Chronicles: The Written History of Galway
It is now believed by historians that Galway was in fact the original name of the river, the latter was then renamed after its source lough Corrib, originally called Lough Orbsen. The earliest written account of the river’s name is believed to be from Ptolomeny’s map of Hibernia and written in Latin as Ausoba in the 2nd century AD.
The town of Galway was originally an ancient Gaelic fortification almost entirely surrounded by water thus providing a natural defense and crossing point at low tide. Vikings had been known to raid inland on high tide and use the river to navigate inland during the 9th and 10th centuries AD. However, by the 11th up until the early 13th centuries, The Gaelic Kings of Connacht, the O Connors controlled a fortification here with the assistance of the O Flaherty and O Halloran clans.
Would you believe that little old Galway has been besieged at least thirteen times throughout history?! Perhaps, the most significant was by the Anglo Norman De Burgos in 1232. They secured the river crossing from the O Connors and facilitated the building of what we now know as the medieval city of Galway. Ironically, the De Burgos were thrown out of the city for becoming too much like the Irish and by the fourteenth century their city status and power was usurped by the fourteen tribes, a cartel of mainly Anglo-Norman traders loyal to the English crown law and customs.
Many native Irish families continued to resist the Anglo Normans and remained in power throughout much of West and East County Galway until the late seventeenth century maintaining their traditions and independence. These Gaelic families are still well-established family names throughout Galway City and County.
Directly across the river from the old medieval heart of Galway city sits the ancient village of the Claddagh, still home to perhaps some of the oldest family names associated with Galway, and indeed their own king! Their houses used to be thatched but were demolished and rebuilt in the 1930’s to improve health and quality of life. Claddagh was a fishing village for centuries with over two hundred boats, some of which, including the famous Galway Hooker boats, can still be seen docked beside the village.
A City of Streams and Islands
Walking along the River Corrib you will no doubt encounter the imposing Galway Cathedral – a catholic cathedral built in the 1960’s on what was formerly the site of the old Galway jail. This area of Galway is now known as Nun’s Island, however, it is in fact two islands intersected by the Convent and Gaol Rivers and bordered by Corrib River and Galway Navigation Canal. Both of these islands are just over 0.5 km long and a little under 0.2 km wide.
The earliest maps of Galway suggest there were in fact a string of Islands on the west bank of the old town of Galway. These were probably joined by bridges and roads in the 18th and 19th century as Galway began to industrialize and develop hydro power. This hydro power served up to 29 factory mills producing wool, whisky and timber.
A historical survey by NUIG Galway suggests the earliest names we have for these Islands are The Island of the flocking birds, The Island of the goats, Ballymany and Earl’s Island. Galway is known to have been called The Town of the Streams in folklore owing to the number of streams and rivers flowing out of and back into the River Corrib thus creating the Islands.
This part of the city is away from the hustle and bustle of the main center and offers the visitor a relaxing diversion from study and work, perhaps even providing a little inspiration.