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Richard Joyce’s Claddagh Ring

This Claddagh ring is thought to be the oldest in existence. It dates from c. 1700 and was made by renowned Galway goldsmith Richard Joyce. A remarkable but largely unproven story describes his capture by Barbary pirates and his subsequent slavery in North Africa.

According to the story, while there he developed his trade until he was eventually freed under amnesty by William III of England. He returned to Galway and set up as a goldsmith. He is credited with the original design of this iconic ring. His work can be seen in other objects in our collections including a reliquary of St Ursula.

Photos from L to R.: Claddagh Ring from the Galway City Museum Collection.  Reliquary of St Ursula. The casket contains parts of a skull attributed to St Ursula.  The skull was brought to Galway from Rome by Sr Margaret Joyce, believed to be a niece of the maker, Richard Joyce.  The inscription reads 1723.  

This ring is made from gold and is in remarkable condition considering it is over 300 years old. Judging from its large size it is thought to be a man’s ring. It is stamped twice with Joyce’s maker’s mark RI and is inscribed with the initials NCM and MRC, which may belong to past owners. Claddagh rings were traditionally handed down from mother to daughter.

The design of this famous ring is based on two hands clasped around a heart, topped with a crown. This design is loosely based on the ancient fede or friendship ring which represented two clasped hands.

This Claddagh ring has made it into the New York Times, read all about it HERE!


Both the Claddagh Ring and the Reliquary of St Ursula are now on display in the Claddagh exhibition, A Triumph of Unconscious Beauty, open for visitors on the second floor gallery at Galway City Museum.  Come and see them up close in all their ornate glory!




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