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Frederic William Burton - The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, 1864
Frederic William Burton
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Getting Around Galway

galway bay

Galway Bay - photo by Jane Huffman

by Suzanne Barrett

Galway City with a population of 75,000 is the third largest city in Ireland. It lies at the mouth of the River Corrib that flows between the lough of the same name and the sea. The city began as a fishing village, but by the thirteenth century, after being taken by Richard de Burgh, became a walled town. Though the Norman English settled within the city's walls, the fishing village survived into the twentieth century, finally to be replaced by grey, slate-roofed cottages in the section known as the Claddagh.

Galway's governors were loyal to the English crown, and the city received its charter as an independent city state from Richard III in 1484, an act which ushered in a period of prosperity, stability, and increased trade with the Continent. During this period, Galway was administered by fourteen ruling families or tribes, earning it the nickname "city of tribes."

These settlers of Galway guarded themselves against the hostile natives. A by-law of 1518 stated "that neither O nor Mac shall strutte ne swagger throughout' the streets of Galway."

A few remnants of Galway's medieval past remain, among them the largest parish church of the period. St. Nicholas' on the market place has been the Anglican cathedral since the Reformation. Lynch's Castle, once the town house of the premier tribe family, is now a branch of the Allied Irish Bank situated on the corner of Shop and Abbeygate streets. The structure is also a museum, its stone facade filled with carvings and coats of arms, including those of Henry VII and the Earl of Kildare.

spanish arch.jpgDown Abbeygate Street and around the corner on Market Street stands the famous Lynch Memorial Window housed in stonework and backing onto the grounds of St. Nicholas' Church. Oddly, this nineteenth-century memorial stands on a busy paved walkway along the city bus route. The church, originally built in 1320, is named after St. Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of travelers. The church was made collegiate in 1484 and was thereafter governed by a warden and eight vicars. Inside is contained some of the finest examples of Galway stone carvings.

Little remains of the original medieval city wall outside of the portion known as Spanish Arch opposite the Claddagh. A recently restored section appears in the Eyre Square Shopping Center which includes Penrice and Shoemakers Towers.

Other more recent structures include the Bank of Ireland building, dating from 1836, and housing the Galway Civic Sword and Mace. After the dissolution of the corporation in 1841, the sword (1610) and mace (1712) were given to Edmund Blake, the last Mayor of Galway. They eventually came into the hands of William Randolph Hearst in 1938, but were returned to Galway in 1960 by the Hearst Corporation.

galway_sign.jpgEyre Square, a tree-lined park, extends from the shopping center to an area where the gates were located in medieval times. It was called "the greene" and was owned by the Eyre family who presented it to the city in 1710. It was originally surrounded by a wooden fence until it was replaced in the late 1700s by iron railings. It still retains the Eyre name though now is officially called the John F. Kennedy Park after a visit by the former US President who was made a Freeman of the city. A bronze memorial commemorates the 1963 event.

At the top end of the square is the Browne Doorway, dating from 1627 and a fine example of a wealthy merchant's medieval doorway. It was once the entrance to the family's house in Abbeygate Street. The building became derelict and the door was transferred to its present location in 1904. Next to the doorway are two large cannon from the Crimean War of 1854-56, brought back by the local regiment, the Connaught Rangers. Behind the doorway stands the Quincentennial Fountain and the O'Conaire Statue. The fountain was erected in 1984 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the incorporation of Galway City as a Borough with mayoral status. The sails in the fountain's midst symbolize the dark brown sails of the hookers that once plied Galway Bay with their cargoes of turf and seaweed. The statue is a memorial to Padraic O'Conaire, 1882-1928, the city's pioneer writer of Irish verse.

galway_hookersm.jpgAcross the road and up the hill stands the statue of Liam Mellows, who led one of the few engagements outside Dublin during the Easter Rising.

Built on the site of the old Galway jail, Ireland's newest cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed and St. Nicholas, was officially opened and blessed in 1965. This enormous church is constructed of Galway limestone with floors paved in green Connamara marble.

A walk from the cathedral will bring you to University College Galway, Tudor in style, and opened in 1849. Many rare books are contained in the library, some dating back 500 years. The college opened its doors to 349 students but is now greatly expanded and is one of Ireland's major universities.

Facing away from the cathedral at Salmon Weir Bridge, visitors can see the fishery on the left-hand side. The River Corrib flows for just five miles from the Lough to Galway Bay, and the water is ideal for salmon. The flow is regulated by a weir constructed about three-quarters of a mile from the mouth. The salmon can often be seen resting in the waters near the bridge before migrating upstream over the weir to the Lough.

Moving down river, we come to O'Brien's Bridge, the middle of three crossings to the city center. On the right-hand side are two fine reconstructed buildings known as the Bridge Mills. The first is a converted grain mill now housing luxury apartments--the Granary Suites. The second mill dates from the late eighteenth century, though milling has been carried on at the site since medieval times. The building lay derelict until a few years ago when local businessmen began a restoration. It now houses shops and restaurants, and its mill wheel is a prominent fixture.

There are many fine shops in Galway City, among Ireland's finest crafts, clothing, and jewelry shops. Galway is the place and my choice for purchasing Claddagh rings, bodrans, and woolen goods. In addition, there are several fine bookshops, among them my personal favorite, Kennys Bookshop and Art Galleries. When I last visited the bookshop was located William Street but has since moved to more spacious quarters in Liosbán on the Tuam Road. For twenty years Des Kenny has operated a successful "Irish Book Parcel" business where one can have books hand-selected and shipped at different times throughout the year for a fixed amount. As a satisfied Kennys customer, I can personally recommend this service. So, if you're planning a visit to Galway, I urge you to avail yourself of the opportunity to visit Kennys and see for yourself the rooms filled with Irish books and art of all types.

Another on my list of not-to-be-missed stops is a visit to the Irish Emigrant office now located at Unit 4, Business Innovation Centre, NUI Galway, Upper Newscastle, Galway, Ireland. The Irish Emigrant started as a hobby for ex-pats in the mid-eighties when editor Liam Ferrie was employed at the Digital plant in Galway. This well-written electronic newsletter now goes to people in eighty countries.

In a future article week we'll cover some bed and breakfast choices, good places to eat, sights around the county and local entertainment. Stay tuned.

Galway Hooker photo - courtesy Paschal Whyte -

Do you have a question about Ireland? The Ireland for Visitors Forum is available with many helpful members.

Until next time.

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