The birth of Galway
In the year 1230, Richard de Burgo arrived on the environs of the town we know today as Galway. His attempt to gain control of the area eventually succeeded and the Normans began laying the foundation for the town.
Around this time the first of the merchant families began arriving in Galway, known as the “Tribes of Galway” – The Athys, Blakes, Bodkins, Brownes, D’Arcys, Deanes, Ffonts, Ffrenchs, Joyces, Kirwans, Lynchs, Martins, Morrises and Skerretts. The tribes regarded themselves very different from the native population and passed laws to prevent intermixing.
By 1270, the first stone walls had begun to surround the town, which required protection from the natives such as the O’Flahertys and the O’Connors. A plaque erected over the west gate into the town bore the inscription “From the Ferocious O’Flahertys O Lord Deliver Us”.
The wealthy merchants built Town Castles or fortified houses and over the following centuries Gaelic and Norman influences combined to produce a style of medieval architecture still visible today in the narrow streets of the old town..
Located on Shop Street, Lynch’s Castle is one of the oldest buildings in the city, believed to date from the 15th century. It was originally built for one of Galway’s leading merchant families, the Lynch’s. The outside of the building has many fine examples of stone carvings. The walls have the Lynch Family coat of arms, the arms of Henry VII and the arms of the Earl of Kildare.
Lynch’s Memorial Window
Embedded in a stone wall above a built-up Gothic doorway off Market Street, the window marks the spot where, according to legend, James Lynch FitzStephen, mayor of Galway in the early 16th century, condemned his son to death after the young man confessed to murdering a Spanish sailor, who had romanced his girlfriend. When no one could be found to carry out the execution, Judge Lynch hanged his son himself, ensuring that justice prevailed, before retiring into seclusion.
Spanish Arch & Long Walk
Originally there were 4 arches at the site of the Spanish Arch. In 1477, it is said Christopher Columbus arrived at Galway through the arches and said a prayer at St Nicholas Church before setting sail for America. In the 18th century the Eyre family built an extension to the Quays called Long Walk, this allowed access from the town to the new quays.
Dated 1627, the Browne Doorway was once the entrance to the Browne mansion on Abbeygate Street. It was moved to it’s current site on Eyre Square in 1904 when the original building became a ruin. It is a fine example of a rich merchant’s medieval doorway.
St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church
First built in 1320 by the Lynch family, it takes its name from St Nicholas of Myra, the patron saint of sailors. The Tribes of Galway helped expand the building by adding ornate doors, windows and aisles as a sign of their wealth. They also engraved their family Coat of Arms on the exterior. Local legend has it that the famous explorer Christopher Columbus heard mass in St Nicholas’ before setting sail to discover America.
In 1488 the Dominicans took possession of an abandoned building outside the city walls known as the church of St Mary’s on the Hill. In 1651, the Church was razed to the ground by the citizens of Galway. It was thought that it would be used by the Cromwellians as a base for attack as it had the best vantage point overlooking the city. In 1669 a new church was built. The present Claddagh Church was opened in 1891.
The famous pub Tigh Neachtain is housed in the building which used to be the townhouse of the famous politician and amimal rights activist, Richard Martin (1754-1834). He was given the name “Humanity Dick” by King George IV due to his stance against animal cruelty. Through his work, the “Ill Treatment of Cattle Bill” was enacted in 1822. The Martins were one of the Tribes of Galway and owned much of the land in Connemara.