that have the right to have “ORIGINAL” stamped on our claddagh rings.”
Anyway, 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’.”
Well, I don’t know about that. All I can tell you is that we spent a lot of time looking around the museum. So I guess Jimmy had a good idea after all.
Walking around Galway
Galway was a nice contrast to the three days we had just spent on the Dingle Peninsula, and both had plenty of Irish craic. We stayed at a B&B in Salthill, a seaside area of the city that had a tourist-friendly shopping area with plenty of pubs and eateries.
We arrived in town late and ended up at the Oslo Bar, enjoying dinnertime with a couple of Belfast Blondes and a Galway Hooker. But it’s not what it sound like … those two microbrews inspired lots of laughs as we played with how to abuse their names on future Facebook status posts.
Tip: If you want to enjoy live trad music in a pub, arrive early or you may not find a seat.
The next morning, we beelined straight to Dillon’s Claddagh ring shop. With the exception of a few delivery vehicles, much of the area is a pedestrian shopping area, so we took advantage of it after making our purchases. We enjoyed meandering about the cobbled streets, admiring the colorful buildings, and overhearing the Irish lilt of passersby in the mundane atmosphere of locals on their daily errands. Thank goodness it hasn’t become a tourist trap!
To me, a Claddagh ring is the perfect souvenir of Ireland. Whenever I wear it now, I remember Jimmy and the wonderful time we spent exploring the Emerald Isle together.
Plan your trip
- Galway has many useful trip planning resources on the official Galway Tourism website.
- Where to stay – For sleeping options, HotelsCombined compiles deals from all over the web. We stayed at Glenariff B&B in Salthill.
- How to get around – This website shows how to get anywhere by plane, train, bus, ferry and car.
Want a private tour?
Get Your Guide offers dozens of affordable Galway adventures, everything from a day trip to the Burren + Cliffs of Moher to an Irish food tour.
Click here to see the complete list.
- For more sightseeing, see our photo album from Galway.
- Google Maps offers an aerial view of the Galway area. Zoom, scroll around and explore!
- We used Lonely Planet’s Ireland guidebook on our trip.
- Buy Claddagh Jewelry on Amazon here.
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13 thoughts on “Buying an Irish Claddagh Ring in Galway, Ireland”
My mum made us wear Aran sweaters as kids – boy did they itch, Have not seen a cladagh ring in a while – nice blog post.
My best friend in college was Irish and she talked about this ring. I have totally forgotten about it until now. Thank you for the walk down memory lane although that was not your intention.
You’re quite welcome. We enjoy walks down memory lane as well.
I really like the significance behind this symbol. When I was 13, I bought Claddagh earring (from an Avon catalog). Because of your story, I am trying to think what actually happened to those earrings (I think I left them in Puerto Rico when I moved to California). I will like to acquire a ring since I am aware of the significance now.
I’d never heard of Claddagh earrings, Ruth, so I googled them. There are some really pretty designs; maybe I should buy a pair to match my ring.
Love the photos of Galway! My family comes from southeastern Ireland, and the Claddagh tradition was explained a little differently: A ring worn on the right hand indicates you’re “on the market” until you’ve been engaged. Then, your Claddagh moves to the left hand, with the pointy end of the heart towards your fingertip; your heart is ready to be filled. During the wedding, the ring is reversed so the ring’s heart points to your own, and so the love does not run out. Unfortunately, my Claddagh is at the bottom of the sea in Mexico – a sure sign that it’s time for a trip to Dillons! 🙂
That sounds like a good enough reason to visit Ireland, Rob … but I believe they offer mail order. 🙂
I do like your explanation as well. That’s interesting about moving it from one hand to the other at your wedding. Good thing that in both explanations the heart points the same way for married people. It wouldn’t be a pretty sight if someone got the wrong message!
What an interesting conception for a ring: symbolizing love, friendship, loyalty and pride. And wearing it in different ways may mean very different things. I’m sure it brings back so many sweet memories about your son. Very beautiful!
It does, Anda. We miss him very much and I feel truly blessed to have those memories. I know how much the ring’s symbolism meant to him. It was far more precious than any diamond could ever be.
Your son had a couple of good goals. Did he ever accomplish his first?
He most certainly did, Corinne … he met an Irishman one evening at a bar in Dublin and they bonded over having served in their respective armies. Long story short, Jimmy outdrank him and managed to get invited back to the Irish army base to see their barracks. He was especially proud of that accomplishment. 🙂
So sweet to hear a bit about the history of this ring and to learn about the museum. I have yet another reason to visit.
If you go, be sure to buy a ring!
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