The Square appears as a green piece of recreational land outside the town walls on the famous 1651 map of the medieval city (note the hilarity on the map). In 1710, the then-mayor Edward Eyre who owned a house where the Hardiman hotel is gifted the area to the city and the name has stuck since. Of note is that the Eyres were a Cromwellian-era family who would have largely displaced the Tribes’ families who had dominated the city for so long. A General Meyrick renamed it for a spell after himself but he wasn’t the most popular of men, having hanged 50 of the 1798 Galway rebels. Note that somebody had decided to name the Great Southern after him until quite recently. What an injustice!
It was renamed Kennedy Square after JFK wowed us with his god-like persona, but his name didn’t stick either. We must be a finicky lot. Most locals call the area the ‘Square’, lest we forget.The Bostonian wowed the crowds here, as did Parnell and O’Connell before him. The Square has had jousting, cricket, tennis, Toft’s Amusements and even live animal markets up until quite recently. Two fine Crimean cannons captured from the Russians in the 1850s by the Connaught Rangers were beside the Doorway for years and now lie forgotten outside City Hall.
It’s important to point out that much of the area where the modern harbour is was marshland and open sea to the south of the original town walls. It has been reclaimed over the past couple of centuries, beginning with the Eyres again who developed the mud dock at the end of the Long walk, itself being developed in the early 1700s. Large scale reclamation also occurred during the 1800s: before this, the shoreline was at the back of the Meyrick hotel. The 1840s saw major development, with the New Dock completed in 1842. 1880 saw the advent of scheduled sailings of large cruise vessels to America which ended in the 1950s. Dún Aengus Dock was itself added in 1882. 1964 saw the deepening and further improvement of the Commercial Dock. 1994 saw further expansion, with the Enterprise park built on yet more reclaimed lands to the south east of the harbour, with its access bridge over the entrance to Lough Atalia.
The Dillisk on the Docks site in the Harbour Hotel (2001) was originally a seaweed store whose original exterior has been absorbed into the hotel. Original owners the McDonoughs brought in boatloads of dillisk to make iodine. There were other such factories on the Long Walk and Woodquay. Dillisk is a reddish/purple sea vegetable found growing in the intertidal zone. It is harvested by hand and cured in the sun in the open fields. It has had somewhat of a comeback since its days when it was almost given away at local markets. A bag in a health food shop can be upwards of three euros. Never has there been so much value given to a product that can help with bowel movements and other health benefits.
What is now a suburb was once an independent fishing village that predated the medieval city by up to five hundred years. Bronze age materials were found on the shore and in the river, indicating even earlier settlement. It was perhaps these folk who would refer to the ‘Town of the Foreigner’ or Gaillimh taking shape across the river in the thirteenth century. It would have been a very distinct Gaelic culture compared to the uppity Olde English inside the city walls. It is said the men were the fishermen and the women looked after the house, but this does a disservice to the ladies who also had to sell the catch in the market. With the ruby red Hooker, the fishermen were led by an elected King who was usually chosen from their midst in time for the June 23 St. John’s Day celebrations. He actually wielded a lot of power and decided when they went to see to haul in the herring.
By the 19th century, there were as many as 100 Hookers manned by 800 men and 500 people living in around 500 of those pristine white cottages. Katie’s Cottage museum is worth mentioning to give people a feel for what life was like. Famine, migration, newer trawlers and perhaps rigid sticking to traditional craft led to a worsening of fishing fortunes. Many of the men turned to the British navy in particular for an income and these gifted seamen were much sought after. They were among the 1000 or more Galway men who lost their lives in the Great War. There are still a few fishing families like the Olivers to continue on the old traditions.
The plaque on the stone is in remembrance of some 100 ships who brought so many out of Galway between 1847 and 1850. The Mutton Light was the last thing seen by so many who fled their homeland for America, Canada and beyond. Some of the ships never made it to their destinations and many died on the worst of them, the ‘coffin ships.’ A conservative guess is that some 50,000 souls died at sea. A Celtic Cross lies in Cohasset Bay near Cape Cod remembering the 100 people drowned when the brig out of Galway broke up in strong seas, just a few hundred meters offshore. Captain Oliver from Bohermore could do little as 10 of the Sweeney family drowned, along with a large County Clare contingent.
Salthill, has Ireland’s longest promenade, at about 2 miles. Thousands walk it during the height of the Summer and can start at the Claddagh and “kick the wall” at Blackrock. The Victorian Prom was a lot rougher and shorter, stretching from the visible Palmer’s Rock to Blackrock. The beachfront was far less too. Flooding was far more frequent and the sea washed up to where Seapont is before all the boulders, breakwaters and piers were added in the middle of the last century. Grattan Road and this area of Upper Salthill were not linked until the newer section was added in 1955. This opening up and extension of the Prom, along with the 1950s and 1960s boom in tourism, led to far more hotels, bars and restaurants along the seafront, something not seen since the earlier Victorian era boom.
There is little doubt this iconic diving tower needs a good mention. It had humble beginnings as a springboard back in 1885. It was erected on the land of a Colonel O’Hara who was a bit of a humbug and tried to stop access to the area. The Urban Council got a lease on a public right of way and put in a more elaborate affair. This flimsy and dangerous construction was replaced by the present-day concrete diving tower in the 1950s after a near-death in 1942. Blacrock itself had had a small cluster of cottages in the nineteenth century, but they were literally blown away during January 6th’s ‘Night of the Big Wind.’ Blackrock was a men’s only bathing spot until the 1970s. The separate Ladies’ beach is back at Jungle Beach Break cafe. There are rumours of a nudist beach being built soon.
This national organ donor commemorative garden is located in Quincentennial Park and reflects the spirit of giving, the act of giving up an organ being the most selfless act of all. Strange Boat Donor foundation and Galway City Council developed the Garden and it was opened on May 6th, 2014. The ‘ Circle’ consists of five 2 metre tall stones in the garden’s centre, each representing man at the different stages of life’s journey. The many sculptures, features and inscriptions within the space are inclusive, welcoming and allow for some inner-reflection amongst a usually frenetic resort just outside its walls.
A central Stone of Unification was sourced from Clonmacnoise, the spiritual centre of Ireland for some six or seven centuries. A heritage stone wall has stones associated with all 32 counties and representing donors from all over the land. *There are heritage stones from all 5 continents to reflect that no matter who or where we are, a heart is a heart, an Asian kidney the same as an African or European one. As far as I remember, there is stonework from Melbourne’s famous cricket ground. There is also a time-capsule buried on the site in 1984 for the Quincentenary celebrations.
It is important to emphasise that the Salthill and Knocknacarra area have seen huge changes over the last 200 years. As mentioned, Salthill village was little more than a rural hamlet. Families like the O’Haras and the Grattans had owned land in the area, so it was an area of landlords and tenants just like the rest of Ireland. The actual townland is Lenaboy, again the Irish may mean the Yellow Meadow. Townland names in Ireland are gaelic native in origin and predate the Norman invasion. It was the Victorians who opened up Salthill. A combination of their seeking the great outdoors, the railway arriving into Galway and even the building of the likes of famine roads like Grattan and Threadneedle led to increased accessibility. The Eglington hotel on the Prom, famed seaweed baths and the horse-drawn tramway into Galway(1879-1918) also helped.
However, Salthill was still very much a rural village right up until the mid-twentieth century. A church was built in 1936 on land donated by monks, the Monksfield. From 1949 and the Seapoint milestone, the pace of development quickened. Lot of middle class residents moved into what was becoming a desirable seaside location and extra hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and other amenities followed. Tied in with this was the redevelopment and extension of the older promenade in the 1950s. By the 1970s, the resort was taking on Brash Bray and Terrific Tramore as Ireland's go-to seaside town and a much sought-out suburb of a rapidly expanding city.
This is a good option for folk to have an experience of an intimate and unique distillery experience, in that it produces the notorious Irish Poitín, albeit the legal 40% variety. My visit showed me that the product isn’t just some shady stuff made by even shadier Connemara men - the spirit can be used in cocktails and Micil’s version is both unique and authentic to a family recipe. The family are 6th generation poitín makers, starting with Micil Mac chearra in 1848. The family’s recipe is legendary, using local botanical ‘bogbean’ to infuse their stamp on the spirit. An award-winning gin is also made inside. If that doesn’t have folk standing up at the next stop like thirsty meerkats, nothing will.
The pub itself is worth a look for the bric-a-brac on the walls and ceilings. Like a true Irish bar, they don’t serve food and they don't have a TV, forcing patrons to actually look each other in the eyes and attempt the old art of having a chat. Its well-known ‘sing-along’ pub and bills itself as the first singing bar in the land. The bar was opened in 1942 by Thomas O’Connor, Abigail and they had thirteen children to help out. The building was run as a pub from 1845 to 1942 by 3 other families; the Glennons, Scallans and Flynns.
The university’s Quadrangle is modelled on Christchurch at Oxford University and one of three Queen’s Colleges opened in Ireland and opened to students in 1849. It is an architectural marvel in the Tudor Gothic style. There were three faculties of Arts, Medicine and Law and these were taught to the first 68 students in that first year. There were also schools of Engineering and Agriculture. The Quad is now closed to students and is home to the President of the University, as well as the admins who ensure the college runs smoothly, if they so choose. There are 150 societies to choose from today for the 19000 students but the first was the Literary and Debating Society. It had a name change to UCG in 1908 and again in 1997 to the current one. There is a bit of Galway’s hidden history at the back of the Quad: the British judicial insignia removed from the courthouse after independence lies there, out of sight and mind.
In 1968, the university expanded north along the River Corrib and comprises 105 hectares and some 90 buildings. It features a Biomedical Science research centre with ties to huge biomedical employers found to the east of the city, the O’Donoghue Centre for Drama, theatre and performance, the Martin Ryan Marine Institute, among others. NUI now ranks in the top 1% of universities worldwide and is seen as a centre of excellence in many fields.It has a strong international contingent of students attending, with over 3000 visitors from 110 countries adding to the college and the city. The university is partnered with 100 other European universities partaking in the Erasmus programme. There are strong links with community and organisations which promote the cultural and artistic Galway so many people love.
Its full title takes a full breath to say out loud: The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas, Galway. It is the third reincarnation of the unofficial patron saint of the city - the much older Saint Nicholas’s Collegiate church and the Pro-Cathedral on Abbeygate Street this building replaced after consecration in 1965. Bar the Barcelona cathedral those siesta-loving Spaniards won’t have ready before 2030, this stone marvel is Europe’s youngest cathedral. It is good to ask guests to guess its age before the big reveal. They are usually a few hundred years off, but only if they haven't ruined their own joy by googling everything first. Cardinal Cushing of Boston delivered the first sermon entitled, “Why build a cathedral?” on behalf of Bishop Browne who very well may have been justifying the cost to his parishioners who were expected to give a weekly donation towards its cost. What this does do is reinforce Galway’s strong links to America and Boston, in particular, the next parish over out past Galway Bay. There is a mural of a kneeling JFK in a side chapel inside.
The site was the location of the town and county gaols which were built after 1810 and merged into a larger one in 1870. Prisoners were transferred from the county courthouse where the modern one is now and the town court, now the Town Hall theatre. The Salmon Weir Bridge was completed by 1819. There is a rumour that a judge at the time wanted anyone found guilty to be marched directly to prison and demanded the bridge be built so they did not get to enjoy much of a walk between court and gaol! There were executions where the main car park is today and an unfortunate inmate was recently dug up in Bohermore cemetery, his hands still bound and neck broken. Famous inmates included land agitators and nationalists William O’Brien and John Dillon. Bishop Browne got his hands on the site for ten old pounds when the gaol shut in 1939.