Our walk along the Corrib River took us ever closer to the major building on the skyline of Galway City, the Galway Cathedral. In the image above can be seen the Cathedral and the weir just along from the Salmon Weir Bridge. From April to July people gather on the bridge to watch for salmon swimming up-stream to spawn.
The Cathedral was opened in August 1965 and is the youngest of Europe’s large stone cathedrals. It had some famous names at the opening; President of Ireland Eamon de Valera was part of the ceremony and Cardinal Cushing from Boston gave the sermon. The huge dome of this cathedral recalls the famous Renaissance domes of Italy. Not everybody was happy with the construction of this new Cathedral. It got a mention in the Irish Times in an article about ugly Irish buildings, described as a “squatting Frankenstein monster.” Despite such criticism, a visit to the cathedral shows that if you don’t like the look of the exterior, the interior is very beautiful!
As can be seen on the map of our walking tour, we strolled from the Cathedral to the largest gathering space in the city, Eyre Square. In the image below, one of our party catches up on the information about the unusual “Brown Door” that is one of the prominent features on the northwest side of the park. It is an old doorway from the mansion of the Brown Family who were one of ‘Tribes of Galway’ who dominated the political and commercial life of Galway City for six centuries from the 13th century. The image to the right below is of the Brown Door in the 1950s.
The other view of the square to the left not only takes in the park side of the Browne Door but the fountain in the square with a sculpture representing the sails of the Galway Hookers, a traditional sailing craft used by the Claddagh fishermen. The fountain was built on the 500th anniversary of the city City’s charter that was granted in 1484 by the famous British monarch, Richard III. The granting of the charter ended the feudal lordship of the de Burgo clan over the City of Galway. There is also a plaque in Eyre Square to mark the visit to Galway of President John Francis Kennedy on the 20th June 1963. Kennedy was assassinated in November of that same year.
Eyre Square originated in medieval times as an open space in front of the town gate. It was used as a market place over the centuries before it was enclosed, fenced and presented to the city as a public space at the start of the 19th century… …the image on the right is of the square around 1897.
From Eyre Square we headed directly down towards the bustling centre of town around Shop Street. It was past morning tea snack time so I decided I needed to relax with some good company so I took a seat on the corner of William Street to eat my yogurt. There was not much conversation to be had with either OscarWilde (1854-1900) or the Estonian writer Eduard Wilde/Vilde(1865-1933) who were seated there as well. Vilde is one of Estonia’s most celebrated authors. As I left to join my group’s walking tour, I asked Oscar for some words of wisdom to take with me…he grimaced and whispered, “be yourelf, everyone else is already taken.”
Pondering this wisdom and its application to myself, I was slightly depressed as we continued to window-shop down Shop street and round into Market Street. The city maps show another highlight of the architecture of Galway City on the corner here and one that has a number of great yarns attached to it that cheered me up immensely. It is called Lynch’s Castle and was originally a fortified house from the 16th century belonging to one of the 14 famous Anglo-Norman families that took over the running of Galway for many centuries. Today it houses a bank. Below the image on the right shows two attachments to the external wall of Lynch’s Castle, at the top is the coat of arms of the Tudor king, Henry VII (1484-1509) and beneath it is the curious statue of a monkey holding a baby. There is some conjecture about the age of the house and the Coat of Arms of the English monarch would be evidence of this. If the head of the Lynch family during the reign of Henry VII decided to build a house, his allegiance to the English throne would push him towards having his political status proclaimed to the city by attaching the reigning English monarch’s coat of arms to his house walls. However much of the house was built in the 16th century. The gargoyle of the monkey was apparently added when the family’s pet monkey saved the family baby when the house caught on fire. The family had escaped the house, couldn’t reach the baby in his burning room but the heroic monkey gained entry through an upstairs window and escaped back through the window on the second floor with the baby intact.
The story retold most often about one of the Lynchs who lived in this house is that of James Lynch Fitzstephen, Mayor of Galway in 1493. A Spanish guest in the house was killed in a crime of passion by Lynch’s son and the story goes that the Mayor was so upright, that he hung his son from a window in the house for his dastardly crime. Other readers of Galway history suggest that this story has little historical support and the son was most likely killed by vigilantes.
It depends how much time you have left in your day but if you still have a few hours, the walk down to river again through the Latin Quarter is well worth it. This area is full of all the modern traveller requires…pubs, restaurants, galleries and shops. If you are interested in continuing to connect with Galway’s long history, you can also visit the city museum down towards the Spanish arch or visit what has become one of Galway City’s top attractions, the archaeological site called the ‘Hall of the Red Baron’.
The remains of the De Burgo family’s administrative centre dates to the 13th century when this Anglo-Norman family took over Galway and this building was the first ‘municipal building’ that the family used to collect taxes and dispense justice. It’s position can be seen in the snapshot from the 1651 map of Galway City above left. Once the De Burgo family were replaced by the 14 tribes as administrators of Galway, the building was abandoned and fell into ruin. It was unearthed in 1997 by Public Works Archaeologists and is now a very interesting place to explore the archaeological remnants of one of the earliest significant buildings in Galway City.
From the Hall of the Red Baron the visitor is free to head down for a stroll along the bank of the River Coribb and then walk towards where it joins Galway Bay. It’s a good idea to start this walk at the Spanish arch (See image above) and inspect some of the remnants of the early Medieval wall that structured the way Galway City developed over the centuries. Not far along the ‘Long Walk’ you will encounter the memorial to Christopher Columbus. Luckily it is not a ‘statue’ of Columbus himself or otherwise folk who object to his European discovery of the Americas and the resulting five or more subsequent centuries of slavery and racism might be compelled to behead such a statue. (At least 3 statues of Columbus in the USA lost their heads during May/June of 2020.)
On my next visit to Galway City I will make sure I have the time to visit Claddagh on the other side of the river. On the day of our visit I could only gaze upon it from the Galway side.
Also for the next time I visit Galway City I will make sure I check the time of the month that it will be the full moon. Why go to Galway if you can’t catch a sunset or a full moon rising over the Bay.
APPENDIX 1: ‘Galway Bay’
I was slightly disappointed to discover that the version of the song ‘Galway Bay’ I knew as a small child is not the one that is well known in Galway itself. The song I was raised on was written in 1947 in Leicester England and was popularised by Bing Crosby on record in November of that year. It made me realise that I am only four years older than the song itself. The words of the song do not speak of two centuries of the losses amongst the Irish Diaspora but I have to say, it’s still my favourite Irish song…apart from the Pogue’s ‘Fairy Tale in New York’ where at least the “boys of the NYPD Choir are singing ‘Galway Bay’.
APPENDIX 2: Leaving the last word to Oscar Wilde (apparently not long before he died).
‘My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or other of us has got to go.’