Of bishops and Claddagh rings

This photograph was taken exactly 100 years ago during the installation of the sixth Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh and Apostolic Administrator of Kilfenora since the foundation of the diocese. This was Bishop O’Dea, who was in the palace until 1923. There are elaborate and decorative floral arches across Williamsgate Street for the occasion and a banner that says “Long Live our Bishop”. There are a large number of RIC men in evidence, though they are not keeping much of a shape on the large crowd who are following the bishop. He is simply walking under the canopy and is not carrying the Blessed Sacrament. It is hard to know where the procession was going (The Pro-Cathedral ? ) and where it was coming from. The flower girls were probably following a group of priests. Notice the tram tracks and the fact that all of the shops seem to be closed.

The ‘Dublin Time’ on Dillon’s clock is twenty to one. Dillon’s have always been associated with the Claddagh ring, which was first designed by a Richard Joyce. He had been on his way to the West Indies when he was captured by Algerian corsairs and sold as a slave to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him. He was obviously very good because when he was given his freedom in 1689, he was offered many inducements to stay. Happily for us, he returned to Galway and set up as a goldsmith. The Claddagh ring motif of the two linked hands holding the heart which is surmounted by a crown is attributed to him. It was widely used in the Claddagh as a ‘love’ ring or an engagement ring which gave it its name. It became internationally popular towards the end of the 19th century, while being much loved by Galwegians. It is the crown on the heart which makes this ring unique. There are a number of variations of the motif which probably derives from ‘FedeRings’ which were a very popular tradition in the Mediterranean region in ancient times.

Dillon’s can trace their goldsmithing business back to 1750 when Thomas Dillon set up in William Street. He was followed into the business by Mark Dillon and later came William Dillon. Dillon’s had the distinction of supplying a Brian Boru harp and a Connemara marble inkstand to King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1903 and they were awarded the prize medal for Claddagh rings at the Great Exhibition in 1908. In 1920 Pat Margetts and his brother-in-law Charlie McCormack bought the business which was later taken over by Pat’s son John. Today it has transferred to Quay Street under the name Claddagh Gold Jewellers and is run by John’s son Jonathan.

As the advertisement said, “By their mark you shall know them”... the stamp on Dillon’s Claddagh rings is “T.D.” and also includes the word ‘unique’. Jonathan has illustrated his stock of Claddagh rings in an unusual way by creating a small Claddagh museum in his shop which is full of photographs, maps , documents, and old Claddagh rings. It is one of Galway’s hidden treasures and is well worth a visit.

Next Monday is International Women’s Day and there will be a Festival of Celebration of women and their achievements in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church from 10am to 1pm. There is no admission charge and all are welcome.

The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society will host a lecture on Monday next, March 9, in the Harbour Hotel. It will be given by Dr Catriona Clear from NUIG and the title is Public Health and Living Conditions in Connacht, 1850-1922. Dr Clear, who has written several books on the subject, will explore why Connacht, which had the poorest living conditions in the country, had the best general health in Ireland as measured by public health statistics from the 1860s on. There is no admission charge and all are welcome.

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