GALWAY TOWN HISTORY

From A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837

The town, which rapidly increased in commerce, so as to surpass the rival city of Limerick, was, in 1312, strengthened by the erection of the great gate, and additional works under the superintendence of Nicholas Lynch, surnamed the "Black Marshall."

On the death of William de Burgo, the third earl, who was assassinated by his own servants, a great change took place. That nobleman leaving only a daughter, the heads of the two younger branches of the family, fearing the alienation of the estates by marriage, threw off their allegiance, and, adopting the Irish customs, assumed the native titles of Mac William Eighter and Mac William Oughter; the former took possession of the town, with the territory towards the Shannon, and led the inhabitants into revolt; but on his returning to his allegiance, tranquillity was restored.

In 1375, by grant of a charter of the staple, the merchants of Galway and Connaught were permitted for three years to pay the customs due to the Crown at Galway, which was thus placed on an equality with the cities of Cork, Dublin, and Waterford. In 1396, the town, which had hitherto exercised its corporate privileges only by prescription, obtained from Richard II. a perpetual grant of the customs for the repair of the walls, and also a charter of incorporation, confering many privileges, which charter was confirmed in 1402, by Henry IV. A licence for coining, which had been hitherto confined to Dublin and Trim, was, about this time, granted to Galway by statute, specifying the value and character of the coins to be struck.

During the reigns of Henry VI. and Edward IV., the commerce of the port extended to many parts of Europe, particularly to France and Spain, whence large quantities of wine were imported. In 1484, a new charter was granted to the town, vesting its government in a mayor and bailiffs, and expressly ordaining that neither the Lord Mac William of Clanricarde, nor any of his family, should exercise any authority within its limits. In 1493 occurred the melancholy execution by the mayor, James Lynch Fitzstephen, of his own son, for murder, whom, to prevent an intended rescue, he caused to be hanged from a window of his house, under which are carved a skull and cross bones in memory of the tragical event.

During the reign of Henry VIII., frequent disputes between the inhabitants and the men of Limerick arose from a feeling of rivalry, which were eventually terminated by treaty, and to their instigation did the former attribute the revival of a claim made on them by the Earl of Ormonde for prisage of wine, from which they had been previously exempt. The question, however, was decided in favour of Galway by the court of star chamber; the decision was of the highest importance to its merchants, who at that time supplied nearly the whole kingdom with wine, for which purpose they had vaults at Athboy, of which the remains are still to be seen.

A royal ordinance was issued at the same time, by which the merchants of Galway were prohibited from forestalling the markets of Limerick; and in 1545 a new charter was granted, defining the limits of the port, which were made to extend from the isles of Arran to the town, and permitting the exportation of all goods and merchandise, except woollens and linens, with exemption from prisage and a confirmation of all former privileges. Edward VI. granted a confirmatory charter, and the town continued to increase in prosperity; but the tyranny of Sir Edward Fitton, the first President of Connaught, having excited an insurrection, it was harassed by the incursions of the neighbouring septs, and many of the principal inhabitants were induced to seek protection from Mac William Eighter.

In 1579, the inhabitants received a charter from Elizabeth, with reversionary leases of the dissolved monasteries, the fisheries, the cocket, and lands of the value of 100 marks; but a few years after the Earl of Ormonde reasserted his claim to the prisage of wine, which was allowed by the court of chancery. About the year 1594, Hugh Roe O'Donell having destroyed Enniskillen and burnt Athenry, appeared before the town, and being refused a supply of provisions, set fire to the suburbs, but retreated without doing further injury. In 1600, Lord Mountjoy erected a strong fort on the hill where the Augustinian monastery stood, which completely commanded the town and the harbour; and soon after the accession of James I., the town and lands within a distance of two miles round it were by charter constituted a distinct county, of which the Earl of Clanricarde was appointed governor, with powers equal to those he exercised as President of Connaught.

Soon after the commencement of the war in 1641, the inhabitants joined the parliamentarians, and the Earl of Clanricarde invested the town and speedily reduced it to submission; but his exertions to retain it for the king were frustrated by the violence of Capt. Willoughby, commander of the fort, which induced the people to open their gates to the enemy. In the course of the war, Rinuncini, the pope's nuncio, took refuge here and embarked for Rome.

From the great numbers that fled to the town for shelter during this period of intestine war, the plague broke out in July, 1649, and raged with violence till the April following, during which time 3700 of the inhabitants fell victims to its ravages. The Marquess of Clanricarde, wishing to borrow £20,000 for the King's service, offered the revenues of Galway and Limerick to the Duke of Lorraine as security, but the negociation failed. On this occasion a large and very accurate map of the town was drawn and engraved, two copies of which are still extant.

In 1652, the town was invested by the parliamentary forces under Sir Charles Coote, when Preston, the Irish commander of the garrison, having quitted it and embarked for France, the inhabitants surrendered on condition of retaining their privileges, the liberation of all native prisoners without ransom, and the restoration of all captured property. On the proclamation of Richard Cromwell, as protector, in 1658, so great a tumult was excited that the corporation was threatened with the loss of its charter. In 1690, the town was put into a state of defence, and garrisoned for James II. by three companies of foot and a troop of horse, and in the following year three companies more were added, and the Protestant inhabitants removed into the western suburbs.

After the battle of Aughrim, General De Ginkell, with 14,000 of William's army, laid siege to it; after holding out for some time it surrendered on the 20th of July, 1691, on condition of a safe conduct for the garrison to Limerick, and a free pardon for the inhabitants, with preservation of their property and privileges. The works raised by both armies were levelled, the fort near the town was repaired, and a new one erected on Mutton Island, in the bay, for the protection of the harbour. Previously to the disturbances of 1798, 400 of the inhabitants formed themselves into eight companies of volunteers, for the preservation of the peace of the town; and on the landing of the French at Kilcummin bay, the merchants supplied General Hutchinson with money, which enabled him to join General Lake with the garrison and yeomanry of the town, who consequently shared in the defeat at Castlebar.

The town is most advantageously situated at the head of the spacious bay to which it gives name, and at the mouth of a river issuing from Lough Corrib, which, after a winding course from that lake through the town, falls into the bay. It consists of several streets, in general narrow, and it is in contemplation to appropriate, under parliamentary sanction, a portion of the municipal revenue for its improvement.

A gas company has lately been formed to light the town, and the works are in progress. Early in the present century the greater portion of the town walls was levelled and built upon, and streets were continued into the suburbs to such an extent as to give to that part the name of the New Town. The total number of houses, in 1831, was 2683. The more ancient part is built on the plan of a Spanish town; many of the older houses are quadrangular, with an open court and an arched gateway towards the street.

Two bridges connect the town with the western district of Iar-Connaught; one built in 1342, which is still in good repair; and the other higher up the stream, a handsome structure built in 1831, and connecting the county court-house and prison. From the latter is a highly interesting view, embracing up the river the fine Elizabethan structure of Menlough castle, on its right bank, and downwards the shipping in the harbour, with the suburbs and the lofty mountains of Clare.

The Castle or Upper Citadel barracks, near William's gate, are a handsome range of building for 6 officers and 136 non-commissioned officers and privates, with an hospital for 60 patients; the Shambles barracks, near the river, which are also well built, are for 15 officers and 326 noncommissioned officers and privates, with stabling for six horses. There are two subscription news-rooms, belonging respectively to the Amicable and Commercial societies; and two newspapers are published in the town. Races for some years past have been held on a course about three miles distant.

Several flour-mills have been erected on the banks of the river, which has a very rapid fall, and great quantities of flour are made here from the wheat grown in the neighbourhood, which is of very fine quality. The manufacture of paper is extensively carried on; the works are impelled by water, and a steam-engine has been lately erected for greater efficiency. A portion of the fine black marble found in the vicinity ismade into mantel-pieces, and a turning and polishing machine and a patent saw wheel are now being constructed, which will be set in motion by the treadmill in the county gaol: a large brewery and three distilleries are in full operation, and near the town is a bleach-mill. The linen manufacture was introduced, but never flourished here; and the linen-hall erected in the western suburbs has long since fallen into decay.

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