Claddagh fishermen

There was a very good ethnological study on the fishermen of the Claddagh published in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology in 1854, which among other things stated that: “The people of the Claddagh are, in my opinion, purely Irish, of the most ancient Celtic type. The village at the present day is like any ordinary Irish village, and that it was a mud city when Rome was being founded, is more than probable. That the Claddagh men are not Spaniards any one might see at a glance; and it is astonishing to me how the theory of their Spanish origins could have kept ground for so long. A Spanish face may still be seen in and about Galway — once in a week or so; but it appears to me that the Claddagh, above all other people, had no intermarriage with Spaniards.

“In proof of this, their present names are nearly all Irish; such as Connolly, O’Connor, O’Flaherty, O’Donohue, Murphy, Mullaly, O’Halloran, O’Donnell, Griffin, Grainey, Tierney, Rainey, Moran, Bradley, O’Rourke, O’Brien.

“The Christian names are generally scriptural; as John, James, Peter, Luke, Michael, Matthew, Paul, Joseph; also Patrick, William, Dominick, Austin, etc; Catherine, Mary, etc. But they have this remarkable peculiarity, that there are so many persons of the same name that they are distinguished (in the Irish language ) by the names of fishes as thus, Jack the hake; Bill the cod; Joe the eel; Pat the trout; Mat the turbot, etc; or Jack the trout, Jack the salmon, Jack the whale, Jack the sprat, etc.

“So far as I can ascertain they have preserved no important traditions nor poems; their songs are the same as found in the west generally. Many have fine voices and they are celebrated as dancers. A Northern has no idea of the extraordinary activity, grace, energy and ‘bashful assurance’ that characterize a set of dancers on the earthen floor of a Claddagh hut. The men and women of the Claddagh are very fond of gay dress and bright colours. The women wear blue cloaks and red petticoats. The fishermen wear jacket, breeches, and stockings, home-made and light blue.

“The men have nothing to do with the sale of fish in the market, where you see only women carrying baskets and bargaining with the customers, all in Irish, some sitting quietly, or asking with a joke or a smile, if you want to buy.

“The Claddagh men are not remarkable for their warlike spirit. They are not boxers, not fond of personal encounters….but touch one and you hurt them all. There are no braver men at sea when they go forth with the priestly benediction, and the blessed salt and ashes. They have their lucky and unlucky days. They would not commence the fishing season until a priest had pronounced a blessing on the bay. They will not put to sea if a hare appears to them, and the whole fleet has been known to return home, without dropping a line, because a boy called out that he had seen a hare. No boat goes to sea without oat-cake, salt and ashes…. they consider there is a blessing in these things. If a crow flies over the boat, and croaks as he passes, it is a good omen. When a boat comes in with fish, the boatman gives a fish to every beggar who may be there to ask… it would be most unlucky to refuse charity out of what God sent to the net. This custom has been dying out with the increase of pauperism, the opening of the poor house and railway, the many mouths that must be filled with fish in Dublin. The custom is, in my mind, proof that in old times, there could not have been anything like the present amount of beggary in the district.”

Our photograph today was originally a stereophotograph taken about 20 years after that article was written, and could almost be used as an illustration for it. Indeed, these men may even have featured in the text. They look slightly un-nerved by the camera, but there is a quiet dignity about them. Do they remind you of anyone in the Claddagh today?


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