Galway City Image gallery
Kilkenny, Galway City
Arty, bohemian Galway (Gaillimh) is renowned for its pleasures. Brightly painted pubs heave with live music, while cafes offer front-row seats for observing street performers, weekend hen parties run amuck, lovers entwined and more.
Steeped in history, the city nonetheless has a contemporary vibe. Students make up a quarter of its population, and remnants of the medieval town walls lie between shops selling Aran sweaters, handcrafted Claddagh rings, and stacks of secondhand and new books. Bridges arc over the salmon-filled River Corrib, and a long promenade leads to the seaside suburb of Salthill, on Galway Bay, the source of the area's famous oysters.
Galway is a very rainy city, even by Irish standards, and water can play a major role in your visit here, whether you're dodging it from the skies, walking along the bay shore or exploring paths along the river, creeks, canals and gentrifying harbour.
Galway is often referred to as the 'most Irish' of Ireland's cities (and it's the only one where you're likely to hear Irish spoken in the streets, shops and pubs), but some locals lament that these may be the last days of 'old' Galway before it, too, becomes globalised. Still, if you ask a local what they're doing next Tuesday, they will look at you puzzled, knowing that anything can happen between now and then.
Galway's Irish name, Gaillimh, originates from the Irish word gaill, meaning 'outsiders' or 'foreigners', and the term resonates throughout the city's history.
From humble beginnings as a tiny fishing village at the mouth of the River Corrib, it grew into an important town when the Anglo- Normans, under Richard de Burgo (also spelled de Burgh or Burke), captured territory from the local O'Flahertys in 1232. Its fortified walls were built from around 1270.
In 1396 Richard II granted a charter transferring power from the de Burgos to 14 merchant families or 'tribes' – hence Galway's enduring nickname: City of the Tribes. (Each of the city's roundabouts is named for one of the tribes.) These powerful, mostly English or Norman families clashed frequently with the leading Irish families of Connemara.
A massive fire in 1473 destroyed much of the town but created space for a new street layout, and many solid stone buildings were erected in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Galway maintained its independent status under the ruling merchant families, who were mostly loyal to the English Crown. Its coastal location encouraged a huge trade in wine, spices, fish and salt with Portugal and Spain, rivalling London in the volume of goods passing through its docks. Its support of the Crown, however, led to its downfall; the city was besieged by Cromwell in 1651 and fell the following year. In 1691 William of Orange's militia added to the destruction. Trade with Spain declined and, with Dublin and Waterford taking most sea traffic, Galway stagnated for centuries.
The early 1900s saw Galway's revival as tourists returned to the city and student numbers grew. In 1934 the cobbled streets and thatched cabins of Claddagh were tarred and flattened to make way for modern, hygienic buildings, and construction has boomed since.
Galway's population has grown rapidly and its local dynamism – helped by the large student population – means that the economic collapse has been less apparent here than elsewhere.
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