Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary, Co. Galway

Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary comprises of several counties, cities, boroughs, parish and villages – with historical and statistical descriptions – of Ireland. Here are From-Ireland.net’s records for Co. Galway.

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    GALWAY, a sea-port, borough, and market-town, and a county of itself, locally between the baronies of CLARE, DUNKELLIN, and MOYCULLIN, county of GALWAY, and province of CONNAUGHT, 51 1/4 miles (N.N. W.) from Limerick, and 101 1/4 (W. by S.) from Dublin, on the bay of Galway; containing 33,120 inhabitants.

    Though few particulars of its early history are recorded, this place appears to have been regarded from a very remote period as a position of great importance. In the first division of Ireland, ascribed to Partholan, it was one of the chief points of partition; and in the subsequent division of the island between Heber and Heremon, adopted by Conn of the Hundred Battles and Eogan, King of Munster, it was fixed upon as the western termination of that line of demarcation, of which Dublin was the eastern extremity. There is every reason for supposing it to be identical with the 'Nagnata', or 'Naguata', of Ptolemy, described as the principal city on the western coast. Baxter adopts this opinion, from its original name, "Cuan-na-guactie;" signifying in the Irish language "the port of the small islands;" descriptive of its situation both with respect to the isles of Arran at the mouth of the bay, and to the smaller islets in the more immediate vicinity of the town. The power of the Danes having been destroyed by the decisive battle of Clontarf,the people of the surrounding district, aware of the importance of its situation, erected a strong castle for its defence; which so powerfully excited the jealousy of the people of Munster, that Conor, king of that province, in 1132, despatched a body of troops and levelled it with the ground, In 1149, the town and castle, the latter of which had bee restored, were taken and destroyed by Turlough O'Brien, King of Munster ; but they appear to have soon revived, for, in 1154, the ships of "Galway Dune" were sent to the northern part of the island; and it is recorded that, in 1161, strange ships were seen in the harbour, and that the town took fire; the Annals of Innisfallen notice also another conflagration, in 1170, At the time of the English invasion, the town contained only a few families and some fishermen under the protection of the O'Flahertys, who then held the castle and the surrounding territory. The first notice of it that occurs after that event is the return of Feidlim O'Conor, King of Connaught, from the English court, whither he had gone to lay before the English monarch his complaints against Richard de Burgo. Hugh O'Flaherty, embracing the cause of Feidlim, fortified the castle of Galway, and in 1230 baffled every attempt of De Burgo to dispossess him; but on the defeat of Feidlim, about two years after, the town and castle fell into the hands of De Burgo, who, though he lost them again for a short time, ultimately recovered them, and made this place his principal residence and the capital of the province; he secured it with additional fortifications, and established a municipal government under a magistrate of his own appointment. In 1270, the erection of walls for the defence of the town was commenced, and continued at intervals, by grants for that purpose, till the end of that century, when they were completed. The increased security of the place encouraged the influx of strangers, among whom was a number of new settlers, consisting of 13, or according to some, 14 families, known under the appellation of the "tribes of Galway," who enriched themselves by commerce and the purchase of lands.

    The town, which rapidly increased in commerce, so as to surpass the rival city of Limerick, was, in 1312, strengthened by the erection of the great gate, and additional works under the superintendence of Nicholas Lynch, surnamed the "Black Marshall." On the death of William de Burgo, the third earl, who was assassinated by his own servants, a great change took place. That nobleman leaving only a daughter, the heads of the two younger branches of the family, fearing the alienation of the estates by marriage, threw off their allegiance, and, adopting the Irish customs, assumed the native titles of Mac William Eighter and Mac William Oughter; the former took possession of the town, with the territory towards the Shannon, and led the inhabitants into revolt; but on his returning to his allegiance, tranquillity was restored.

    In 1375, by grant of a charter of the staple, the merchants of Galway and Connaught were permitted for three years to pay the customs due to the Crown at Galway, which was thus placed on an equality with the cities of Cork, Dublin, and Waterford. In 1396, the town, which had hitherto exercised its corporate privileges only by prescription, obtained from Rich. II. a perpetual grant of the customs for the repair of the walls, and als6 a charter of incorporation, conferring many privileges, which charter was confirmed in 1402, by Hen. IV. A licence for coining, which had been hitherto confined to Dublin and Trim, was, about this time, granted to Galway by statute, specifying the value and character of the coins to be struck. During the reigns of Hen. VI. and Edw. IV., the commerce of the port extended to many parts of Europe, particularly to France and Spain, whence large quantities of wine were imported. In 1484, a new charter was granted to the town, vesting its government in a mayor and bailiffs, and expressly ordaining that neither the Lord Mac William of Clanricarde, nor any of his family, should exercise any authority within its limits.

    In 1493 occurred the melancholy execution by the mayor, James Lynch Fitzstephen, of his own son, for murder, whom, to prevent an intended rescue, he caused to be hanged from a window of his house, under which are carved a skull and cross bones in memory of the tragical event.

    During the reign of Hen. VIII., frequent disputes between the inhabitants and the men of Limerick arose from a feeling of rivalry, which were eventually terminated by treaty, and to their instigation did the former attribute the revival of a claim made on them by the Earl of Ormonde for prisage of wine, from which they had been previously exempt. The question, however, was decided in favour of Galway by the court of star chamber; the decision was of the highest importance to its merchants, who at that time supplied nearly the whole kingdom with wine, for which purpose they had vaults at Athboy, of which the remains are still to he seen. A royal ordinance was issued at the same time, by which the merchants of Galway were prohibited from forestalling the markets of Limerick; and in 1545 a new charter was granted, defining the limits of the port, which were made to extend from the isles of Arran to the town, and permitting the exportation of all goods and merchandise, except woollens and linens, with exemption from prisage and a confirmation of all former privileges. Edw. VI. granted a confirmatory charter, and the town continued to increase in prosperity; but the tyranny of Sir Edw. Fitton, the first President of Connaught, having excited an insurrection, it was harassed by the incursions of the neighbouring septs, and many of the principal inhabitants were induced to seek protection from Mac William Eighter. In 1579, the inhabitants received a charter from Elizabeth, with reversionary leases of the dissolved monasteries, the fisheries, the cocket, and lands of the value of 100 marks; but a few years after the Earl of Ormonde reasserted his claim to the prisage of wine, which was allowed by the court of chancery.

    About the year 1594, Hugh Roe O'Donell having destroyed Enniskillen (county Fermanagh) and burnt Athenry, appeared before the town, and being refused a supply of provisions, set fire to the suburbs, but retreated without doing further injury. In 1600, Lord Mountjoy erected a strong fort on the hill where the Augustinian monastery stood, which completely commanded the town and the harbour. and soon after the accession of Jas. I., the town and lands within a distance of two miles round it were by charter constituted a distinct county, of which the Earl of Clanricarde was appointed governor, with powers equal to those he exercised as President of Connaught.

    Soon after the commencement of the war in 1641, the inhabitants joined the parliamentarians, and the Earl of Clanricarde invested the town and speedily reduced it to submission; but his exertions to retain it for the king were frustrated by the violence of Capt. Willoughby, commander of the fort, which induced the people to open their gates to the enemy. In the course of the war, Rinuncini, the pope's nuncio, took refuge here and embarked for Rome. From the great numbers that fled to the town for shelter during this period of intestine war, the plague broke out in July 1649, and raged with violence till the April following, during which time 3700 of the inhabitants fell victims to its ravages. The Marquess of Clanricarde, wishing to borrow £20,000 for the king's service, offered the revenues of Galway and Limerick to the Duke of Lorraine as security, but the negociation failed. On this occasion a large and very accurate map of the town was drawn and engraved, two copies of which are still extant. In 1652, the town was invested by the parliamentary forces under Sir C. Coote, when Preston, the Irish commander of the garrison, having quitted it and embarked for France, the inhabitants surrendered on condition of retaining their privileges, the liberation of all native prisoners without ransom, and the restoration of all captured property, On the proclamation of Richard Cromwell, as protector, in 1658, so great a tumult was excited that the corporation was threatened with the loss of its charter. In 1690, the town was put into a state of defence, and garrisoned for Jas. II. by three companies of foot and a troop of horse, and in the following year three companies more were added, and the Protestant inhabitants removed into the western suburbs. After the battle of Aughrim, Gen. De Ginkell, with 14,000 of William's army, laid siege to it; after holding out for some time it surrendered on the 20th of July, 1691, on condition of a safe conduct for the garrison to Limerick, and a free pardon for the inhabitants, with preservation of their property and privileges. The works raised by both armies were levelled, the fort near the town was repaired, and a new one erected on Mutton Island, in the bay, for the protection of the harbour. Previously to the disturbances of 1798, 400 of the inhabitants formed themselves into eight companies of volunteers, for the preservation of the peace of the town; and on the landing of the French at Kilcummin bay, the merchants supplied Gen. Hutchinson with money, which enabled him to join Gen. Lake with the garrison and yeomanry of the town, who consequently shared in the defeat at Castlebar.

    The town is most advantageously situated at the head of the spacious bay to which it gives name, and at the mouth of a river issuing from Lough Corrib, which, after a winding course from that lake through the town, falls into the bay. It consists of several streets, in general narrow, and it is in contemplation to appropriate, under parliamentary sanction, a portion of the municipal revenue for its improvement. A gas company has lately been formed to light the town, and the works are in progress. Early in the present century the greater portion of the town walls was levelled and built upon, and streets were continued into the suburbs to such an extent as to give to that part the name of the New Town. The total number of houses, in 1831, was 2683, The more ancient part is built on the plan of a Spanish town; many of the older houses are quadrangular, with an open court and an arched gateway towards the street. Two bridges connect the town with the western district of Iar-Connaught; one built in 1342, which is still in good repair; and the other higher up the stream, a handsome structure built in 1831, and connecting the county court-house and prison. From the latter a highly interesting view, embracing up the river the fine Elizabethan structure of Menlough castle, on its right bank, and downwards the shipping in the harbour with the suburbs and the lofty mountains of Clare.

    The Castle or Upper Citadel barracks, near William's gate are a handsome range of building for 6 officers and 13 non-commissioned officers and privates, with an hospital for 60 patients; the Shambles barracks, near the river which are also well built, are for 15 officers and 326 non-commissioned officers and privates, with stabling for six horses. There are two subscription news-rooms, belonging respectively to the Amicable and Commercial societies and two newspapers are published in the town. Races for some years past have been held on a course about three miles distant. Several flour-mills have been erected on the banks of the river, which has a very rapid fall, and great quantities of flour are made here from the wheat grown in the neighbourhood, which is of very fine quality. The manufacture of paper is extensively carried on; the works are impelled by water, and a steam-engine has been lately erected for greater efficiency. A portion of the fine black marble found in the vicinity is made into mantel-pieces, and a turning and polishing machine and a patent saw wheel are now being constructed, which will be set in motion by the treadmill in the county gaol : a large brewery and three distilleries are in full operation, and near the town is a bleach-mill. The linen manufacture was introduced, but never flourished here ; and the linen-hall erected in the western suburbs has long since fallen into decay.

    The commerce, for which the port was formerly so much distinguished, has very much declined; wine is no longer imported in large quantities, and the trade in provisions is much diminished. The principal exports are corn, flour, kelp, marble, wool, and provisions; and the imports, timber, wine, salt, coal, hemp, tallow, and Swedish and British iron. In the year ending Jan 5th, 1835, 15 British ships of the aggregate burden of 2273 tons, and 3 foreign ships of 421 tons aggregate burden, entered inwards; and 6 British ships of 1044 tons and 2 foreign ships of 301 tons cleared outwards, in the foreign trade. From British ports, 119 ships, of an aggregate burden of 12,215 tons, entered inwards; and 126 of 14,492 tons cleared outwards; and from the Irish ports, 16 ships of 700 tons entered inwards; and 19 of 1039 tons cleared outwards, The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port is 7, of the aggregate burden of 272 tons. The gross amount of customs' duties for 1835 was £31,133, 2s. 5d., and for 1836, £31,769. 2s. 5d, ; and of excise duties of the district, far the former year, £50,145 12s. 5d. The custom-house, a small plain building, was erected in 1807. The entrances to Galway bay are, through the north sound, between the most western of the Arran isles, which are situated in the centre of its mouth, and Gulin head to the north, on which is a watch tower; and through the south sound between Dunmacfelin and Innishere island, About a mile south of Galway is Mutton island, connected with the mainland by a ridge of sand, dry at low water; a light has been erected on it, and between it and the town is the ordinary roadstead, affording good anchorage ground, though exposed to a heavy swell during winds from the south and south-south-west. There are two feet of water on the bar : the best shelter for ships of war is along the southern shore; and at the head of the bay, to the east and south of the town, are several creeks and inlets, affording good shelter to small vessels from every wind. A navigable canal from Lough Corrib to the sea at this place was recommended by the late Mr. Nimmo : some new docks planned by him are in progress, towards the completion of which the Commissioners of Public Works have granted a loan of £17,000. The docks will comprise about 9 acres, and be of sufficient depth for vessels of 500 tons' burden, and the canal will cross the town in a direction nearly parallel with the river; the level of the lake being only 14 feet above that of the sea, two locks only will be requisite in the whole distance, which is about 30 miles. The quays will be entirely of hewn lime-stone and 75 feet in width; the lake also will be deepened and rendered navigable for boats. The whole work, when completed, will add much to the improvement of the trade, which is now under the direction of several of the principal merchants, who have formed themselves into a chamber of commerce: A branch of the Bank of Ireland has been opened here, in a house in Eyre square. The salmon fishery, for which there is a weir on the river, between the two bridges has been a source of great profit from an early period, and since 1800, has frequently produced more than £500 per annum. The fishery in the bay, which is more lucrative, is wholly under the direction of the fishermen of Claddagh.

    This is the head station of the Galway district coast guard, and the residence of the inspecting commander; it comprises the subordinate stations of Ballyvaughan, Kilcolgan, Barna, Casleh Bay, Isles of Arran, Fairhill, and Kilkerran, comprehending a force of 6 officers and 51 men.

    The markets are on Wednesday and Saturday, the former principally for corn, and the latter also for corn, provisions of every kind, and for pigs. Fairs are held May 3lst, and Sept. 2 1st. The corn market is held at the Little Green ; that for butchers' meat and provisions in a well-arranged market-place, near William's-gate, erected in 1802.

    By charter of the 29th of Chas. II., the corporation consists of a mayor, two sheriffs, an indefinite number of free burgesses, a recorder, town-clerk, mayor and two constables of the staple, sword bearer, chamberlain, water bailiff, and other officers. The mayor is elected annually from the free burgesses, and may appoint a deputy; the mayor, sheriffs (who are similarly elected), and free burgesses form the common council, by whom all the other officers of the corporation are elected and freemen admitted, the latter by favour only. The mayor and recorder are justices of the peace for the county of the town and also for the county at large, and there are three charter magistrates, to whom five have been recently added by an order of council. The borough appears to have first sent members to a parliament held at Tristledermot, now Castledermot, in 1377, and notices of the provost and bailiffs being summoned to subsequent parliaments till 1559 are on record. The right is recognised in the charters of Jas. I. and Chas. II., and the corporation continued to send two members to the Irish parliament till the Union, from which period they returned one member to the Imperial parliament, till, by the act of the 2nd of Wm. IV., cap. 88, the original number was restored. By that act the right of election, previously vested in freeholders of 40s. and upward, within the county of the town, and in all freemen, was extended to £10 householders, and to £20 leaseholder, for 14 years, and £10 leaseholders for £20 years; the non-resident freemen, except within seven miles, were disfranchised, and the 40s. freeholders allowed to retain the franchise only for life. The number of electors registered to vote at the last general election was 2062, and the number that actually voted, 1795: the sheriffs are the returning officers. The mayor and recorder hold a court of record every Tuesday and Friday, for the recovery of debts to any amount, arising within the limits of the county of the town; the mesne process is by arrest of the person or attachment of the goods of the defendant, on an affidavit of the debt. They are also empowered to hold a criminal court, which they transfer to the general quarter sessions for the county. The assizes for the county are held here, and the quarter sessions in April and October; those for the county of the town are held in January, April, July, and October. The court-houses for the county and the borough are both handsome buildings; the former was erected in 1815, in the northern suburb, and contains two spacious court-rooms; and other requisite apartments; the front is embellished with a handsome portico of four fluted Doric columns supporting a pediment, in the tympanum of which are the royal arms. The county gaol is built in the form of a crescent, vaulted throughout, and without any timber; it contains six wards for male, and two for female criminals, with two for debtors, separated by walls converging towards the centre, in which is the governor's house; there is a tread wheel, and the prisoners are also employed in breaking stones; it will contain 300 prisoners, placing two in each cell ; the whole is surrounded by a boundary wall, between which and the building is a wide gravel wall. In an open situation near it is the borough gaol, erected in 1810, but not adapted either for classification or for the maintenance of discipline; another on the improved system is in course of erection.

    The county of the town comprehends an extensive rural district, comprising 23,000 statute acres. The surface is studded with lakes, and the scenery strikingly diversified; the soil is fertile and in several parts peculiarly favourable to the growth of wheat, of which large quantities are raised. The system of agriculture is improved, and there is abundance of limestone, which is quarried for building and for agricultural purposes. Black marble of a very fine quality is found at Menlough, and also at Merlin Park; both veins have been worked, but the former more extensively, from the greater facility of water carriage at that place. At Menlough is also an apparently inexhaustible vein of fine grey marble. There are strong indications of iron ore, but no attempt has yet been made to explore it; granite is also found, and in some parts, contrary to the usual order, beneath the limestone formation. After sinking a depth of six feet through the limestone stratum, a white sand of granitic quality, without a pebble, and fine enough for plaistering, has lately been discovered; its depth has not been ascertained, but in some places it is coloured as if by water running from the iron ore. The name of the lake, called by the ancient inhabitants Mine-lough, and which has both a subterranean source and outlet, tends to confirm the opinion that the townland abounds with various minerals. About 40 persons are employed in the marble quarries, and about 1300 in preparing peat for fuel.

    The principal seats are Menlough Castle, the residence of Sir V. Blake, Bart., a venerable castellated mansion in the Elizabethan style, beautifully situated; Villa House, the residence of the Warden of Galway ; Leneboy, of J. O'Hara, Esq.,; Nile Lodge, of J. O'Hara, Esq.,; Sea View, of Mrs. Browne ; Vicar's Croft, of the Rev. I. D'Arcy ; St. Helen's, of Mrs. Hynes ; Renmore Lodge, of P. M. Lynch, Esq. ; Merlin Park, of C. Blake, Esq. ; Merview, of W. Joyce, Esq. ; Rahoon, of R. O'Connor, Esq. ; and Barna, of N. Lynch, Esq.

    The Grand Jury of presentments for the county of the town, in 1835, amounted to £5701.8s. 3d., of which £1035. 14s. 6d. was for the repairs of roads, bridges, &c. ; £3568. 10s. 10d. The for public buildings and charities, officers' salaries, and miscellaneous expenses; £453. 19s. 11d. for police; and £643. 3s. in repayment of a loan by Government.

    This district originally formed part of the diocese of 'Enachdune', an ancient bishoprick, annexed in 1324 to the archiepiscopal see of Tuam. It consists of the parish of St. Nicholas, the greater part of that of Rahoon, and part of Oranmore, The parish of St. Nicholas comprises 3046 statute acres in cultivation, as applotted under the tithe act. The living is a rectory, united to the rectories of Rahoon, Oranmore, Clare-Galway, Moycullin, Kilcommin, Ballinacourty, and Shruel, together constituting the Wardenship of Galway, instituted by the Archbishop in 1484, when the church was made collegiate, and exercising an ecclesiastical jurisdiction distinct from that of the diocese, and exempt from that of the Archbishop, with the exception only of triennial visitation. The warden is annually elected (the same person has of late been successively re-elected), and three vicars appointed for life, by the corporation under their charter. The tithes amount to £130, wholly payable to the warden, who also receives three-fourths of the tithes of the other parishes of the union, amounting, with the rent of houses and two glebes, to £1268. 15s. 10 1/2 d. The vicars receive each an annual stipend of £75, payable by the warden. The church, which, by letters patent granted by Edw VI., was constituted the "Royal College of Galway," and in the reign of Elizabeth endowed with the dissolved monasteries of Annaghdown and Ballintubber, in the county of Mayo, is a spacious cruciform strncture, in the decorated English style, with a tower rising from the centre; It was built in 1320, and is nearly in the centre of the town; the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have recently granted £1385 towards its repair.

    In the R. C. divisions Galway is the head of a see, comprising 12 parochial unions or districts, and containing 14 chapels, served by 24 clergymen, of whom 12 are parish priests and 12 coadjutors or curates. It is one of the six sees suffragan to Tuam, and the parish of St. Nicholas is the benefice and residence of the R. C. bishop the chapel is a spacious edifice. There are friaries and nunneries of the orders of St. Francis, St, Augustine, and St.Dominick, to each of which is attached a chapel ; there is also a convent for nuns of the order of the Presentation, and a place of worship for Presbyterians.

    In the east suburbs stands one of the four classical schools founded in Ireland by the munificent bequest of Erasmus Smith; it is a handsome building, erected at an expense of £8000 by the trustees, who allow the master a salary of £I100 per ann., with the privilege of taking boarders. The parochial schools are also aided by the trustees, who allow the master a salary of £40 and the mistress £27. 13s. 10d. per annum; a new school-room has been built on ground given by the trustees, towards defraying the expense of which the inhabitants subscribed £300 and £250 was granted by Government. A school is conducted by the ladies of the Presentation Convent, in which 80 of the girls are maintained and clothed; and there is a large national school on the site of the barrack in Lombard-street for which two good school-rooms have been built at an expense of £601 raised by subscriptions. There are also 16 private schools, in which are about 660 children. The house of industry and the dispensary, to the latter of which the English Relief Committee of 1832 gave £700, vested in the Archbishop of Tuam as trustee, and government £500, vested in four trustees chosen by the subscribers, are supported in the customary manner. A widows' and orphans. asylum was founded by the Rev. Mr. Fynn, P.P. of St. Nicholas, and is supported under his patronage by subscription. A Protestant poor-house, in which are 20 inmates, is supported by the parochial clergy and the interest of £500, bequeathed to the Warden in trust for the Protestant poor, by the late Mr. Kirwan, of London a native of Galway. A Magdalen asylum is supported by two R. C. ladies, who devote their time and their fortune to its management.

    No vestiges can be traced of the Franciscan friary without the north gate, founded in 1296 by Sir W. De Burgo; of a Dominican friary near the west gate, previously a cell to the Premonstratensian abbey of Tuam; an Augustinian friary, founded in 1508 by Stephen Lynch and Margaret his wife; a Carmelite friary, a nunnery on an island in Lough Corrib, or an hospital of Knight Templars. There are numerous ruins of ancient castles in the neighbourhood.

    Among the more distinguished natives of Galway may be noticed Patrick D'Arcy, author of the celebrated" Argument on the Independence of Ireland, " in 1641; John Lynch, author of "Cambrensis Eversus," "Alithinologia," and other tracts ; Roderick O'Flaherty, author of the" Ogygia" ; Sir G. L. Staunton, secretary to Lord Macartney, and writer of the account of that nobleman's embassy to Pekin; Walter Blake Kirwan, celebrated as a popular preacher in Dublin ; and Richard Kirwan, an eminent chymist and mineralogist. James Hardiman, Esq., author of the History of Galway, has a villa near the town. Galway gives the title of Viscount to the family of Monckton.