The Knights Templars had a convent, in ancient times, on the site where the Great Southern Hotel stands today. Later a house belonging to Robert Martin Fitz-Jasper was built on the site. It was taken over by a Cromwellian officer named Edward Eyre in 1670, and he passed it on to his son, also named Edward. This man became Mayor of Galway in 1710, and on May 12th, 1712, he officially presented the open ground in front of his house to Galway Corporation as a place of recreation for the people of the town, and it was used as such up to about two years ago.
By the 1840's, Father Peter Daly owned a block of tenements on the site of Eyre's house. He had all of the tenants evicted in order to provide a site for a new hotel which would be attached to the Railway Terminus. He managed to clear one acre, 3 roods & 16 perches for the building of the Hotel, stables and offices . The architect was John Mulvany & he designed both the hotel & the railway station. The builder was William Dargan. The hotel cost £30,000 to build, and it opened for business on Monday, August 16th, 1852.
The opening coincided with the inauguration of a Packet Service between Galway and St. John's in Newfoundland. The hotel was obviously built to cater for travellers, whether they arrived by rail or by sea. A huge crowd had gathered on July 21st, 1851 to witness the first train to cross the Lough Athalia Railway Bridge and arrive in the new terminus. The following day a similar crowd witnessed to first train leaving Galway for Dublin. The importance of this cannot be over-emphasised, as it opened up this city and made it accessible to tourists, and to business and cargo freight in a way that had not seemed possible a few years before.
The hotel became known as The Railway Hotel. One of the first functions held there was the Galway Subscription Ball, which was attended by the officers and band of the 9th Galway Regiment. Some years later, the 800 strong Galway Militia paraded in Eyre Square for the presentation of the colours by the Marchioness of Clanricarde. She addressed a large crowd from a stage facing the hotel and a ball was held there that night. It was hailed as the most successful ball ever held in Galway, and thus began a tradition of very good events here.
In July, 1857, Prince Louis Napoleon of France had lunch here, and in July, 1903, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra dined here. By May 1915, the British Army were requesting that the hotel be converted and used as a hospital for wounded soldiers, and indeed in 1918, they requisitioned the building, and it remained under their control until after the war. During the civil war, it was occupied for a time by Republicans, before being taken over by Free State Troops.
In 1925 it was renamed The Great Southern Hotel, following the merger of several railway companies into the Great Southern Railway Company. In 1932, thirty five bedrooms were added. There were two bathrooms on each floor, one at the end of each corridor, and more than 100 people worked there. The Galway Oyster Festival Ball was held here for many years, and Paschal Spellman and his troupe became resident entertainers. The G.S.H had developed a wonderful reputation as a first class hotel, and an extremely valuable asset to the tourism business in Galway.
The most recent renovations were carried out in 2002, when the building was closed for some time. Our photograph today dates from about 1900, and was kindly given to us by The National Library. We are grateful to William Henry for all the above information.
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