Galway Introduction Walking Tour, Galway

Galway Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Galway

Galway is located on the River Corrib between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay. It was in the old Kingdom of Connacht. Galway grew from a settlement around a fortification established by the King of Connacht in 1124.

In 1484 a Charter of Mayoralty was granted to the first mayor of Galway, Peirce Lynch, by Richard III of England. Lynch was one of the "Tribes of Galway" that ruled the town after 1500. The Tribes were 14 mostly Anglo-French families that came into power after the Norman invasion of Ireland. They give the city its nickname "City of Tribes".

During the Middle Ages, the city thrived on international trade - it was the principal Irish port for trade with Spain and France. The most famous landmark of those days is "the end of the wall", now known as the Spanish Arch.

At the end of the 17th century, the city supported James II in his war with William of Orange. Unfortunately, James lost and fled to France. The 14 families, Catholics in general, were ruined and fell from power. Perhaps the only catastrophe worse was The Great Famine of 1845-1852.

There are numerous places of interest, things to do and see in Galway. While shopping on Shop Street, have a look at the 16th century Lynch's Castle. A medieval residence of city's powerful Lynch family, it is now a branch of Allied Irish Banks. Saint Nicholas Collegiate Church, founded in 1320, is still in service.

Galway Cathedral, aka Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven, was built in 1965. It has a Renaissance Revival dome, a Romanesque Revival portico. The Claddach is the oldest part of Galway. The Galway City Museum has sections on the heritage of Galway and Irish art of the 20th century.

Galway is a city of festivals. The Galway Film and Galway Arts Festival comes in July. The Galway races run in August. There's the Oyster Festival in September. Music, Science, Haloween, Angling and the Galway Christmas Market. The 14 families and the famine are remembered but not missed so much. You see traces of them, but will not miss them either.
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Galway Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Galway Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Ireland » Galway (See other walking tours in Galway)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: anna
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Eyre Square
  • Statues of Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde
  • Lynch's Castle
  • Shop Street
  • Quay Street
  • Kirwans Lane
  • Galway City Museum
  • Spanish Arch
  • Galway’s Westend
  • O'Briens Bridge
  • Saint Nicholas Church and Galway Market
  • Lynch Memorial Window
  • Salmon Weir Bridge
  • Galway Cathedral
Eyre Square

1) Eyre Square (must see)

Medieval markets in old Galway would take place on The Green, a vast open space before the town gates. In 1631 the space was officially enclosed. Tree plantings were made and the square was bounded by a wood fence.

The part of this enclosed land that became Eyre Square was formally donated to the city in 1710 by the Mayor of Galway, Edward Eyre. Edward and his family had profited by the redistribution of lands and assets following Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland. Of course, the new square became Eyre Square.

The name changed again to Meyrick Square in 1801, when General Meyrick installed a stone wall around the square. In the 19th century the park was redeveloped in a Georgian style. In the 1960s a full reconstruction of the park was undertaken.

In 1965 the square was officially renamed "John F. Kennedy Memorial Park" in memory of the U.S. President. JFK had visited Galway and had given a speech in the square on June 29, 1963. A monument by sculptor Albert O' Toole Honoring JFK's visit was erected in 1965.

Among the monuments to be found in the square are two cast iron cannons from the Crimean War, a statue of writer Padraic O'Connaire, and the Quincentennial Fountain, built by Eamon O'Doherty in 1984. The fountain features a representation of the Galway Hooker, a fishing and small cargo vessel traditional to the coastal city.
Statues of Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde

2) Statues of Oscar Wilde and Eduard Vilde

In front of Matt O'Flaherty's pharmacy and Lazlo's Jewellry shop on William Street in Galway city, two famous writers sit on a bronze bench engaged in silent conversation. The two writers are Oscar Wilde, famous, if not notorious, and Eduard Vilde, known but only to God and fans of Estonian literature.

These two men never met or communicated in any way, yet here they sit, eye-to-eye almost, silently sharing ---what? Both men were rebels, each in his own way. Wilde suffered for sexual freedom. Vilde was a critic of Tsarist repression and German landlords. What might these two frozen figures be saying? What can be imagined?

Wilde is memorialized in an outdoor sculpture by Danny Osborne in Merrion Square in Dublin, and in another outdoor piece by Maggi Hambling in London. Then there is always the Wilde tomb in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The statue of Eduard Vilde is a copy of the original, cast in 1999 in Tartu, Estonia by Tiiu Kirsipuu.

Visitors like to share the bench with the two writers (there is room between them). They take photo ops, and have imaginary one-way conversations with the stolid authors. Buskers seldom pass up a chance to join in with a little music and conviviality. Oscar silently holds his hat and cane. Eduard sits in pensive repose.
Lynch's Castle

3) Lynch's Castle

Lynch was one of the powerful merchant "tribes" who ruled in Galway from 1450 until 1690. The Lynch family lived in the fortified townhouse that stands today at the corner of Shop and Abbeygate Streets. Until 1690, the Lynches provided 80 mayors of the city.

In 1690 William of Orange and his Protestant Army defeated Catholic James II in the Battle of the Boyne. All Catholic lands, including the Lynch's Castle, were confiscated.

But the dark story of Lynch's castle starts well before the Battle of the Boyne. One of the mayors, James Lynch, had a son, Walter. In 1493 young Walter murdered a Spanish sailor for winking at a woman. Some say Irish girls had always fancied Spanish sailors. Perhaps Walter overreacted a bit.

It fell to James, as Mayor, to punish Walter. To keep things simple, he sentenced Walter to death. James was prevented from taking Walter from the Castle to a place of execution by a mob. Walter was a popular boy. So James took him upstairs roped him up and launched him from a window. This was the first "lynch" mob.

The building was extended in 1808 and in 1930 it became a branch of Allied Irish Banks. It is four story high with embellished windows, gargoyles, and ornamental cornices. The Lynch coat of arms is on the facade, together with that of Henry VII and the Kildare Fitzgeralds.

The ground floor may be visited during business hours.
Shop Street

4) Shop Street

Shop Street, is the main shopping street of the town. It is partly pedestrianized and centered on retail business. There are brightly colored storefronts, pubs and well preserved brick buildings. Lynch's famous 16th century Castle is on Shop Street. It has been a branch bank of Allied Irish Banks since the 1960s.

The street is crowded with shoppers, dancers, musicians, tourists and performers. The music is mostly for dancing, reels and such. There are shops of every kind. The bright, colorful buildings are usually no more than four stories tall. Shop Street is actually part of an area. It is short itself, running from Lynch's Castle to Quay Street.

The area has a bohemian atmosphere. There are old family retailers, chain stores, places to get one's face painted, human statues are not hard to find. It is called the San Francisco of Ireland. The northern retail-intense stretch is commonly called Shop Street. The more southerly part (called Quay Street) is the entertainment stretch.
Quay Street

5) Quay Street (must see)

Galway has been described as "Rustically Modern." That may be taken to mean a mix of medieval scenery and superb food. Having said that, this quality is most observable on Quay Street. Quay street is lively. Window shopping, people watching, pub crawling, fine dining and zany nightlife are recommended.

Quay Street is one street in several parts. It is one street, yes, but it changes names. It also varies in width from normal street to narrow lane. From Eyre Square to Shop Street, most of the people are locals, students, some tourists.

The street goes from Shop Street to Mainguard Street. After a bit Mainguard branches off toward O'Brien's Bridge. We continues to the High Street part and finally, Quay Street to Wolfe Tone Bridge. But it's all just Quay Street, you see. It's simple really.

At the north end, the top, it is wider and very retail. There are two malls, actually joined together, Eyre Square Mall and Corbet Court. In the malls there are about 100 stores and lots of places to eat. Very fine, but a bit of sameness to it all.

At the start of the tour there is The Kings Head Pub of 1649. It is so named because one of the original owners was the executioner of Charles I. Who was it? Maybe it was Colonel Peter Stubbers of Cromwell's army. Peter seized the mayor's house on High Street, which later became the Kings Head Pub. Peter denied everything.

Moving on, encounter the Galway Woolen Market. Ever hear of Irish wool? Here it is. Bookstores back-to-back appear often. Bars aplenty like Feeney's Bar, Malloy's Irish Whiskey, the Quay Street Pub and so on. The actual "Latin Quarter" is less than 400 feet long. There are more pubs, live music, shops, hotels, theaters.

At last there is the waterfront area, called the Corrib. Here is the Spanish Arch, once attached to the wall that protected Spanish merchants from those wild and crazy Irish. Just kidding.
Kirwans Lane

6) Kirwans Lane

Cobblestoned medieval Kirwans lane is lined with 16th and 17th century houses. It is named for the Kirwan family, one of the "tribes" that ruled Galway for centuries. Kirwan's Lane was originally within the city walls. The Lane is very narrow. It connects with a right angle Quay Street and Upper Cross Street.

The Lane is thought to be one of the five remaining medieval lanes in the city. There were once 14 such lanes. In 1783, Dick Martin, whose wife, a Kirwan, was an actress, opened a 100 seat theater on the lane. Several famous actors played there, among them, the Irish patriot Theobald Wolfe Tone.

Kirwan's Lanes is home to numerous bohemian styled cafes, like Goya's Bakery, McDonaghs Fish and Chip Shop, Busker Brown's Pub and Judy Greene's Craft Shop. Kirwan's Lane Creative Cuisine Restaurant is a must visit. 2 Wild Geese is on Cross Street. It is home to objects of Irish art and design. The Galway Wool Market also deserves mention.
Galway City Museum

7) Galway City Museum (must see)

By the old Spanish Arch, once part of the Galway city walls, overlooking the river Corrib, is the Comerford House. The house was built in 1800. It was originally the home of the Comerford family. It afterward passed to the Greenwood family. Between 1948 and 1954 it was the residence of sculptor and writer Clare Consuelo Sheridan.

The house became the home of the Galway City Museum in 1976 while a part of Galway Corporation. The first exhibition of the museum was a collection of medieval stones, folk and military objects collected by Clare Sheridan before she died in 1970. The exhibits of Galway continued to grow and Comerford House became too small to hold it all.

In 2007 a new museum building was opened behind the Comerford House. The Galway Museum project building was designed by architects Ciaran O'Connor and Gar Harvey. It is located behind the old Comerford House on the River Corrib beside the Spanish Arch. There is a plaza between the museum and the Arch which is often a venue for public happenings.

The overall shape of the museum is an "L" form. The building has three levels to blend with the scale of other buildings in the area. The new building houses the earlier collections and new acquisitions. Most of the Comerford collection consisted of nearly 1,000 historical items collected over a period of thirty years.
Spanish Arch

8) Spanish Arch (must see)

There are two arches together on the east bank of the Corrib River: the so-called Spanish Arch and the Caoc Arch. They are the remaining such structures of the old "Front Wall" of the city. They were originally a part of an extension of the city wall from Martin's Tower to the river. It was built in 1504.

The term "Spanish Arch" may refer to Galway's close trade relationship with Spain in the middle Ages. In the 1700s the Eyre family built an extension of the quays called the Long Walk. They created an arch to provide access from the town to the quays. The Arch was called the "Eyre Arch" at the time it was built, but "Spanish" is the name that stuck.

A Tsunami from the 1755 Lisbon earthquake heavily damaged the arches. The arches and the walk survived. In 2006 the Galway City Museum no longer was housed at the arches. The new, dedicated museum was located behind the arches. The Spanish Arch appears in the 1957 film "The Rising of the Moon."
Galway’s Westend

9) Galway’s Westend

Every city has a casbah. Galway does, but different. Go through the Latin Quarter to the River Corrib. Cross over historic O'Brien's Bridge or the Wolfe Tone Bridge and arrive at the fabled West End. Known locally as "The West", this part of the city is centuries old. It offers a mix of live music venues, bars, pubs, restaurants, theaters and the Arts.

Pubs, bars, festivals (many) keep things lively. Irish-speaking organizations, an Arts center, galleries, Off-beat theaters like the Blue Teapot and The Black Box together with every kind of music every night; there's very little down time. Specialty tea shops and coffee houses and vintage specialty shops rule the day.

Family-run businesses have been here for generations, alongside newer enterprises. It is said one can get a fish dinner while one's shoes are getting fixed and the local locksmith retrieves the keys left in the car. There are two street festivals: Easter and June and whatever other impromptu street events are conjured up in the local snugs.
O'Briens Bridge

10) O'Briens Bridge

Until the Salmon Weir bridge was built in 1819, the way to cross the Corrib River in Galway was via the Old West Bridge, built in 1342. The Corrib is a short but lively current that passes through Galway to Galway Bay. This bridge was the one way to cross into the car-Connaught suburb of Galway.

In 1558 a gate and tower were built on the west end and a second gate and tower in the middle. In 1852 the old West Bridge was taken down. Strong walls were built on either side of the river and O'Brien's Bridge was built in its place. It has two main arches spanning the river channel. Patrick Nugent was the bridge contractor.

In 1889 the bridge was named in honor of William Smith O'Brien, a deceased MP once a leader of the Young Irelanders, a revolutionary group. The bridge is a vital link between the north and south sides of Galway. Going "west" is an expression long used by Galwegians for their adventures in the wild old West End of the city.
Saint Nicholas Church and Galway Market

11) Saint Nicholas Church and Galway Market (must see)

For seven hundred years or more the medieval Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas has served Galwegians. It is surrounded by the stalls and canopies of Galway market on market days as it has been since 1320.

In the 16th century, The two most powerful families, the Lynches and the Frenches extended and enlarged the church. Each built side aisles to the nave. The result is a square inside and three roofs.

Inside is a memorial of Jane Eyre. In 1760 Jane donated 300 pounds to the city corporation to feed 36 hungry people. Whether they ate or not is unknown. Also unknown is the fate of the 300 pounds. Very young James Kearney was killed by a horse and cart while playing in the street. He is remembered.

Adam Bures, a Crusader who died in the 13th century, has a gravestone here. There is a lepers gallery high above the north aisle. Two mermaids, a dragon, a lion and an ape grace the outside of the church. Stone gargoyle heads peep over the roof edge.

Christopher Columbus visited the church in 1477. At the same time two Inuit travelers, blown by unfavorable winds, arrived on the west coast. In 1652 Cromwell's troops trashed whatever they could, but the church carried on.

The Galway Market is open all year on Saturdays and Sundays. It features a lavish mix of foods and arts and crafts. Clothing, Jewelry and some household goods are also available.
Lynch Memorial Window

12) Lynch Memorial Window

Adjoining the graveyard of the Collegiate Church of San Nicholas of Myra, surmounting a relief of skull and bones and a memorial plaque explaining the event, is the window used to hang a man in 1493. James Lynch FitzStephen was mayor at the time. He belonged to the "tribe" Lynch, which had provided Galway with eighty mayors.

Thirteen other families or "tribesmen" formed the ruling class in Galway. James had a son. His son's name was Walter. Walter had a temper. Apparently it was a jealous temper. One day in a jealous rage, he killed a young Spanish sailor over a woman. Justice needed to be done. James sentenced his son, Walter, to death.

James tried to remove Walter to the scaffold, but a mob surrounded his house, Lynch's Castle, and prevented him from doing so. No problem, James took Walter to a high window and hanged Walter himself (thanks, Dad). Ironically, the "lynch" mob was trying to prevent a lynching. Sadly this did not become a custom, lynchings have proliferated..

After this extraordinary event the mayor retired. But he did not fade into oblivion. He got his memorial.
Salmon Weir Bridge

13) Salmon Weir Bridge

The Salmon Weir Bridge, constructed in 1818, is the oldest surviving bridge over the Corrib River. It was built to connect the old Jail with the courthouse and the road to Connemara. The Jail was standing where the Cathedral is today. The bridge is a prime observation point during the salmon runs in May and September.

The bridge is easy to find. If one takes Galway Cathedral as a land mark, the bridge is directly in front of the Cathedral. There is a new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the river adjoining the Salmon Weir Bridge.

Shoals of salmon can be observed from the bridge leaping up the river to spawn. There is a great view of the Cathedral and of the Wolfe Tone Bridge downstream. The bridge was originally granted to the Earl of Ulster by King Henry III. Franciscans controlled the fisheries until Henry VIII closed the monasteries and gave the fish to the Lynches.

The awesome rush of water through the weir is stunning when the river is at flood. With up to four million gallons per second, this is the largest weir in the country.
Galway Cathedral

14) Galway Cathedral (must see)

The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and Saint Nicholas is not an ancient edifice. It does not have a long medieval record. It was planned in 1958 and it was completed in 1965. Despite its newness it is the last stone cathedral to be built in Europe.

The Cathedral was designed by architect John J. Robinson. The dome and the octagonal columns resonate Renaissance influences. The dome is 145 feet high. It leaves its mark on the city skyline. The Cathedral was opened on August 15th, 1965.

The President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, lit the sanctuary candle. Cardinal Richard Cushing from Boston, USA, delivered a sermon and the Bishop of Galway, Michael Browne, manned the altar, assisted by four Archbishops.

The cathedral has hosted an adult choir since dedication. The choir provides music at some services and at the scheduled Sunday 11 am mass. The repertoire consists of sacred music from the 16th to the 21st centuries. It also can handle Gregorian Chant and traditional Irish music.

The pipe organ has been renovated by organ-builder Trevor Crowe. It was built by the Liverpool firm of Rushworth & Dreaper in 1966. It has three manuals and 59 speaking stops. The Cathedral is also provided with a portable organ which has one manual and four stops. This organ is used in the side chapels and in a continuo role in concert.

The Cathedral is located on Nun's Island on the west bank of the River Corrib. It is close to Salmon Weir Bridge. It sits on the former site of the city jail. There is no admission charged but donations are welcome. The Cathedral is open most days from 8:30 am to 18:30 pm.

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Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.4 Km or 0.9 Miles