It was Leonard Martin’s idea to bring Santa Claus to Galway for the first time when he introduced him to his shop in Mainguard Street. It was such a novelty that the mayor, Joe Costelloe came formally to the shop to welcome Santa and shake his hand. Leonard Martin’s shop (where St. Anthony’s Credit Union is today) opened in 1941. For most of the year it was largely a hardware shop by at Christmas it became a toyshop exclusively. The man who played Santa Claus was a war veteran named Jack Kerr.
Pádraic Ó Conaire was born on February 28th, 1882 in a pub by the docks, to middle-class Catholic publicans. He briefly attended the Presentation National School but when his parents both died young, he went to live with some of his extended family in Rosmuc. He later went to school in Rockwell and from there to Blackrock College in Dublin. He emigrated to London and took a lowly job in the Civil Service. He joined the local branch of Connradh na Gaeilge and flourished as an Irish language teacher and writer. In 1901 he published his first short story, An t-Iascaire agus an File.
Out of the mists of the Monday afternoon of October 23rd 1933, there came to Galway a seaplane with a blue black fuselage, orange wings and silver floats. She circled low over the Claddagh, swooped across the old Spanish Arch, and taking a wide sweep over Lough Corrib, swung around and landed near the light-house at 65 miles an hour with scarcely a ripple on the water. Claddagh boats put out in welcome for it was Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh who had flown alone from New York to Paris in May 1927, in 33.5 hours. He had come to Galway as a technical adviser of Pan-American Airways to see what facilities Galway Harbour had to offer as a seaplane base. The Claddagh boatmen towed his plane into New Docks where he was met by several local dignitaries.
“The Younger Women with their cloaks draped around their heads looked piquant enough, their faces had not unfrequently the sweetest expression of passion, and their lips pouted charmingly. The old fisher-wives, on the other hand, who sat near the casks and smoked damp tobacco in short clay pipes, had something witchlike and menacing about them”.
So wrote Julius Rodenberg in 1860. He obviously had a thing for beautiful young Galway women as he also wrote about them elsewhere. As for the older women, I would say they just glared at him because he did not buy any fish. Otherwise, what he wrote could be true of our 1908 photograph.
An intriguing report appeared in the Galway Express of March 21st, 1903 which stated, “At Prospect Hill on St. Patrick’s Day, two hurling matches were played between the Gaelic League v Queen’s College, and Castlegar v Bohermore. The National Independence Band, The Forster Street Fife and Drum Band and the Industrial School Band, with several thousand people, attended. In the match between the Gaelic League and Queen’s College, the League won by 3 – 3 to 2 – 0. Castlegar beat Bohermore”.
In 1925, there was a major debate in the Urban Council about a Garda report that they two men from County Offaly who had been swimming in the sea in Salthill without any bathing costumes had been apprehended, and how should the Gardaí deal with them. The debate was about the evils or otherwise of mixed bathing in Salthill.
This photograph of the turf market at the Claddagh, near Wolfe Tone Bridge, was taken by the journalist Lillian Bland in 1908. This market used to take place regularly as farmers, mostly from the Barna/ Furbo area, sometimes even Spiddal , would bring their cartloads of beautifully stacked turf to town. They were hoping to barter or sell their produce and then do their shopping in town. They often carried loads of hay, sometimes loose, sometimes tied, and large cans of milk, also for sale. There was a weighbridge on the other side of the cottages in our photograph which was often used in these transactions.
An entrepreneur named Mr. Berry was probably one of the first people to organise buses in Galway. He had over a dozen horse drawn vehicles that plied regularly between Eyre Square and the Eglinton Hotel. The fare was one penny. Each vehicle was marked to carry a certain number of people and the police were vigilant to see that there was no overloading. In 1868, he bought a new bus that was allowed to carry inside and outside passengers. This could travel on longer excursions, to Barna and Oughterard etc, but an accident on Knockbane Hill seriously affected his business.