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by Tom Kenny

One hundred and fifty years ago, on the 17th of August 1672, the paddle steamer Citie of the Tribes was launched in South Shields in England. She was built by J.T. Eltringham, weighed 117 gross tons and was registered for the Galway Bay Steamboat Company. Her arrival in the docks caused great excitement. She was hailed as heralding a new future for shipping in the west, the age of steam! She was the only steamboat in Galway, a paddle tug about 96’ x 18’ x 9’, and as you can see from her schedule for July 1875 printed here, she was a busy vessel. On the days not listed, she travelled on excursions or to Aran.

Her trips to Ballyvaughan were described as “The cheapest, shortest and most enjoyably route for Tourists and health seekers to the far-famed Spa, Lisdoonvarna and the sublime scenery of the Coast of Clare, is per Dublin, per MGW Railway, Broadstone to Galway in about 3.5 hours (by limited mail), from thence per steamer ‘City of the Tribes’ to Ballyvaughan, ten miles, from thence via the Corkscrew road, per well-appointed cars, which run in connection with the steamer to Lisdoonvarna in one hour. Excursions during the season to the wild and romantic Isles of Arran and the celebrated Cliffs of Moher”. The trip through the Burren on a side-car must have been exciting. When the steamer left Ballyvaughan on or before 2.30pm, it brought the passengers to Galway in time for the 4.15pm train to Dublin, if they so wished. Tourists who booked return tickets from Dublin to Ballyvaughan and back, were offered reduced rates.

This tug boat was often used to tow sailing vessels to and from Galway Port, often going miles past the islands with outgoing vessels. Indeed, she was the first ferry to provide some occasional transport to the Aran Islands. She plied the seas of Galway Bay for some 30 years before she was replaced, in 1903, by the S.S. Duras, a ship that was commissioned by the Congested Districts Board to provide a regular service to the islands.

They landed passengers and cargo at Kilronan Pier before setting off for the middle and South islands three days weekly. In 1909 the fare to Aran (cabin) was 3s 0d single, 4s 6d return and the deck fare was 2s 0d single and 2s 6d return. They also had non-transferable two-day market tickets for two shillings. The Duras was replaced in 1912 by the Dún Aengus. In 1951, the Aran steamer was acquired by C.I.E. who continued the all year round service to the islands. This gave the Dún Aengus the distinction of being the oldest railway steamer in the British Isles. In 1958, the M.V. Naomh Éanna arrived and she in turn was replaced by the tug tender Galway Bay.

Another steamboat associated with the city was the tender Cathair na Gaillimhe which was busy on the bay in the 1930s. She became involved in the war effort as she sailed out to the mouth of the bay in September 1939, to meet up with a Norwegains ship The Knute Nelson which had picked up a great number of survivors of The Athenia, a passenger ship that had been sunk by a U-boat.

Our main photograph is courtesy of the National Library and shows the Citie of the Tribes and dates from about 1875. The other is of the Cathair na Gaillimhe moored at the docks in peacetime and shows some passengers about to embark.

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