Claddagh is one of the oldest fishing villages in Ireland. The Irish word for Claddagh is An Cladach, which means the stony shore, an area of the western shoreline at the mouth of the River Corrib. 

 Women in Claddagh in 1913.

Women in Claddagh in 1913.

The Gaelic people of the Claddagh lived quite separately from the City of Galway across the river, founded as a medieval city by the Anglo-Normans in the 1200s. While English was the main language within the city walls from medieval times, the Irish language survived until the 20th century in the Claddagh. Women in the village also continued to wear their traditional shawls well into the last century.

Claddagh women selling at the Fishmarket.

The Claddagh people made their living mainly from fishing. Once the fish were caught the women took them over the river and sold them in the fish market. You can read what the famous 19th century novelist Maria Edgeworth thought of Galway and its fish market here.

The Claddagh had its own customs, laws and king. The King of the Claddagh sailed a hooker with a special white sail, and settled disputes between the locals. The King of the Claddagh today is Mike Lynskey. 

A hooker under full sail at Claddagh Quay.

The Dominican Fathers founded the Piscatorial School on Claddagh Quay in 1846 to help educate the local children.

By the 1900s, the Claddagh was a busy village of thatched cottages with a large fleet of hookers fishing the bay. But things began to change when the big trawlers started to fish in Galway Bay. The boats of the local people, the Hooker, Gleoteóg and Pucán could not compete with them, and fishing fell into decline. 

 Tending to the birds during the demoltion and rebuilding of Claddagh in the 1930s.

Tending to the birds during the demoltion and rebuilding of Claddagh in the 1930s.

But more change was to come. The village of the Claddagh was made of thatched cottages. In 1927 it was decided the cottages were unsafe to live in. By the late 1930s all the cottages had been knocked down and the building of the Claddagh as we know it today began.