The History of Galway

Galway Taxis is pleased to bring you the Concise History of Galway!

The City of Galway was named after the river that runs through it, though where the river itself got its name is a matter for conjecture and debate. Some say it is named after the daughter of a chieftain of one of the tribes, who drowned in it.

In the middle of the twelfth century, the O'Connor Clan built a Dun, or Fort on the site where Galway now stands. Records indicate that it was being used as a port even at this stage. The High king of Munster sent a force to destroy it, successfully, as tribal feuds were common in early Ireland, but it was rebuilt soon afterwards.

13th Century The Normans under Richard De Burgo invaded and conquered Connaught, taking the Dun from its then owners, the O' Flahertys. Resisting numerous attacks by the O' Flaherty Clan, the De Burgos built a wall around the town, enclosing eventually 25 acres.

14th Century Further walls were built as native Irish power grew, isolating Galway from the other Norman settlements. The church of St. Nicholas was built as Parish church of the town. Charters were granted to Galway by Richard II and Henry IV, with the walls being extended further, and coins were minted.

15th Century The fourteen families of Galway arose during this period, and were granted a writ of freedom from the control of the descendants of the De Burgos, who had more or less gone native by this time. The charter also gave Galway considerable self-government. An elected Warden assisted by eight vicars gave Galway the status of what was essentially a city-state. Two great fires resulted in Galway being rebuilt in stone in this century.

16th Century Galway traded extensively with the continent, especially Spain, trading fish, wool and leather for oil, wine, and other products. The city became extremely wealthy and prospered under a series of mayors drawn from the fourteen families. During the year of the Spanish Armada, two hundred shipwrecked Spaniards were butchered by order of the Lord Deputy.

17th Century A famous free school arose in Galway in this century, but the numbers of scholars attending the school became a nuisance to the populace, and were ordered out of the city. After Cromwell, Sir Charles Coote laid siege to the city, capturing it and seizing the great houses of the 14 families to give to his soldiers in lieu of pay. The prosperity of the town declined.

18th Century For a while after the restoration, Galway looked set to recover its power and wealth, but the wars in England put that to an end. Harsh laws were enforced, stripping Catholics of rights, wealth, and property. Later in the century religious tolerance returned, and the city's industrial base grew around mills and distilleries on the river.

19th Century This period of prosperity did not last long, however, as the Great Famnine occurred, causing massive emigration, starvation, and loss of life. Despite some signs of recovery (the University being built, for example), the city remained in decline, the population reaching an all-time low of 13000 in 1911.

20th Century A slow recovery began, aided by tourists in the summer coming to Salthill, and students in the winter. Much of old Galway was knocked down, however, in the interests of public health and hygiene, and some of its rich culture has been lost.

21st Century Prosperity has returned to Galway with a bang, as the city hosts numerous festivals throughout the year, and the infamous Galway races. The city's inhabitants have returned to their historic pre-occupation with trade and commerce, and offer much to visitors to this ancient city.