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Ireland Gazeteer

County Galway in 1838

GALWAY, a maritime county of the province of Connaught, in Ireland; bounded on the north by the county of Mayo; on the north-east by the county of Roscommon, from which it is separated for the most part by the river Suck; on the cast by parts of the counties of Westmeath, King's County and Tipperary, from which it is separated by the river Shannon; on the south by the county of Clare, and on the west by the Atlantic Ocean. It extends from about 164 English miles in length from east to west, and 52 in breadth from north to south. The extent of coast, which is very irregular, has been estimated at 400 miles; and the Shannon and Suck, both navigable rivers, nearly surround the rest of the county. The area, according to the Ordnance Survey, consists of:- cultivated land, 955,713 acres; unprofitable bog and mountain, 476,957 acres; water. 77,922 acres; or 2,360 statute square miles. The population, exclusively of the county of the town of Galway, was. in 1831, 381,564.

Physical Character, Rivers, Coast, &c.—

With the exception of a spur of the Slieve Boughta mountains, running from the Clare boundary on the south-east toward Loughrea, and a similar extension of the Burrin range on the south-west of the same district, the whole of that part of Galway which lies east of Loch Corrib, being nearly of the same extent with the county of Tipperary, is comparatively flat, and although to a great extent encumbered with bog, is pretty generally improved and productive. A low table-land running north and south separates this part of Galway into two nearly equal districts, the waters of one of which run eastward into the Suck and Shannon, and those of the other westward into the head of Galway Bay and Loch Corrib. The district of the Suck is most encumbered with bogs; nevertheless it contains much well-improved land, particularly in the neighbourhood of Ahascragh and Ballinasloe. The district bordering on the Shannon also contains a large portion of bog on that side next the river, but has a good share of cultivation and improvement towards the interior. The district extending eastward from the head of Galway Bay is the richest part of the county. The country east of Loch Corrib is more diversified with hill and dale, and is generally in a good state of improvement. The centre of this eastern district of Galway is a bare flat tract, not equal in fertility to any of the other portions.

The whole district west of Lochs Corrib and Mask is known by the general name of Connamara, and has latterly attracted much attention by its capabilities of improvement, as well as by the uncommon wildness and beauty of its scenery. The bay of Galway bounds it on the south, the Atlantic on the west, and a deep inlet of the sea, railed the Killery harbour, separates it on the north from the mountainous district of Murrick, in Mayo. From the head of Loch Corrib on the east to Achris Head on the west, this district extends 40 English miles; and from the head of Killery harbour on the north, to the shore of the bay of Galway on the south, 30 miles. The most prominent object is a group of conical mountains called the Twelve Pins, (probably Bins, synonymous with the Scotch Ben), of Bunnabola, rising abruptly from a table-land of moderate elevation which stretches south and west from their bases to the sea, and forms the chief habitable portion of the district. Round their bases are numerous lakes, of which the chief are Loch Ina, under the eastern front of the group; the upper and lower lakes of Ballynahinch skirting them on the south, and Lochs Kylemore and Foe lying between their northern declivities and the opposite range, which rises along the southern shore of the Killery. The average height of these mountains is about 2,000 feet; some rise to 2,400 feet, and as the table-land from which they rise is only of moderate elevation, their appearance is very striking. Northward and eastward from the Twelve Pins a range of equal altitude, but not of so picturesque a character, covers an area of about 200 square miles, between the head of Killery harbour and the western shore of Loch Mask. About midway between these waters lies the lake of Loughnascoy, north of which, to the boundary of Mayo, the country is entirely uninhabited. The chief elevations of this group, on the west, are Shanafola, at the Head of Loch Corrib; Ben Leva, the declivities of which form the isthmus between Lochs Corrib and Mask; and the range of Maam Trasna overhanging the western shore of the latter lake. On the north the range of Furmnamore extends along the Mayo boundary, and on the west and south Maam Turk and Mameam rise over Loch Ina opposite to the eastern part of the group of Bennabola. Although this entire tract of country is generally known by the name of Connamara, it is properly divided into three districts: the portion last described, between the head of the Killery and Loch Corrib being termed Joyce Country; that lying south of the Pins and range of Shanafola and Mameam being Iar-Connaught, or Western Connanght; and the remainder, extending westward from the Pins to the Atlantic, constituting Connamara Proper. The islands off the coast of Galway are very numerous: the chief are the three south islands of Arran, lying about midway between the coasts of Iar-Connaught and Clare, in the opening of the bay of Galway, and the islands of Innisturk, Innisboffin, and Innishark, extending, in like manner, across the offing of Killery harbour, between the coasts of Connamara and Murrisk

On the southern side of the bay of Galway the coast is not favourable for the construction of harbours. From Burrinquay, in the county of Clare, to Kinvarra, at the head of the bay, there is no place of shelter for craft except at Killaney in Arran, and Durus on the mainland, opposite the town of Galway. The creeks of Ballynacourty and Rhenville are good harbours for vessels of a small class at the head of the bay, and the harbour of Galway has lately been much improved. Westward however from Galway, and round the entire coast of Iar-Connaught and Connamara to the boundary of Mayo, there is a succession of harbours for vessels of the largest class, unequalled perhaps on any similar extent of coast in Europe. The first of these noble roadsteads next Galway is Costello bay, at the mouth of the celebrated fishing stream the Costello, where a small pier was erected in 1822 for the accommodation of fishing-boats and merchant vessels. This harbour admits large ships, and is defended by a martello tower. Casheen bay, Greatman's bay, and Kilkerran bay occur immediately west from the Costello, being separated from one another by narrow peninsulas. The last-mentioned bay contains one hundred miles of shore, and is capable of receiving the largest vessels. A pier, five hundred feet in length, with a return of one hundred, was constructed here in 1822: but as there is no road of any kind to the shore, it has been of comparatively little service. An extensive peninsula (ten miles by seven), interspersed with lakes, but destitute of roads of any kind, separates Kilkerran bay from the bay of Birterbuy, which runs inland about five miles, being only half a mile wide at the entrance, and from two to three miles wide within: it has deep water and fine ground, and might be easily fortified, so as to form a most desirable station for ships of war. On the western side of the entrance to Birterbuy bay is the opening of Roundstone harbour, a safe and capacious inlet, with clean good ground, and two to five fathoms’ water. Roundstone harbour has been much spoken of as the terminus of a western Irish railway. At the head of the harbour, where the waters of the lakes of Ballinahinch and Loch Ina discharge themselves, is an excellent salmon fishery. A considerable village has sprung up within the last ten years at Roundstone, and as a road runs hither from the main line of communication between Galway and Clifden, there is a prospect of it becoming a place of some trade, especially as it is the nearest point for the shipment of the fine green marble of Ballinahinch. From Birterbuy the coast stretches, with occasional anchorages, to Slyne Head, the most western point of Galway; off Slyne Head lie a number of islands with navigable sounds between them, which remained unnoticed in the maps till Mr. Nimmo’s coast survey, made for the late Commissioners of Irish fisheries: had the existence of these sounds been known, it is believed that many shipwrecks might have been prevented. Between Slyne Head and Achris Head occur the bays of Mannin and Ardbear, or Clifden; the former possessing one good anchorage, but exposed, and the latter an excellent harbour with safe anchorage in six to eight fathoms' water. At the head of this harbour a considerable town has grown up since 1822, at which time it consisted only of one slated house and a few thatched cabins. The commencement of a pier here by the proprietor, Mr. D'Arcy, assisted by Government in 1821, seems to have been the first step towards raising the place above the wilds which still surround it. So successful have the efforts of the proprietor been, that Clifden, in 1826, contained about one hundred good houses, roofed with Bangor slates, and about thirty country shops, the sales of which were estimated to contribute upwards of £3,000 per, annum in direct taxes to the Government; and the consumption of taxable commodities is now stated to have increased to double the amount. In 1821 the population was 290; in 1831 it was 1,257.

There is now a regular market in Clifden for corn, where, ten years ago, all the corn required was brought in barrels from Galway. A brewery, distillery, and milling concerns contribute principally to the demand; but there is also a regular export of corn and butter to Liverpool. As early as 1825 there were seven cargoes imported direct into Clifden for the use of the country; and there is now a regular import from America. North of Clifden harbour is Cleggan, an excellent roadstead, with a pier built in 1822, to which a branch of the new coast-road has been extended. Between Cleggan bay and the point of Renvyle, which forms the southern boundary of the entrance to the Killeries, is the harbour of Ballynakill, well sheltered by the island of Truchelaun, and capable of receiving vessels of the largest class. Rounding the point of Renvyle there is an open bay, from the head of which two inlets run eastward between steep mountains. These are the Great and Little Killeries; the latter an arm of the sea, about twelve miles in length, by a quarter to three-quarters of a mile in width, having, for a great part of its length, ten to twelve fathoms of water and clean ground. An island at the mouth completely protects it from the sea, but from being overhung on each side by steep and lofty mountains it is exposed to squalls, and not safe for sailing boats. The scenery of the Great Killery is much admired, and considered to approach nearest to the Norwegian fiords of any in these islands. On the whole there is no part of this district more than four miles from existing means of navigation. The harbours fit for vessels of any burthen are upwards of twenty in number, it contains twenty-five navigable lakes of a mile or more in length, and hundreds of smaller size. Loch Corrib and Loch Mask alone have upwards of seventy miles of navigable coast: and all these waters abound with fish. The sea shore affords a constant supply of red and black seaweed, which can be used either as manure, or in tho manufacture of kelp, of which latter article upwards of fifteen thousand pounds' worth has been manufactured in one season. Banks of calcareous sand and beds of limestone are of frequent occurrence, and there is an inexhaustible supply of peat fuel and of water power. Yet, notwithstanding these capabilities, if the neighbourhoods of Clifden and Roundstone be excepted, the population still continues poor and thinly scattered along the coast, leaving the interior almost wholly waste. The population of this district is at present under 65,000, and the entire rental about £50,000 per annum; although it is estimated to contain 350,000 Irish, or 615,000 English acres.

The rivers of Galway, being either feeders of the Suck and Shannon, or descending by short courses from the western district to the sea, are in general small. The river of Clare-Galway, which rises near Dunmore, in the north-east of the county, and passes near Tuam, has a course, from its source to its termination in Loch Corrib, of about 50 English miles. South of Tuam it expands into a periodical lake or turlogh: the waters generally rise in September or October, and do not subside until May, after which a coarse grass springs up, which is generally grazed as a common by the tenants of the adjoining land. Similar turloghs mark the surface of the country throughout the entire district bordering on the county of Clare; a phenomenon which is probably owing to the porous nature of the limestone rock which forms the substratum, which, being saturated with the autumnal rains, ceases during the winter to absorb the surface waters. Here, as elsewhere, on the verge of the great limestone tract which extends throughout the central district of Ireland, it is frequently perforated by subterranean cavities, which occasion the disappearance of numerous streams, and in some instances absorb considerable rivers. Thus, the river of Shruel, on the northern border of this part of the county, dips underground near Moycastle, and emerges before it terminates in Loch Corrib. The entire waters of Loch Mask also pass more than two miles by subterraneous channels under the isthmus of Cong into Loch Corrib. A considerable stream, which rises near Loughrea, after a south-western course of ten miles, during which it dips underground for half a mile, disappears in a turlogh about five miles from Gort; and two other streams in the more immediate neighbourhood of Gort sink and emerge frequently, and finally disappear without any visible outlet. The lakes of Loughrea and Gort are fine sheets of water; the latter has well-wooded banks and a very picturesque vicinity.

An extension of the Grand Canal connects Ballinasloe with the line to Dublin at Shannon Harbour. It has been proposed to carry on this line by Tuam to Galway, and to extend a branch from it to Loughrea. It has also been proposed to open a water communication northwards from Galway through the heart of Connaught by joining Lochs Corrib and Mask with the navigable lakes of Mayo.

Prior to 1813, the only roads west of Galway were a narrow coast-road to Costello bay and a central road by Oughterard to Ballinahinch. These were led over rocks and bogs in so unskilful a manner as to be scarcely passable for any sort of carriage, and the only other means of communication through the district were narrow bridle-roads scarcely passable for horsemen in summer, and quite impracticable in winter. On the coast, in particular, there was nothing beyond the Costello better than a footpath. By the improvements begun in 1822 and still in progress under the Government, a complete line of carriage round the whole district has been effected. A coast-road has been formed which touches the heads of all the chief inlets from Costello bay to the Killery, where it joins an inland line leading through the heart of Joyce Country to the head of Loch Corrib, and thence across the central plain of Iar Connaught to the southern coast-road at Costello bay. These works and the expenditure of public money on piers and fishing harbours on the coast, have considerably promoted the general prosperity of the country: and the favourable statements of the various scientific men engaged in them have attracted so much attention to Connamara that there is a probability of its ultimately becoming the scene of extended mercantile and agricultural speculations.


The climate is mild, and snow rarely lies in the western district. Cattle in this part of the county are never housed. The summers are wet, and the coast is exposed to very heavy storms from the Atlantic. According to the population returns for 1821, there were living in the county of Galway at that time 21 females and 11 males severally over 100 years of age.

Geological Character.

The eastern district of Galway has not been geologically described, but, with the exception of a portion of the sandstone and clay-slate formation of the Slieve Boughta range, which it includes, and of the range of the Slieve Dert hills on the borders of Roscommon, it is understood to consist almost wholly of the same flinty limestone tract which extends over the central plain of Ireland. The formation of the primitive district west of Lochs Comb and Mask is better known. From Galway westward the whole coast to Slyne Head is a sheet of syenite, covered for the most part with a thin coating of bog, and containing many shallow lakes. This granite field forms a table-land of an average elevation of about 100 feet, and extends northward to the longitudinal valley which skirts the southern bases of the Twelve Pins, where it is succeeded by gneiss and mica slate, with beds of hornblende and granular limestone running east and west from Loch Corrib to Clifden. The group of Bennabola consists of a schistose quartz of a greyish brown colour, large sheets of which are exposed on the precipitous sides of all the chief eminences. On their northern bases the limestone, which shows along their southern side, disappears; and the mica slate and hornblende rise beyond Kylemore and the passes of Maam Turk into the southern mountains of Joyce Country: these are succeeded, more northward, by a transition tract of greenstone and grauwacke slate, covered by old red sandstone and conglomerate, constituting the entire country between the head of Killery harbour and Loch Mask, and extending beyond the bounds of Galway into the mountain-ranges of southern Mayo. To the westward of the Pins, the country, with the exception of the hill of Renvyle, which is a mass of quartz, consists principally of mica slate traversed by beds of granular limestone, and in some places by veins of granite. To the east the range of mountains rising from the northern edges of the granite tract terminate in the hill of Glen over Oughterard. All the formations of the district enter into the structure of this hill. On the west it is composed of quartz, and on the north of mica slate: granite and syenite constitute its eastern and southern faces, and the centre is penetrated by beds of hornblende and granular limestone with a capping of greenstone; which last rock also constitutes the mass of Ben Leva, and enters largely into the formation of the range of Maam Trasna. The line of demarcation between this primitive district and the floetz limestone field of the eastern division of the county, pretty nearly coincides with the high road from Galway to Oughterard, north of which it enters the bed of Loch Mask, which it traverses and is again observable running northward and westward into the south of Mayo.

The mountains of the primitive district are highly metalliferous. The neighbourhood of Oughterard is rich in copper and lead; and abundant indications of the same ores have been found throughout the group of Bennabola. Fine green marble is quarried at Ballinahinch at the southern base of the same mountains, and the black and variegated marbles of Angliham and Merlin Park near the town of Galway are of a superior quality. In the eastern district ironstone has been found at Woodford, Gort, and Lawrence-town: the works at the first place were carried on extensively at one time: but the supply of wood for smelting having been exhausted, they have been long since given up. Manganese is of frequent occurrence in the district about Gort, particularly in the neighbouring mountain of Slieve-an-oir (or 'the Gold Mountain’) on the Clare boundary. Potters' clay and yellow ochre occur in the country about Athenry. A fine grit, fit for millstones, is raised near Dunmore; and the Slieva Boughta mountains above Loughrea afford an excellent stone for polishing marbles.


The richest soil in this county occurs in a tract extending from Gort through Loughrea to Portumna, Eyre Court, and Ballinasloe. The wheat produced in the southern portion of this tract is of a superior quality: and the numerous demesnes lands occurring throughout it are among the most fattening pastures in Ireland. The remainder of the eastern district is more an oat and barley country, the best of which extends northward from Tuam to Dunmore and Shruel. On the lighter soils great numbers of sheep are fed, principally for the supply of the Leinster graziers, who purchase them for fattening, at the fairs of Ballinasloe. Throughout this district marl is of frequent occurrence. The only tract of cultivated ground of any considerable extent west of Galway is that which extends along the verge of the limestone plain to Oughterard. The improvements about Clifden, Ballinahinch, and Renvyle extend but a short way into the surrounding waste. Throughout the entire county of Galway, with the exception of demesnes, the dry-stone wall is. the prevailing fence.

Large quantities of bog have from time to time been reclaimed. Experiments are now in progress on the bog of Critt, part of the estate of Lord Clonbrook, by which it appears that an outlay of about £14 per acre is sufficient for the complete reclaiming of ordinary bog-lands in Galway.

Some resident proprietors have adopted the system of green crops, and conduct their farming on the Scotch and English plan: but these are very rare exceptions. An estimate of the amount and distribution of agricultural produce may be formed from the following table of the sales of grain for the year 1835 at each of the under-named towns. In order to afford an estimate of the increase or decrease of such sales in each, the total amount so sold within the ten years preceding is added:—

For year 1835
Total for 10 years preceeding 1835
Mount Bellew
Total for County

The produce in live-stock of Galway cannot be so accurately estimated, as Ballinasloe, the great fair for cattle within this county, is frequented by sellers from all the western parts of Ireland. At the October fair here, as many as 20,000 head of black cattle and 90,000 sheep have been sold within the week: the average value of cattle annually brought to sale has been estimated at £400,000.


The fisheries of the coast yield a very considerable produce. About sixty-three thousand long thousands (or eighty-five millions) of herrings appear to have been disposed of to country dealers and resident curers in Galway in the year 1836; which, at 10 shillings the long thousand, would yield the fishermen alone £31,.500. In the same y ear the total number of fishermen employed on the Galway coast was 8,539, manning 1 decked vessel, 116 half-locked vessels, 479 open sail-boats, and 1,376 row boats. Besides the herring fishery, there is an excellent take of cod, ling, whiting, and turbot, from December to March; and of gurnet, mackerel, bream, and pollock, from May to August, together with a copious supply of oysters, lobsters, and crabs. The sun-fish deep-sea fishery peculiar to this coast deserves special mention. The sun-fish or basking shark has its name from only appearing about sunrise and sunset, at which times it is distinguishable by its tail and back-fins protruding from the water. It is killed with the harpoon like a whale; and as the average bulk is thirty feet in length, and six tons in weight, it requires five or six men for three hours or more to kill a single fish. The oil yielded by the liver of an average-sized sun-fish is worth about £50 . To carry on this fishery with advantage, the boats should be decked vessels of from 40 to 80 tons, well found, and capable of remaining at sea in all ordinary weathers, but, as there are none such in use among the fishermen of the coast, the pursuit of this profitable branch of industry has almost entirely ceased.

The manufacture of Kelp was formerly another source of considerable profit to the inhabitants of the shores; but owing to the decline in the price of barilla, it is not now so much attended to: and the use of the seaweed as a manure is likely to prove more generally beneficial. The manufacture of coarse woollen hosiery also brings a return of about £10,000 per annum into Connamara; and coarse linens and friezes are made to a large extent for home consumption.

The general condition of the people of Galway is somewhat better than that of the inhabitants of most other parts of Connaught, which probably arises from the residence of so many of the landed proprietors on their estates: 6 pence to 8 pence per day for l20 days in the year is the average rate of agricultural wages and employment. The manners of the people west of lochs Corrib and Mask are very primitive; and some of the clans still inhabiting the mountainous tract north of Oughterard and the Twelve Pins are remarkable for great stature and personal strength. The Irish language is very generally spoken.

Political Divisions.—

Galway is divided into seventeen baronies, of which three are situated west of lochs Corrib and Mask: viz., Ross, nearly co-extensive with the district of Joyce Country, which contains but two small villages; Ballinahinch, nearly co-extensive with the district of Connamara, containing the town of Clifden (population, in 1831, 1,257), and Moycullen, corresponding with the district of Iar-Connaught, which contains the village of Oughterard, with a population of 527. East of lochs Corrib and Mask the district bordering on Mayo is occupied by the baronies of Clare, containing the town of Headforth (population 1,441), and part of the town of Tuam (total population 6,883); Dunmore, containing the town of Dunmore (population 847), and part of Tuam; and Tyaquin, containing no hamlet with more than 60 inhabitants: the district bordering on Roscommon is occupied by the baronies of Ballymoe and Killian, containing only hamlets; Kilconnell, containing the towns of Ahascragh population 851) and Aughrim (population 587): and Clonmacnoon, containing part of the town of Ballinasloe. total population 4,615: the district bordering on the Shannon has the baronies of Longford, containing the towns of Eyre Court (population 1,789) and Portumna (population 1,1 21); and Leitrim, containing only the village of Leitrim, of 280 inhabitants: the district extending from the centre of the county to the head of Galway bay and to the Clare boundary has the baronies of Athenry, containing the town of Athenry (population 1,309); Loughrea, containing the town of Loughrea (population 6,289); Dunkellin, containing the town of Oranmore (population 673): and Kiltartan. containing the towns of Gort (population 3,627) and Kinvarra (population 824); the islands of Arran constitute a barony and parish in themselves.

Galway county is represented in the Imperial Parliament by four members, viz. two for the county, and two for the county of the town of Galway. The county constituency in 1836 was 3,057.

Date Houses Families Chiefly employed in Agriculture Chiefly employed in trade, manufacture, & handicraft Employed in neither of previous categories Males Females Total
1792 28,212 ... ... ... ... ... ... 142,000
1813 21,122 ... ... ... ... ... ... 140,995
1821 54,180 57,142 ... ... ... 156,157 153,442 309,599
1831 62,508 65,986 51,448 6,950 7,588 189,204 192,360 381,564

Civil History.—

The Anglo-Norman family of De Burgho and their followers, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, fixed themselves chiefly about Athenry and Galway, and maintained the administration of English law until the middle of the next century, when the assassination of William earl of Ulster led to a revolt of the entire Connaught branch of the De Burgho family. The De Burghos of Galway, having assumed the Irish name of Mac William Eighter, to distinguish them from the Mac Williams Oughter, another branch of the same family, fell into the lawless practices of the neighbouring clans, and remained in all respects like native Irish till the reign of Elizabeth. English law was again introduced by the reduction of this county to shire-ground by Sir Henry Sidney in 1585: but the Irish mode of life continued to prevail until after the rebellion of 1641, and the war of the revolution of 1688, both of which events affected the property and population of this county to a great extent. The present proprietary are for the greater part of English descent; but the great mass of the population are the descendants of old Irish. The family of Joyce, which still forms the chief population of the barony of Ross, and are quite Irish both in language and manners, are said to be descendants of English adventurers, who settled here in the reign of Edward I.

Galway is very rich in antiquities. There are round towers at Ballygaddy, Kilbannon, Kilmacduagh Meelick, Murrough, and Ardrahan. Cromlechs and stone circles are of frequent occurrence. The antiquities of the episcopal seats of Tuam, Clonfert, and Kilmacduagh are contained within this county. Of the numerous remains of religious houses throughout Galway, the ruined abbey of Knockmoy is the most interesting. It was founded in the year 1189 by Cathal O'Connor, surnamed Crove-dearg, or ‘of the red hand,’ in consequence of a victory obtained by him over the English under Almeric St. Laurence. Above the tomb of the founder are some fresco paintings of great interest, as exhibiting the costume of the ancient Irish: the Phrygian cap represented as worn by some of the figures will attract the attention of the antiquary. Abbey Knockmoy is also interesting for its architecture, which indicates a considerable advancement in the arts among its founders. The raths or earthern fortresses of the old Irish, and castles of the early Anglo-Norman lords, are also very numerous.

For the present state of education in this district see tuam.

The county expenses are defrayed by grand jury assessment. The amount so levied in the year 1835 was £43,938 8 shillings, 7 pence .

The constabulary force employed in Galway in the year 1835 consisted of 12 chief constables, 122 constables, 540 sub-constables, and 15 horse police, the total expense of which force was £23,553, 19 shillings, 8 pence. In 1835 the police force for this county consisted of one stipendiary magistrate, 13 chief constables, 135 constables, 582 sub-constables, and 19 horse; the total expense of this establishment was £26,565, 6 shillings, 9 pence, of which £12,480, 16 shillings, 6 pence was defrayed by the county.

The district lunatic asylum for Galway and the other counties is at Ballinasloe: it was opened in 1833, and accommodates 150 patients.