History of Galway

Galway emerged from the crossing of River Corrib, which was the only possible road by land at the south of Lough Corrib. The site has probably been used as a human settlement since the Neolithic period. The Claddagh in particular, which means 'stony foreshore' in Irish, was suitable for fishing from early times. The Vikings arrived in 927 A.D. but did not actually settle there. This seems curious because the mouth of the River Corrib had been a strategic place for the indigenous clans' warfare during centuries.

The late Middle Age saw the Anglo-Normans invading Connacht (the western province of Ireland) and take possession of the site. Despite frequent attacks by the neighbouring O'Flaherty's clan and their charismatic leader the pirate queen Granuaile, the Anglo-Norman families, led by Richard de Burgo, built a proper fortified town and developed trade. The finely decorated collegiate of St. Nicholas of Myra (who is more famously known as Santa Claus) became the parish church of the town.

At that time, Galway famous town houses began to appear, somewhat comparable in their status to the merchant house-towers of Tuscany. The famous 14 families (who gave the county its nickname of 'The Tribes'), established themselves at leaders of the city. Indeed, Galway was eventually granted a charter and the status of city by Richard III of England.

During the Renaissance, Galway was trading extensively with Spain, trading fish, wool or leather against fruit, oil and wine. The city prospered under the rule of the 14 families and received a hospital and a gaol. During the wreckage of the Spanish Armada, two hundred Spaniards found ashore were executed by order of the Lord Deputy. While there is testimony that the West coast of Ireland was generally friendly to the Spanish sailors who managed to land, Galway supported the English crown.

The decline of Galway came with Oliver Cromwell. The city surrendered to his army in 1652, after a starvation siege. All Catholics were expelled and the town houses of the 14 families were given to soldiers of the occupying forces. The situation worsened with the Penal Laws of the 18th century which prohibited Catholics from receiving education, ownership of property and from benefitting from their civil rights.

A short lived prosperity returned before the town was hit by the Great Famine (1845-52). During these years, one million people are said to have died of hunger while another million fled the country, many to the US via Galway port. Galway recovered slowly in the 20th century. The Claddagh, in particular managed to survive all the bumps of history through its own culture and customs. But in 1934, Galway Corporation decided to demolish its little clustered architecture and hundreds of years of local history suddenly disappeared.

Though the last international crisis certainly had an impact on the city trade, prosperity has returned today. A variety of festivals keep the city busy and Galway citizens have gone back to what they are famous for: creating business and wealth.