History of Galway

Brief history of Galway summarized

A brief review of the history of Galway, a city in Ireland.

Galway in the Middle Ages

Galway was first recorded in 1124 when a fort was built there. However, the city was founded in the 13th century. In 1170-71 the English invaded eastern Ireland and in 1232 a baron named Richard de Burgh took over this area and created a town. After 1270 walls were built around Galway.

In 1396 Galway was granted a charter (a document that gave the townspeople certain rights). Galway became a royal district. Then, in 1484, a mayor won. By then Galway probably had a population of about 3,000. It would seem to us that it is no more than a town, but by the standards of the time it was a medium-sized city.

For centuries Galway was dominated by 14 families known as the Galway tribes. The mayor and leading citizens usually come from these 14 families. They were the Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Deane, French, Font, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morris, and Skerrett families.

In the Middle Ages, Galway was an important port. The main import was wine. Exports included wool, furs, and leather. However, the leading citizens of Galway were definitely English in their manners and customs. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the English kings gradually lost control of Ireland, except for Dublin and the surrounding Pale. Galway, however, was to a large extent an island of ‘English’.

Galway suffered two serious fires, in 1473 and 1500. (Fire was a constant danger because most of the buildings were wooden with thatched roofs. However, if the buildings burn down, they can easily be replaced.)

St Nicholas Church was built in 1320 and the Franciscan friars came to Galway in 1296. (The brothers were like monks, but instead of withdrawing from the world, they went out to preach). Franciscan friars were known as gray friars because of their gray suits. Dominican or black friars followed in 1488. Augustinian friars arrived in 1508.

The Lynch Window commemorates James Lynch Fitzstephen, who is said to have hanged his own son for murder in 1493.


In the 16th century, Galway was still a prosperous city and port. The main import was still wine. In 1505 some of Galway’s streets were paved.

Furthermore, Galway received new charters in 1545, which extended its jurisdiction to the Aran Island. Galway received another letter in 1579. At this time a writer said: ‘The city is well built and walled with an excellent harbor and is stocked with many wealthy merchants.'”

St Bridget’s Hospital was built in 1543. That year Galway suffered an outbreak of sweating sickness. It is not known exactly what this disease was, but it caused many deaths in the city. However, Galway soon recovered and prospered again.

The Spanish Arch was built in 1584 and Lynch Castle is a mansion built around 1600. Browne Doorway is all that remains of a merchant’s house built in the early 17th century.

In 1610 James I gave Galway another charter, which made the city and the land for 2 miles around a county in its own right. However, Galway suffered severely in 1649 when the plague hit the city. There was a large number of dead.

Then in August 1651 the English under their general Edmund Ludlow laid siege to Galway. After a long siege, the city finally surrendered in April 1652.

During the 17th and 18th centuries Galway remained prosperous and in the late 18th century suburbs began to grow outside the walls.


At the beginning of the 19th century Galway’s population was around 5,000, but actually fell during the 19th century. The entire region suffered severely from the potato famine of 1845-49 and there was considerable population loss.

However, there were some improvements in Galway. The Galway Courthouse was built in 1812 and the Salmon Weir Bridge was built in 1818. Queens College Galway opened in 1849. The railway reached Galway in 1850. However, many of Galway’s people in the 19th century They lived in poverty and misery.

Galway today

During the 20th century Galway revived. In 1950 it had about 21,000 inhabitants. Galway was still a very busy port. Exports included agricultural products, wool, and marble. Industries in Galway in the 20th century included iron, milling, furniture making, and hat making.

By the end of the century, modern industries such as engineering, computing and electronics began to replace Galway’s traditional industries.

A statue of Padraic O’Conaire was erected in 1934. Kennedy Park is named after the president who visited Galway in 1963.

Galway Roman Catholic Cathedral was designed by John J. Robinson in 1957. It was completed in 1965. The Galway City Museum opened in 1977 and the Fiftieth Centenary Fountain was erected in 1984. Today Galway is a important local commercial center. The Eyre Shopping Center opened in 1991.

In recent years Galway has experienced an economic boom and the population has grown rapidly. Today the population of Galway is 79,000.

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