In 1939, the Government decided there was no longer need for a jail in Galway. Galway County Council then decided to transfer the site of the jail to the Bishop of Galway for a nominal sum as a site for the erection of a Cathedral.
In 1949, the planning of this building was entrusted to the architect John J. Robinson. On March 18th, 1957, his final plans and design were submitted by the Bishop to Pope Pius XII. He examined the plans carefully, and gave his blessing to the work, and all who would help complete it.
On the 6th of December that year, the tender of Messers. Sisk Ltd. of Dublin was accepted. For the sum of £600,000, the firm undertook to build the Cathedral from the foundations to the cross on the dome. The tender did not cover the internal equipment and furnishings, such as altars, rails, seats, confessionals, stations of the cross, organ, heating and lighting.
The plan is cruciform in shape; the nave forms the vertical beam of the cross, and the transepts form the arms. The high alter is situated at the crossing of the nave and transepts, exactly under the dome.
The diocese had some of the monies required for the construction in a trust fund, quite a lot of money was collected in America, and a major percentage was contributed by the people of Galway in the form of weekly contributions. A laymen's committee was set up with Liam O'Looney as honorary secretary to help this building fund.
The actual construction took several years. The foreman in charge of the work was John Lillis. For a long time, there was nothing really visible behind the high jail walls, but gradually the magnificent stonework and the scaffolding began to appear over the walls, and Galwegians became aware of the sheer scale of the building.
Our photograph today (which was originally taken by Toby Joyce) shows the job nearing completion. The dome has still to be put in place, and the towers on the right still have to be finished.
The Cathedral was consecrated in 1965, and has been an important part of Galway life ever since, as is underlined by the celebration of the annual Novena there this week. Some fifteen thousand people per day participate in this extraordinary event, which makes it unique to the diocese.