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Ireland Gazeteer

Galway City in 1838

GALWAY, County of the Town of, was erected into a separate county by charter of 8th James I. With the exception of the site of the county gaol and court-house, the county of the town embraces a tract of 23,000 acres, and includes the parish of St. Nicholas, and parts of the parishes of Rahoon and Oranmore. This district is divided into nearly equal parts by the river, which here discharges the waters of Loch Corrib into the sea. The town of Galway is built on both sides of, and on two islands in, this river; the main town is situated wholly on the eastern side. Galway is 102 Irish or 130 English miles from Dublin.

There does not appear to have been any trace of a town here till the year 1124, when a fortress was erected on this site, probably by the O'Flaherties, dynasts of Iar Connaught, which was destroyed by Conor, king of Munster, in 1132: and, having been rebuilt, was a second time demolished by Furlough O Brien, his successor, in 1149. On the invasion of the English in 1180, Galway was again put in a state of defence by the O'Flaherties, from whom Richard De Burgho took it in 1232; and in 1270 the walling and fortification of the town were undertaken by the conquerors. About this time the ancestors of many of the present leading families of Galway settled here, and from the entry of customs on the Pipe toll, it appears that the place at this time had already become a considerable depot of foreign merchandize.

The power of the new settlers being confirmed by their victory at Athenry over the Irish, who had risen in aid of Edward Bruce on his invasion in 1315, the town, notwithstanding some interruption caused by the defection of the De Burghos in 1333, continued to prosper: and various subsequent grants of murage attest the importance which was attached to its preservation by the English government.

Although involved in frequent disputes with Limerick, arising out of the rivalry of trade, Galway continued to increase in mercantile prosperity till the middle of the seventeenth century. On the breaking out of the rebellion in 1641, the Earl of Clanricarde, after some opposition, occupied the town for the king. The concourse of persons taking refuge here from the troubles which succeeded produced a plague, which, between July and April, 1649, carried off 3,700 of the inhabitants. On the final success of the Parliamentarians in 1652, Galway, after enduring a blockade of some months, submitted to Sir Charles Coote. On the breaking out of the war of the revolution in 1688, the inhabitants declared for James II, and continued attached to his cause until the defeat of the Irish at Aughrim enabled General Ginckle to come before the town with a force of 1,400 men, to whom the place surrendered on honourable terms on 26th July, 1691. From this period down to the present time Galway has continued distinguished for its attachment to the established government, which was markedly evinced by the loyal services of the inhabitants during the rebellion of 1798.

The walls, which formerly contained an area of about twenty-two acres, have been almost entirely pulled down since 1779, and the town has now extended on all sides to a considerable distance beyond its former limits. Some of the antique residences still remain, which are generally square castellated buildings, with an interior court-yard and arched gateway opening on the street, in the Spanish taste. The whole of the old part of Galway, indeed, partakes of the appearance of a Spanish town, the result most probably of the extensive trade and intercourse maintained between it and the coast of Spain. The house of James Lynch Fitzstephen, who was mayor in 1493, and whose determined execution of the law upon his own son has given much interest to his memory, still stands in Lombard-street, commonly called ‘dead man's lane,’ in allusion to the event above referred to. The west bridge, built about 1442, connects the town with Ballymana island and the opposite suburbs.

The corporation of Galway consists of a mayor, two sheriffs, free burgesses unlimited, recorder, and town-clerk. The corporate authorities have exclusive criminal jurisdiction within the town, and a civil jurisdiction to any amount for debts contracted within the same limits. The borough quarter-sessions are held four times a year, and petty sessions two days in each week. The earliest charter extant is of 19th Richard II: but this and other subsequent charters were reformed by the new rules of 25th Charles II, and by the present governing charter of 29th of the same reign. The revenue of the corporation arises wholly from the tolls of the town, which in the year 1836 were let for £1,260 per annum.

This corporation has the patronage of a singular ecclesiastical body called the Royal College of Galway, which originated in a desire of the inhabitants to free themselves from the diocesan jurisdiction of the Irish archbishops of Tuam. This was carried into effect by a release executed in 1484 by Donat O'Murray, the then archbishop, which was subsequently confirmed by Pope Innocent VIII, and ratified by charter of 5th Edward IV; erecting the church of St. Nicholas into a collegiate body, consisting of a warden and eight vicars choral, whose presentation and election lie wholly with the corporation. By the 15th section of 11 Geo. IV, c. 7, this privilege is now confined to the Protestant members of that body. The wardenship of Galway extends over the parishes of St. Nicholas, Rahoon, Oranmore, Clare-Galway, Moycullen, Kilcommon, Ballynacourty, and Shruel, and contains a total population of 68,145. Galway is represented in the Imperial Parliament by two members. The constituency in 1836 was 2064.

The port and harbour are under the control of commissioners acting under 1 and 2 William IV, c.54. The harbour dues are at present let for £1,260 per annum; and on security of this revenue the commissioners have borrowed from the Board of Public Works a sum of £17,000 for various improvements on the harbour now in progress. The mayor of Galway is ex officio admiral of the coasts of Galway bay as far as the isles of Arran.

The borough gaol erected in 1810 is situated on the upper of the three islands which the river here forms; and adjoining it is the county gaol, connected by a bridge, built in 1831, with the county court-house, a handsome cut stone building erected in 1815, with a portico of four Doric columns. The gaol is built on the semicircular model, and is kept in an excellent state of discipline. The borough court-house or Tholsel, erected during the civil wars of 1641, is a respectable edifice: the under part forms an extensive piazza.

Opposite the Tholsel, in the middle of the only plot of ground within the limits of the old walls, stands the collegiate and parish church of St Nicholas, founded in 1320, by much the most imposing building in this county, if the lately-erected Roman Catholic cathedral of Tuam be excepted. It is of a cruciform shape, and extends in length 152 feet by 126 feet in breadth, including the side aisles; the height to the vault-nave is 42 feet 10 inches. From the intersection of the circles rises the tower, to which the steeple was added in 1633. In the interior are various monuments of interest still retaining many traces of sumptuous embellishment. The style of the building is the pointed Gothic. A sum of £1,385 has been recently granted by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for its repair. The disposition of the streets within the circuit of the ancient walls is very irregular: but in the newly-built portion of the town, particularly in the direction of the county court-house, uniformity and airiness have been more consulted. The custom-house, built in 1807, is a plain building. There are two barracks with accommodation for about 500 men.

This portion of the town is built on a gently-rising eminence stretching down to the river on the west, and to the sea on the south: on the latter side a creek of the bay forms a natural harbour, which is the site of the docks now in progress. These docks will occupy about nine acres, with water for vessels of 500 tons. The spit of land which separates this basin from the river is quayed for a distance of 1,300 feet, and terminates in a return pier. There are also two small docks on the river side of the town, which constituted the quays for merchant vessels during the old period of its continental trade. A small open space adjoining is still called Spanish Parade.

On the western side of the river is the extensive suburb of Claddagh, which was a very filthy village until 1803, when Captain Hurdis, of the navy, at that time stationed on the coast, persuaded the fishermen by whom it is exclusively occupied to set apart a portion of their earnings for the paving and cleansing of their streets; and the Claddagh is now in this respect superior to many parts of the town itself. The inhabitants will not permit strangers to reside among them. The laws of their fishery and most of their internal regulations are under the control of a functionary whom they call their mayor, and elect annually. They all speak the Irish language, and the women still retain more of the Irish costume than is observed in any equally accessible district. In 1820 the number of their open sailing-boats was stated to be 250. In 1836 they are stated at 105, employing 500 men, with 80 row boats employing 320 men. The entire population of this suburb, which is on the increase, is estimated at about 6,000.

Although by the act of 2 Geo. II, c.13, s.19, the corporation are specially empowered to levy a tax for the lighting of the town, as well as the inhabitants generally by 9 Geo. IV, c.82, neither of these acts has yet been put in force. Gas-works are however at present in progress of erection. The paving of the streets has been greatly neglected; and at night they have hitherto been left unprotected by any police. The fuel chiefly used is turf, which is brought in large quantities from the neighbouring coasts of Iar-Connaught and Connamara. The average price of coal is about 20 shillings per ton; but this is an article, the price of which fluctuates with the weather, and sometimes rises to a guinea and a half per ton. The chief manufacture of Galway is flour, which, owing to a fall of fourteen feet in the waters of Loch Corrib, between that lake and the sea, has been carried to a very considerable extent. In 1820 there were twenty-three flour-mills, six oat-mills, two malt-mills, and three fulling-mills, driven by this water-power. The quantity of wheat ground and dressed at this time was estimated at 12,000 tons per annum, and the trade has since increased. There are a bleach mill and green on one of the islands, and an extensive paper-mill and several breweries and distilleries in the town.

The export of wheat, oats, and flour has, it is stated, trebled within the fifteen years preceding 1834. The exports from 1st September, 1833, to 5th July, 1834, consisted of 6,018 tons of wheat, chiefly to Liverpool; 7,212 tons of oats, chiefly to London; 1,554 tons of flour; 406 tons of barley: and 50 tons of oatmeal. Besides this there is an export of kelp, marble, wool, and provisions. The imports consist of timber, wine, coal, salt, hemp, tallow, and iron. The following table exhibits the progress of trade during the last ten years —

Year ending 5th Jan. Custom Receipts in Port of Galway Vessels inwards Vessels outwards

In 1835 the customs had increased to £31,133, 2 shillings, 5 pence; the vessels inward numbered 135, of an aggregate burthen of 12,915 tons; vessels outward 145, with a tonnage of 15,531. In the same year the excise duties for this district amounted to £50,154, 12 shillings, 5 pence.

Date Houses Families Chiefly employed in Agriculture Chiefly employed in trade, manufacture, & handicraft Employed in neither of previous categories Males Females Total
1813 3,353 ... ... ... ... ... ... 24,684
1821 3,957 6,238 ... ... ... 13,346 14,429 27,775
1831 4,606 6,258 2,642 1,307 2,309 15,487 17,633 33,120

The number of young persons receiving instruction in the wardenship of Galway in 1834 was 2,827, of whom 1,763 were males and 1,064 females. The majority receive their instruction from the Roman Catholic religious orders, who are more numerous in Galway than in any other part of the British empire. There are monasteries of the Dominican, Franciscan, and Augustin orders for men, with an equal number of nunneries of the same orders, together with a Patrician monastery, in which is a school, in connection with the National Board of Education, of 799 boys; two convents for nuns of the Presentation order, in one of which there is a school, also in connexion with the same Board, for 529 girls ; and a Magdalen asylum. Two of the other schools within the wardenship are in connexion with the National Board.

There are four newspapers published in Galway, to which 39,810 stamps were issued in the year 1835. There are two subscription news-rooms and a library; but in 1834 there was no regular bookseller's shop in the town.

The expenses of the county of the town are defrayed by grand jury assessments, which, for the year 1835, amounted to £5,701, 8 shillings, 3 pence. The constabulary force in the same year consisted of one chief constable and twenty men, the expense of maintaining which amounted to £854, 19 shillings, 5 pence, of which £413, 19 shillings, 7 pence was chargeable against the county of the town.