Our Claddagh History

We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch-we are going back from whence we came.
— John F. Kennedy

The Claddagh ring, known all over the world as a symbol of love, loyalty and friendship, originated in a small village on the outskirts of Galway City.  

With ancestors from this iconic Claddagh fishing village, Skipper Ciaran Oliver & his extended family are proud of their ancestral heritage.  At the heart of the family's history is the Galway Hooker Boat fishing traditions.

 The Claddagh: 1903.

The Claddagh: 1903.

CLADDAGH CUSTOM: A Living Tradition.

As one of the oldest recorded fishing villages in Ireland, the Claddagh dates back to the 6th Century.  Up until the early 1900s it was a thriving  Irish speaking community with it's own customs (they even had a King of the Claddagh), laws & way of life that was shaped entirely by ocean living & traditional fishing practices.   The Galway Hooker workboat was central to the survival of this culturally unique community, as well as their beautiful rye & oat straw thatched cottages with whitewashed walls. 

The thatched cottage: An image that has become a well established, much loved symbol of Ireland

This was the home of hundreds of fishermen & their hard working wives, and at one time there would have been up to 500 of these dwellings on the shoreline of Galway City.  Sadly, the houses were demolished in the 1930s.  However, the memory of the Claddagh people lives on through families such as the Oliver's who are dedicated to a life inspired by previous generations, Wild Atlantic adventures & inclusive community values.  

 Image of Katie's Claddagh Cottage, a restored thatched heritage & design centre.  Photo: Compliments of   Claddagh Designs.ie

Image of Katie's Claddagh Cottage, a restored thatched heritage & design centre.  Photo: Compliments of Claddagh Designs.ie

The term ‘hooker’ is associated with ‘hook and line’ fishing, where long lines of baited hooks were drawn through the water and individual fish were caught when they went for the bait on each hook. This method of fishing, adopted by Galway fishermen, was referred to as ‘long-lining’.

The Galway Hooker in it's various forms (gleoiteog, púcán, leathbhád & bád mór) is the traditional sailing work-boat of Galway Bay. 

 These distinctive short, broad boats, with their tarred black hulls and brown sails, were used for fishing and for transportation (particularly turf and seaweed).  The last of the working Galway Hookers was named the Truelight and owned by late King of the Claddagh, Máirtín Oliver.  Máirtín was the last man to have sailed an original working Galway Hooker from the Claddagh, prior to their re-emergence in the 1980s as pleasure crafts.   In honour of the late King of Claddagh, a Galway Hooker boat was custom made for the Museum by traditional craftsmen Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  This boat hangs spectacularly in the atrium of the Galway City museum.

A Living Galway Tradition (Photo Credit: Nicholas Grundy)

GAlway's Oldest Tradition

The Oliver family are part of the Badoiri an Cladaig movement in Galway City.  Dedicated to both restoring & supporting the restoration & continuation of Galway's traditional Hooker workboats, they are well on target to reconstruct a number of working boats to be launched in the Bay to celebrate Galway's largest festival yet: European Capital of Culture, 2020.

 A Passed Down Tradition of Sailing in Galway Bay.

A Passed Down Tradition of Sailing in Galway Bay.

Education projects

Part of this endeavour is sharing these ancient sailing experiences with families, friends & visitors.  Children absolutely love getting out on the water, seeing wildlife & telling stories.  "We believe that in some small, special way we are restoring a little bit of the magic that child-hood dreams are made of!"  Keep an eye on our Try Sailing Page for our updated 2018 Education Projects COMING OUT SOON!