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Did you know: The Claddagh Had a King?

January 31, 2022


The first recorded King of the Claddagh was the Rev Thomas Folan, who died in 1887. Padge King and Eoin Concannon were his successors, and regarded as the last actual kings when Concannon died in 1954. Ceremonial ‘kings’ since then have been Martin Oliver, Patrick Ladeen Curran, and Mike Lynskey.

King of the Claddagh

The King of the Claddagh was the leader of the Claddagh community in Galway City. It is now an honorary role.

According to James Hardiman, writing in 1820: From time immemorial [The Claddahg] has been ruled by one of their own body … dignified with the title of mayor in imitation of the head municipal officer of the town [who] regulates the community according to their own peculiar laws and customs, and settles all their fishery disputes. His decisions are so decisive, and so much respected that the parties are seldom known to carry their differences before …civil magistrates

Hardiman furthermore stated that the mayor was “in no way distinguished” from the rest of the Claddah folk, except at sea where “he act[ed] as admiral” and his boat was signified by use of a while sail.

Galway historian John Cunningham commented on change of term: they [Claddagh folk] attracted visitors who exoticised their hosts .. the urban provenance of their social organisation andritual was ignored, and they were recast as primitives. For Thomas Carlyle in 1849, they formed a ‘kind of wild Irish community;’ … A ‘wild Irish community’ could hardly be regulated by a mayor, so Claddagh’s leading citizen was transformed into a ‘king.’It was the Carter Halls’ 1843 account that popularised the ‘king of the Claddagh’ myth.”

Because the appellation ‘king of the Claddagh’ gained currency, several writers have situated the role of the Claddagh mayor/admiral within a tradition in which rural and coastal communities chose a rí or king. ‘King’ was not a title that was chosen by Claddagh people themselves, however. For their model of self-government, Claddagh people had looked to the town of Galway, and their leader was a mayor on dry land and an admiral at sea – just as the Mayor of Galway held the subsidiary title of Admiral of Galway Bay.

Mayors and Kings

Elections of Mayors of the Claddagh are noted in 1812 and 1837. A possible Mayor in the 1830s was Denis King. Only in 1846 are the names of the Mayor, Bartley Hynes, and the runner-up and deputy, Owen Jones, recorded. Hynes died on 27 April 1849 and was succeeded by Jones. A possible Mayor in the 1830s was Denis King.

The first recorded King of the Claddagh was the Rev Thomas Folan, who died in 1887. Padge King and Eoin Concannon were his successors, and regarded as the last actual kings. Ceremonial ‘kings’ since then have been Martin Oliver (Claddagh), Patrick Ladeen Curran, and Mike Lynskey.

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