One of the earliest monuments is the Turoe Stone, near Loughrea. It is a granite stone featuring “La Tene” celtic art, and dates from c.200 B.C. This curvilinear art acts as a reminder of Ireland’s Celtic past when the La Tene Celts came from Switzerland to Ireland and brought with them language, writing, folklore and music.
Ireland was celebrated as the Land of Saints and Scholars from the 5th to the 10th century, and Galway was no exception. Some of the Christian Saints in Galway included Saint Enda in Inishmore, St Columcille, St Feichin in Cong, St. Rock in Little Killary, and Saint Sourney in Inishmore.
Galway, “The City of the Tribes”, was originally founded as a fishing village in the area close to the Spanish Arch, where the Corrib River flows into beautiful Galway Bay. The Normans came to Ireland in 1169 and began to occupy Connacht in the early 12th century.
By the year 1232 it was held by the Anglo Normans under Richard de Burgo, but constant flying raids by the various Clans in the region brought about the need to build defensive walls. The work was commenced and it was an immense task given the small population of the town and the tools of the period. By 1270 much of the walls were in place including the Spanish Arch itself, and the town began to grow and prosper. A charter was granted in 1396 by Richard II which transferred governing powers to 14 merchant families, known locally as the 14 tribes of Galway. Each of the 14 tribes maintained a quasi-independence, while still retaining respectful links to the British crown. Galway City is now known and “City of The Tribes”, and the names of these fourteen tribes are now represented on roundabouts in Galway City.
However, elsewhere in the county, battles raged. The Battle of Aughrim was fought on the 12th of July, 1691 and was the last great land battle in Ireland. It involved the Williamite and Jacobite armies, and the result of the battle changed the course of Irish history. The Williamites were victorious, but the human casualties were high. It is estimated that 9,000 soldiers lost their lives on that fateful day, making it one of the bloodiest battles in Ireland’s history.
The 18th century in Galway was more peaceful, with upper class, landowning Protestants starting to build Big Houses and Demenses in the county instead of defensive castles. Traces of this can be found throughout County Galway - Aughnanure Castle is a fine example of a 15th century tower house, while Portumna Castle is a wonderful example of a 17th century fortified house built by local landowners, the Clanricarde Burkes. However these were times of great inequality where Galway, like many other counties in Connacht, was ravaged by the Great Famine of 1845 which saw thousands die, and thousands more emigrate.
Galway’s strategic coastal location and natural harbour caused successful trading links to be built up with both Portugal and Spain, and the city prospered for many centuries. Cromwell, however, arrived in 1651 and the region entered a long period of decline. Other prominent sea ports emerged on the east coast, namely Dublin and Waterford, and trade with Spain came to an end. Many years would pass before Galway would again enjoy such prosperity, but the legacy of the city’s long and colourful history is still evident in the character and style of the city’s building stock.