Hardiman’s description of The Claddagh

“The only occupation is fishing; they never trouble themselves with tillage; a milch cow and a potatoe garden are rare among them ------, then on shore they are principally employed in attending to, and repairing their boats, sails, rigging, cordage etc .., and in making, drying or repairing their nets and spillets, in which latter employment they are generally assisted by the women who spin hemp and yarn for the nets ....

“When preparing for sea, hundreds of their women and children for some days before, crowd the neighbouring strands, digging for worms to bait their hooks .... Though they sometimes exhibit a great shew of industry, they are still so wedded to old customs, that they invariably reject, with the most inveterate prejudice, any new improvement in their fishing apparatus which is consequently very little superior to that used centuries ago by their ancestors ...., they generally intermarry with each other at an early age ...., a cabin is soon provided for the new-married pair, who now, in their turn, commence housekeepers. The parents if in good circumstances, contrive to supply the price of a boat (or at least a share in one ) for the husband ....

“The women are generally prolific, and the fine healthy children to be seen in great numbers at the Claddagh are seldom excelled even in more opulent communities. In the west of Ireland, it is the custom, rather general among the lower orders, that females who cannot speak English are not allowed to wear ribbons in their caps. There are one or two Protestant families who settled amongst them during the last century ... the inhabitants of the Claddagh are an unlettered race but they seldom have inclination or time to be otherwise. They rarely speak English and even in their native tongue, the Irish, they pronounce in a harsh and discordant tone, sometimes scarcely intelligible to the townspeople. It is said they considered it a kind of reproach either to speak English or to send their children to school and that a schoolmaster among them would be considered a phenomenon; but of late there are some exceptions to this rule. How far education would make these people happier in themselves, or more useful members of society, is a matter in doubt, but it is certain that the trial was never made, although a most respectable convent lies at the head of their village, to which they are liberal benefactors ...... The women possess unlimited control over their husbands ---- they are equally illiterate with their husbands and very seldom speak English.

“In 1812, there were 301 inhabited houses, 5 uninhabited, in which there dwelt 322 families of a total population of 2,022 (955 males and 1,067 females ). Of these, six are chiefly employed in agriculture, 87 in trade, manufacture or handicraft, and 299 otherwise, that is presumably mainly in the fishery.”

The above was published in 1820 by James Hardiman. Our photograph (courtesy of the Capuchin Collection ) was taken about 100 years later and shows the beginnings of change in the Claddagh. The house in the background has a slated roof and you can see a concrete path behind the girls. Judging from the angle of the church, the water pump was in the Garryglass area and its use indicates that there was still no running water in the village. What has not changed from the Hardiman era are the handsome and healthy features of the local children.

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