Bay of Galway

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter IV-25 | Start of chapter

The Bay of Galway was, in days of yore, one of the most important of the entrances to Ireland. It ought to be so still. Its geographical position, and its great natural advantages entitle it to this distinction; political causes have counteracted the intentions of nature. The entrance to this magnificent basin is sheltered by the islands of Arran. They are three in number—Arranmore, Innismain, and Innishere. The two larger are separated from each other by a strait, called St. Gregory's Sound. The largest is nine miles long, and is a parish in itself; all taken together form one of the seventeen baronies into which Galway is divided. These islands are said by ancient annalists to be the remains of a high barrier of land, which the Atlantic broke through at an early period of the world. Kirwan, the mineralogist, in his Essay on the Primitive State of the Globe, says, that the Bay of Galway appears to have been originally a granite mountain, shattered and swallowed during a great convulsion, which he supposes to have taken place; and adds, that a vast mass of granite, called "The Gregory," which was torn to pieces by lightning in 1774, stood on one side of the islands, one hundred feet, at least, above the level of the sea.

The bay contains a number of lesser creeks, inlets, and harbours, of which that of Galway itself is the most important, and from which a valuable and extensive trade by water might be carried on with the interior of the country, by merely forming a short canal from the town into Lough Corrib, which with its neighbouring lakes of Mask, Carra, and Conn, would form a navigable chain, extending through the nearly unknown districts of Connaught, that in a commercial and social point of view would be of incalculable benefit to the country. Sailing into Galway Bay, the shores present a great deal of diversity. On the right hand the noble range of the Burrin mountains, in the county of Clare, form a majestic boundary to the scene. On the Galway side, the country is delightfully varied, exhibiting the mingled beauties of rich cultivation and primeval wildness. The town of Galway is finely situated on a narrow neck of land between an arm of the great bay and Lough Corrib, a noble lake thirty miles long. The picturesque and ancient appearance of this old Spanish town, with its antique gateways and arched passages, will be elsewhere described. I shall not, therefore, dilate further upon the singularity of its narrow streets and gloomy-looking mansions, which, though highly interesting to the antiquarian and painter, convey to the mind of the utilitarian anything but ideas of comfort and cleanliness. Behind the town the land rises into a succession of bold and picturesque hills, which stretch along Lough Corrib as far as Killery Harbour to the north-west, inclosing within their chain the wild and romantic tract known as Connemara and Joyce's country.

No land-view can equal in sublimity and grandeur the coast-scenery that presents itself upon quitting the Bay of Galway through the northern passage. A succession of noble bays open to the view, protected from the fury of the Atlantic waves by the numerous islands which lie near their entrance. A glance at the map will be sufficient to show the singular formation of the coast, whose irregular indentations, running far into the land, form deep harbours, where the navies of Great Britain might lie at anchor; yet so completely unknown and unfrequented, that scarcely a sail, save those of the poor fishermen's boats, is ever to be seen on their undisturbed broad waters. Some idea may be formed of the extraordinary facilities which this sequestered district possesses for trade and commerce, when, according to a late eminent engineer's report, no part of it is more than four miles distant from existing navigation. "There are," says he, "upwards of twenty safe and capacious harbours fit for vessels of any burthen; about twenty-five navigable lakes in the interior of a mile or more in length, besides hundreds smaller: the sea-coast and all these lakes abound with fish. The district with its islands possesses no less than four hundred miles of sea-shore. On Lough Corrib it has about fifty miles of shore, so that with Lough Mask, &c., there are, perhaps, as many miles of the shore of the sea, or navigable lakes, as there are square miles of surface." Of the harbours on the sea-coast, the principal are Costello, Greatman's, Casheen, Kilkerran, Roundstone, Birterbuy, Benowen, Ardfert, Cleggan, Ballinakill, and Killery, which last separates the counties of Galway and Mayo. Kilkerran is the largest of these bays; it runs into the land upwards of ten miles, and contains within its spacious bosom the inhabited islands of Garomna, Letterman, and several of lesser note.