Jottings of my Life in Tyrone, Ireland – Galway and Its Environs

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Galway and Its Environs

Galway town was founded by a community of merchants in the 13th and 14th Centuries. Known as the “Fourteen Tribes,” they included the Blakes, Lynches, Bodkins, Brownes, Skerrets, Kirwans Frenches, Martins and others. They did a flourishing trade with Spain and France, and in time became very wealthy and powerful, and dominated the whole of the west country. The Spanish Parade is a fitting reminder of that period. Indeed, the Spanish trait is to be seen to this day in the beautiful Irish girls of that district; the old families had intermarried with the Spanish, leaving us with girls having lovely black wavy hair and dark blue eyes. Celebrated artists frequented that area to paint pictures of these girls, who wore on their shoulders just a little shawl, leaving their hair waving in the breeze.

Within a short distance from the Spanish Parade is a quaint little village near the sea, called the “Claddagh.” Here dwelt the fishermen and their families in little mud cabins that, at a distance, looked like a large bed of mushrooms. When any of their daughters got married, the bride received as a dowery a fishing boat or a share in one, depending on the means of her parents.

The marriage ring passes from mother to daughter and the design on it represents a heart supported by two hands. Of course, like other people, they have their unlucky days when no one would ever think of going fishing; it would be tempting fate. All the boats are blessed by the priest before they start out at the beginning of the fishing season. It is quite a pretty and interesting sight to see the fishermen come back from the sea. The women go down to the boats and take some of the fish and put them in large flat, round baskets, called “skibs,” which they place on their heads. Then they carry the fish uptown to be sold to their customers. The rest are sold by auction to the large fish dealers from the big cities in England and eastern Ireland.

Galway has one of the most magnificent bays in Ireland. On the south side are the majestic Cliffs of Moher, while to the north are the hills of Connemara. At the entrance are the Aran Islands, to which you can take a very enjoyable trip on a little steamer that leaves Galway three times a week.

The Aran Islands are owned by the O’Flahertys, a very fine old Irish family, and contain many interesting ruins of bygone strongholds. The steamer takes you to the largest island, Inishmore, where it stops at the little village called Kilronan. You can make your headquarters at O’Flaherty’s Hotel, from which several trips can be made to different parts of the island, which is only nine miles long. One of the things that struck me most was the short skirts something like Scotch kilties worn by the little boys. It seems that wicked fairies will not molest little girls dressed in skirts, so the boys wear them also until they are able to take care of themselves. Several of the churches that once graced the countryside are now in ruins. St. Enda’s Chapel is still standing, but his church and tomb are no longer there, thanks to the dirty work of the Cromwellian soldiers. Standing at a height of nearly 300 feet above the sea is Dun Aengus, one of the finest prehistoric forts in western Europe. I always enjoyed visiting these old spots, as it made quite a change from social life and seemed restful to think of the past.

Owing to the heavy seas that crash on the rocky shores, I did not visit the other two islands. I understand that living on them is even harder than on Inishmore where I stayed. There is not a tree or bush to be found on any of the islands except for a solitary bush trying to exist outside the hotel. The little fields, surrounded by stone walls, support quite a number of cattle and sheep, which are sold in Galway during the annual fair. The natives, however, are the most cheerful people I have ever met.

In the first place, there is no fuel to be found anywhere on the island and all the turf which is used instead of coal is quite expensive, as it has to be brought from the mainland ten miles away and can only be had from the Connemara men who sell it by auction at a price beyond which the very poor people can afford. Practically all of them make their own clothes from wool shorn from their sheep, and do their spinning, too. Their shoes, or pampooties as they call them, are also home made from strips of hide soaked in sea water.

The family cow is a general provider. She supplies not only milk and butter, but fuel as well. This has to be collected and dried before it can be used, and the odour from it while burning cannot compare with Attar of Roses. The men also build small boats called “curraghs, made of wickerwork and covered with skins of cattle that have been slaughtered. The curragh men, as the boatmen are called, are past masters at rowing through the surf, no matter how stormy it may be. In them, they bring the fuel from the turf boats to the shore where it is carried on donkeys up the steep paths to the road above. That’s what I call Spartan living! –

Now, I think it is about time to write a little more about Galway which would have been a wonderful seaport if the shipping had been encouraged, but nothing was done by the government to promote it. In the centre of town is an old building called a castle although it certainly does not look like one, it goes by the name of Lynch’s Castle because it was occupied by a former mayor of that name who lived many years ago. Lynch was a very just man and a good mayor. He was blessed with one son who was in love with a beautiful Spanish girl from the Claddagh. Unfortunately, he found out that the young lady was flirting with a handsome young Spaniard on the sly. So, he challenged the young man to a duel in which the Spaniard lost his life. When his father heard what had happened, he insisted that his son be brought to trial. But everybody was very fond of this young man, and would not agree with the mayor who said he should be hanged. However, the mayor insisted on justice being done and, single-handed, he hanged his son by a rope from a bedroom window facing the front street. The townspeople, of course, were horrified at the spectacle, and the mayor who loved his son dearly, took to his bed and died shortly after of a broken heart. Ever since that time the house has been called Lynch’s Castle. The place was a soap factory, the last time I saw it.

The Bay of Galway is considered by many foreign visitors to be far more attractive than the Bay of Naples. The reason for this, I believe, is the wonderful sunsets to be seen here at certain times of the year, particularly after storms. The native costumes of crimson skirts and dark blue frieze wrappers and cloaks worn by the women also impart a tone of cheerfulness that is not easily forgotten.

There are many beautiful homes around Galway, especially in the Taylor’s Hill district and Salt Hill by the Sea, where Toft’s hobby-horses and shooting galleries entertain the “rustics,” who come with their families to bask in the sun at the seaside. They enjoy the excitement and fun on the merry-go-rounds. My friends and I used to get a great kick out of riding the horses

The old family homes of the Lynches, Joyces, Waitmans and Blakes were located on the other side of the town. They had their estates side by side, and were all friends of each other. And, of course, if anything special was going on in the town, they were all there, and so were we. During the summer months we would arrange picnic parties and visit many places of interest in the neighbourhood, including Cong and Menlo Castle, located about a mile and a half from Galway.

The ruins of Menlo Castle, once the home of Sir Valentine Blake, are situated on the banks of the beautiful River Corrib. Being covered with ivy and facing the river, this quaint old place has a very picturesque appearance. It seems that all the Blake family, with the exception of the eldest daughter, were away in London when one night Nellie Blake, who had the habit of reading in bed, must have fallen asleep with the candle burning. The bedclothes must somehow have become ignited, and she was burned to death. Bill, the coachman who happened to be in the yard at the time, saw smoke coming from the windows and routed out the maids, but it was too late for anything to be done for Nellie. Indeed, one the girls who could not get out in time, went up to the tower and jumped off into the yard below and broke her back. The castle was never rebuilt and, when seen from a boat on the river, the ruins made quite a striking picture.

The first few days in May were kept as a holiday and everyone who could get a boat used to go up the river as far as the castle grounds, stroll through the woods, and picnic there amid the wild flowers which were always lovely at that time of the year.

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About this record

Written by Elizabeth La Hiff Lambert

Published here 09 Sep 2022 and originally published 1979

Page 0101 of the Athenry History archive.

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