200th Anniversary, October 10, 2015
America's oldest family owned and operated jewelers is celebrating its 200th anniversary this October 10th, 2015. A year-round, full service jewelry store with locations on Cape Cod in Harwich Port and Vero Beach, Florida, Michael O'Neill Monahan, president of the Monahan & Co., Ltd., says, "We should have been on Cape Cod 195 years ago!"
That was in 1815, the year that Michael's great-great-great-grandfather, Jeremiah. left his job as a goldsmith in Dublin to try his luck in a small village called Worcester in the new nation of the United States of America.
In 1815 the Harwich we know today was only 12 years old. (Brewster has separated from Harwich in 1803 after a bitter political struggle.) The global conflict between America and England to determine the fate of the young nation, the War of 1812, had just ended with the Andy Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans, only a month after the Massachusetts legislature had organized the Hartford Convention to protest the war. The main agenda item was a proposal for New England to secede from the fledgling Union.
Jeremiah began the Monahan family jewelry tradition in those turbulent times of James Madison's second term. One of Jeremiah's most famous contributions to the art of American jewelry was the Claddagh ring, a unique design in heavy gold of a crown over two hand holding a heart. This symbol of an Irish legend came full circle from our fourth to our 40th President when Michael Monahan presented a Claddagh ring to Ronald Reagan after his trip to Ireland.
The 400-year-old legend of the Claddagh ring tells of a young fisherman from the village of Claddagh who was seized by Moorish pirates and sold as a slave in a sultanate in North Africa. The sultan liked the young infidel so much that he taught him the art of goldsmithing and gave him permission to marry. The boy replied that he would "hold his heart" for the girl he had to leave in his homeland. The young Irishman managed to escape and make his way back to Ireland and Claddagh where he wed his faithful sweetheart with the gold ring he had made while a Muslim slave. The crown represents charity, the hands stand for friendship, and the heart is, of course, for love.
The legend of the Claddagh has been mirrored in the Monahan family's history. First, there is the fact that Jeremiah, the young goldsmith brought the Claddagh ring from a foreign land where it was first made. Next, the wedding that gives the legend its happy ending was echoed in 1905 when Jeremiah's great-grandson, Charles, married the daughter of another Irish-American family, the Gerritys, also of Worcester. Their union resulted in the merger of the Monahan store and two Gerrity stores into one company. Michael Monahan believes that the three stores were the first chain of jewelry stores in the country.
Finally, Michael recently purchased a magnificent platinum and diamond antique ring from an estate. He discovered that it had been made by his grandfather, Charles, in the same year he married Gertrude Gerrity, 1905. Just as the young fisherman of the legend eventually returned to Claddagh, the heirloom ring has returned to the Monahan family after 80 years.