A Claddagh family, one hundred and fifty years ago

The title of this photograph is “A Claddagh Family” and it dates from c1865. It is from an album discovered some time ago in Chetham Library in Manchester in which all of the photographs are of locations in Galway city or county. It is interesting to note that a photograph of this exact group in a different pose, almost certainly taken on the same day, is in a different album in the National Library of Ireland. This second  image is titled “The King of the Claddagh” but we do not know his name.

An article published in the Ulster Journal  of Archaeology in 1854 tells us: “The men and women of the Claddagh, and indeed of County Galway generally, are very fond of gay dress and bright colours. The country women often wear red cloaks; but the Claddagh women wear blue cloaks and red petticoats. The fishermen wear jacket, breeches and stockings, home-made and light blue. The women often go bare-foot, and wear short blue cloak, bed gown and red petticoat. The head dress is a kerchief of bright colours.

“A Spanish face may be seen in and about Galway – once in a week or so; but it appears to me quite certain 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’Halloran, Griffin, Rainey etc. Their Christian names are nearly all Scriptural such as John, James, Peter, Luke, Paul, Joseph, also Patrick, Dominick, Austin etc and Catherine, Mary etc. Many of them have fine voices and they are celebrated as dancers.

“They are not boxers, nor fond of personal encounters, but touch one and you hurt them all. There are no braver men at sea than Claddagh fishermen, when they go forth with the priestly benediction, and the blessed salt and ashes. On land too they can show courage when it is called forth and sustained by the consciousness of right. A few years ago they completely routed a considerable body of dragoons by casting showers of heavy stones from their slings. By the way, casting pebbles from the sling is an amusement and a mode of warfare peculiar to the Claddagh men at the present day. Since the Famine, this and other sports have been held in abeyance, but it was formerly usual for them to have ‘slinging matches’.

“When a man is lost at sea and the body has not been cast ashore, after a reasonable time, the relatives hold a ‘wake’ over his clothes, which are laid out on the bed, and the sheets spread, and the candles lighted, and the Litany recited; while the shrieks of the women and the deep moans of the men issue from the cabin door, and the midnight is disturbed by the caoineadh for the dead. The memory of him that lies beneath the wave is recalled, and every neighbour within hearing breathes a prayer for the soul of the faithful departed.”

The group in our photograph are standing in front of a long ladder that was used by thatchers. You can see a bundle of straw hanging over the wall on the right. The boy is wearing a handknit cap and is carrying fishing nets. The lady is wearing a práiscín, a rough apron that she wore over her good petticoat when she was working. The king has a vest or waistcoat under his jacket and wears a kerchief around his neck. All three are wearing heavy shoes.

Our thanks to Chetham Library for this image.

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