Rare Richard Joyce Gold Claddagh Ring Back In Galway

In April of 2020, A rare gold Claddagh ring has finally made its way back to Galway, where is was created by Richard Joyce in Galway over 300 years ago. The ring has been acquired by The Galway City Museum where it will be on permanent display. Although it is accepted that the ring was made by Joyce, little else is known about the history of the ring since it was first cast around 1700.

The ring bears two inscriptions –MRC and LcM – although the L is quite faded. Eoin O’Neill, the museum’s collection officer, is on a quest to find out who the original wearer was. “As marriage records only go back so far, it is a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack when you only have the initials to work with.”

O’Neill also points out as these rings were often passed through the female line, the initials could also be those of a mother and her daughter, along with the fact that these rings were also given as tokens of friendship – so it may not necessarily have been a wedding ring.

Richard Joyce Original Claddagh Ring
Richard Joyce Original Claddagh Ring

The Guinness Connection

The ring was part of the collection of Claddagh rings owned by the late Garech Browne of Luggala in Co Wicklow. It was was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in February 2020 for £8,125, after a bidding war, having been listed with a reserve of just £2,500.

It was purchased by Garret Weldon of the Dublin jewellery and auctioneering family. His father, Jimmy, originally sold the ring to Browne several decades before.

Garech Browne was a great supporter of traditional Irish culture

I give Galway back her ancient gates – and my nephews get the Rolls Royces

Garech Browne’s Last will and Testament

Garech Browne, who died in 2018, was the son of a Guinness heiress and Lord Oranmore. In his will, he bequeathed to the City of Galway the original gates from the walled city which had been removed to the family seat at Castle MacGarrett in Co. Mayo. Browne was an avid collector and patron of the arts. In 1959, Browne set up Claddagh Records to help promote the music and poetry of traditional Irish performers. Claddagh Records is still at its home in the heart of Temple Bar.

Why is This Claddagh Ring So Rare and Valuable?

The legend of the Claddagh ring and its origin is well known and attributed to Galway native Richard Joyce. The story goes that he was kidnapped by corasir pirates and ended up a slave of a wealthy goldsmith in Algeria, where he learnt his trade. It is he who created the first Claddagh ring about the year 1700 by adapting the design of a European fede ring, popular in medieval Europe, to include the heart and crown.

On gaining his freedom from his indentured apprenticeship, Joyce returned to Galway to practice his craft as a goldsmith, eventually buying the Rahoon estate in the city. Several pieces of his craftsmanship survive, most notably the St Prendergast Chalice in St Patrick’s College, Thurles, Co Tipperary.

Claddagh rings were traditionally passed down from mother to her daughter first married. Times were often very tough for the people of Claddagh and valuable items were often sold on in times of want. As a consequence, very few of these traditional Irish wedding rings have survived from the early part of the 18th century, which makes this piece bought by the museum a national treasure.

During the Famine years, Mr. Kirwan, a Galway pawnbroker, had advanced about five hundred pounds in cash, mostly to Claddagh people to purchase their passage to America. The gold Claddagh rings were never redeemed and in 1847 he sold them on as old gold to be melted down.

The Claddagh Ring’s New Home in Galway City

Galway City Museum is delighted to bring the ring back to Galway City. It will be showcased in the new Atlantic Museum in 2022, where it will form part of the Atlantic People story in a gallery which will stand in the medieval walls close to the Spanish Arch and the Claddagh village.

Eoin O’Neill, Collection Officer, Galway City Museum

The Galway City Museum

The museum was founded in 1976 and is currently located at a place along the old city walls where the original city docks were built in 1270. Welcoming over 200,000 visitors each year, it is Ireland’s 11th most popular free tourist attraction. The museum hosts over 1,000 objects which tell the history of the city. Most of the items of display were donated by citizens of the city. There are a variety of artifacts from historical events, and associations with the city including the Connaught Rangers, the 1916 rising and the Civil War.

Galway City Museum by the City Walls

The museum will expand in 2022 to the far side of the old medieval walls at the Spanish Arch. It is appropriate that this historic little ring, after a 300-year adventure, finds itself residing again back in the village of An Claddagh, from which the iconic ring takes its name.