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Old Galway

SAINT PATRICK’S CHURCH

by Tom Kenny

This photograph of St. Patrick’s Church and part of Forster Street was taken from the Galway/Clifden Railway Line overlooking James Mahon’s Field where the circuses used to be long ago. It was taken c.1920.

When, in May 1836, Fr. Bartholomew Roche began building St. Patrick’s Church, it was well outside the city proper. It extended from the West Bridge to Grealishtown, numbered some 7,000 souls and was known as Bohermore Parish. The church opened for worship in 1837 but two years later, on the night of the ‘Big Wind’ the roof was blown off and Fr. Roche had to go on another begging tour. The repairs took some time but eventually the new church, though far from complete, was opened on January 11th 1842. It was blessed by the Bishop, Fr. Roche said the mass and the sermon was delivered by the famous temperance reformer, Fr. Theobald Matthew.

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ST. PATRICK’S NATIONAL SCHOOL

by Tom Kenny

 

On January 15th 1827 two Patrician Brothers, Paul O’Connor and James Walsh took up residence in Lombard Street and set up the Monastery School. The attendance on that first day was 300 boys, many of whom had little interest in learning because they were poor and hungry. So the Brothers set up The Poor Boy’s Breakfast Institute in May 1830. It continued seven days a week, 365 days a year for many years after the founder’s time. The breakfast consisted of porridge with molasses or treacle and during the Famine, they fed 1,000 boys every day. The ‘Old Mon’ became a vital cog in education in Galway.

In 1862, the Brothers took over a house on Nun’s Island and converted it into a school which provided national and secondary education. Some of the funds for this ‘Middle Class Seminary’ were provided by the Bishop so the schools became known locally as ‘The Bish’ and ‘The Sem’.

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LYNCH’S CASTLE

by Tom Kenny

Lynch’s Castle is one of the finest surviving medieval town-houses, one of the best known examples of pre-Renaissance architecture in Ireland. It is essentially a two-period structure, the original sixteenth castle was square in plan and was limited to the space now occupied on the ground floor by the vestibule of the bank. That portion to the west on Shop Street was added c.1808. The extension is evident in the masonry of the exterior of the building, and the window hood-moulds of this section are very different in the character of their detail and carving from the original work. It is likely that the whole interior was remodelled and the storeys altered at this time, the window hood-moulds, the panels, the gargoyles etc. being moved to their present positions.

As a result, the original location of these features can only be conjectured. An examination of the moulding profiles and other ornamental details suggests that many of them belonged to the original castle, or were the product of the same workshop. They are finely carved from local limestone and in their richness and abundance of detail bear witness to the wealth of Galway merchants in the early 16th century.

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FRANK McDONAGH & Co.

by Tom Kenny

Frank McDonagh and Company were wholesale and retail drapers and outfitters that opened in Williamsgate Street in 1883. In early advertisements, they described themselves as “Successors to M. Hennessy, the house for original Claddagh cloaks as supplied to the Royal family”.

They were always heavy advertisers, for Christmas at the turn of the last century, they were pushing ‘ladies chatelains and handkerchief bags, fur necklets at tempting prices, lace collars, ties, gloves, perfumes, cushions, tea cosies etc,, Irish poplin scarves a speciality’. In 1903 they had a major promotion of Irish made goods − Irish-made suits and suitings, dress and costume cloths, umbrellas and waterproofs, hats and caps, shirts and collars, hosiery and underwear, ties in great variety, corsets and underclothing, rugs and shawls.

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Lifesaving in Galway

by Tom Kenny

Organised water safety in Ireland really began in Milltown Malbay, Co Clare in the 1930s when a lady drowned there. This galvanised the local community into forming a Water Safety Association to help swimmers who got into trouble. The idea spread through Co Clare and eventually to the whole country. The national water safety section, set up by the government, was run by the Red Cross.

In Galway the Corporation appointed a life guard in Salthill; Christy Dooley, Bobby Molloy and Michael Roche were among the early people who held that post. The swimming clubs began to organise classes with, notably, Jimmy Cranny and Christy Dooley providing the instruction. The Presentation, Taylor's Hill, the Jes and the Bish trained and organised teams for school competitions. More and more people were qualifying as life savers.

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ST. AUGUSTINE’S FORT/FORTHILL

by Tom Kenny

The site of the Augustinian House when the order first came to Galway in 1508 was on the hill we know as Forthill today. Margaret Athy, the wife of the Mayor Stephen Lynch invited them and she built a church and steeple there too. Her husband was away in Spain and got a shock when he returned to see the finished new building on the hill. The friars moved into a house within the walled city but their church was still between the city and the bay.

In 1588, over 300 members of the Spanish Armada were washed ashore, taken to Galway and slaughtered. The local people took pity and buried them at the adjoining Forthill Cemetery. In 1596, Red Hugh O’Donnell attacked the city from St. Augustine’s Hill and caused a great deal of damage.

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THE HAT FACTORY

by Tom Kenny

In the 1930s, Ireland instructed all of its consul officials in Europe no to issue visas to Jewish refugees, but the country was also in a state of economic stagnation at the time and Seán Lemass realized that new industries would help the country. An Irish Jewish businessman, Marcus Witztum offered to help him and went to Paris, met Henri Orbach there who owned a small hat factory and suggested he open a business in Ireland, a safer place for people of the Jewish persuasion than continental Europe. Orbach agreed.

And so, the Hat Factory came to Galway and started life in Eyre Square. Shortly afterwards another factory called Western Hats opened in Castlebar and later Hirsch Ribbons in Longford. All three factories came thanks to the efforts of Marcus Witztum who was deeply involved in their setting up. In doing so, he brought a number of experts over from Europe to help train the staff. All of these ‘experts’ happened to be Jewish who otherwise would probably have been caught up in the Nazi murder machine and this resulted in Whitztum being dubbed “An Irish Schindler”.

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IN MEMORY OF CRIOSTÓIR

by Tom Kenny

A ballad is a form of verse, a poem or a song that tells a story. It can be considered either poetic or musical and is written in short stanzas with a rhyming system abcb. These forms of folk songs were often an anonymous retelling of local legends, stories of particular events or characters.

Criostóir Mac Gearailt was a storyteller who penned hundreds, if not thousands of ballads. He wrote tributes in this form primarily about sportsmen and women and their extraordinary achievements. Local events sparked his interest too, it might be a lament for the closing down of a business, a celebration of a new service, an indication of some praiseworthy aspect of a person. He always suggested a traditional tune that his ballad could be sung to …. ‘Galway Bay’, ‘The Mountains of Mourne’, ‘The Boys of Wexford’, ‘In Oranmore in the County Galway’ etc. As you read them, you can almost hear him humming along to the air as he wrote. In 1985, he published a collection of these works in book form, fittingly titled “Tributes”. If he wrote about you, he would simply hand you the typed ballad probably with an introduction to it, with his compliments.

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