Encyclopaedia Britannica (1911)

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, New York, 1911, vol. XI, “Galway”.

GALWAY, a seaport, parliamentary borough and the county town of county Galway, Ireland, on the north shore of Galway Bay, and on the main line of the Midland Great Western railway. Pop. of urban district (1901) 13,426. Some of the streets are very narrow, and contain curious specimens of old buildings, chiefly in antique Spanish style, being square, with a central court, and a gateway opening into the street. The most note-worthy of these is the pile known as Lynch’s Castle. This residence takes its name from the family of whom James Lynch Fitzstephen, mayor of Galway in 1493, was a member; whose severity as a magistrate is exemplified in the story that he executed his own son, and thus gave origin (according to one of several theories) to the familiar term of Lynch law. The principal streets are broad and contain good shops. St Nicholas church is a fine cruciform building founded in 1320, and containing monuments, and a bell, one of a peal, which appears to have been brought from Cavron in France, but how this happened is not known. The church was made collegiate in 1484, and Edward VI. created the Royal College of Galway in connexion with it; but the old college buildings no longer serve this purpose, and the church ceased to be collegiate in 184o. There are remains of a Franciscan friary founded in 1296. St Augustine’s church (Roman Catholic) is modern (1859). The town is the seat of a Roman Catholic diocese. There are grammar, model and industrial schools, the first with exhibitions to Trinity College, Dublin; but the principal educational establishment is University College, a quadrangular building in Tudor Gothic style, of grey limestone. It was founded as Queen’s College, with other colleges of the same name at Belfast and Cork, under an act of 1845, and its name was changed when it was granted a new charter pursuant to the Irish Universities Act 1908. The harbour comprises an extensive line of quays, and is connected for inland navigation with Lough Corrib. The shipping trade is considerable, but as a trans-Atlantic port Galway was exploited unsuccessfully. The fisheries, both sea and salmon, are important. The chief exports are wool, agricultural produce and black marble, which is polished in local mills. Other industrial establishments include corn-mills, iron-foundries, distilleries, and brush and bag factories. The borough, which returned two members to parliament until 1885, now returns one.

Galway is divided into the old and new towns, while a suburb known as the Claddagh is inhabited by fishermen. This is a curious collection of small cottages, where communal government by a locally elected mayor long prevailed, together with peculiar laws and customs, strictly exclusive inter-marriage, and a high moral and religious standard. Specimens of the distinctive Claddagh ring, for example, were worn and treasured as venerated heirlooms. These customs, with the distinctive dress of the women, died out but slowly, and even to-day their vestiges remain.

The environs of Galway are pleasant, with several handsome residences. The most interesting point in the vicinity is Roscam, with its round tower, ruined church and other remains. Salthill, with golf links, is a waterside residential suburb.

Little is known of the history of Galway until after the arrival of the English, at which time it was under the protection of O’Flaherty, who possessed the adjoining district to the west. On the extinction of the native dynasty of the O’Connors, the town fell into the hands of the De Burgos, the head of a branch of which, under the name of M’William Eighter, long governed it by magistrates of his own appointment. After it had been secured by walls, which began to be built about 1270 and are still in part traceable, it became the residence of a number of enterprising settlers, through whom it attained a position of much commercial celebrity. Of these settlers the principal families, fourteen in number, were known as the tribes of Galway. They were of Norman, Saxon or Welsh descent, and became so exclusive in their relationships that dispensations were frequently requisite for the canonical legality of marriages among them. The town rapidly increased from this period in wealth and commercial rank, far surpassing in this respect the rival city of Limerick. Richard II. granted it a charter of incorporation with liberal privileges, which was confirmed by his successor. It had the right of coinage by act of parliament, but there is no evidence to show that it exercised the privilege. Another charter, granted in 1545, extended the jurisdiction of the port to the islands of Aran, permitted the exportation of all kinds of goods except linens and woollens, and confirmed all the former privileges. Large numbers of Cromwell’s soldiers are said to have settled in the town; and there are many traces of Spanish blood among the population. Its municipal privileges were extended by a charter from James I., whereby the town, and a district of two miles round in every direction, were formed into a distinct county, with exclusive jurisdiction and a right of choosing its own magistrates. During the civil wars of 1641 the town took part with the Irish, and was surrendered to the Parliamentary forces under Sir Charles Coote; after which the ancient inhabitants were mostly driven out, and their property was given to adventurers and soldiers, chiefly from England. On the accession of James II. the old inhabitants entertained sanguine hopes of recovering their former rights. But the successes of King William soon put an end to their expectations; and the town, after undergoing another siege, again capitulated to the force brought against it by General Ginkell.

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