O’Toole’s house in the Claddagh

A place in the sun - Chairs outside O’Tooles in the Claddagh.

A place in the sun - Chairs outside O’Tooles in the Claddagh.

The house with the chairs outside was O’Toole’s near the top of Rope Walk in the Claddagh. The photograph was taken c1925. It was obviously a fine day because of the chairs being left out for people to sit in the sun. Beside them you can see a washing tub, and on the front of the house to the right, there is some washing hanging out to dry. Occasional geese can be seen sunning themselves. These were typical Claddagh homes before the village was knocked down and rebuilt.

Many of these houses would originally have had mud walls, but they were gradually replaced by stone walls which carried stout beams of rafters, which were overlain by insulating layers of earthen sods. These in turn acted as a snug foundation for the thatch roof which was laid on top and fastened with twisted hazel scallops. As Fr Leo Ward said in his book: “Rock and mortar for the walls and every little end of a wall whitewashed a hundred times in blue or white or thin pink... a woman is whitewashing a wall as we pass. She uses a broom to spray a wall and then she goes pat, pat, pat with her broom as if to make the liquid take.”

Mary Banim described the interior of one of the cottages thus: “The king’s house is no larger than those of his neighbours. A thatched cabin, poor both without and within, but, at least when we saw it, very snug inside and very neat too, in spite of the narrow space and the quantity of household and other articles to be stowed away on every side; for, along with the ordinary furniture, a fisherman’s cottage contains a curious medley of articles — fishing nets and tackle and spare oars and sea-going odds and ends of every kind, as well as an assortment of chests in which to store up any valuables the owner may possess. Indeed it was a matter of great wonder to me how, with all this miscellaneous collection, such order and neatness could be preserved in the little kitchen.....”

But the village “never had any sanitary provisions, though the houses were usually wall to wall. It had to be re-roofed every year or the occupants had to move from corner to corner in an effort to keep dry. Some of the tight, dark and eyeless little bedrooms were not... much of a human habitation”.

So it was decided to replace the old village with new council houses. In 1928 it was estimated that it would cost £70,940 to build the 235 houses required to make the Claddagh a place fit for healthy and clean inhabitants to live in. The Government had then given a tentative promise to contribute £5,000 towards the scheme, and the urban council was pointing out to it that not only would this place a burden of three shillings in the pound on the rates, and even with this substantial imposition, it would not enable the houses to be let at such a rent as the dwellers of the Claddagh could pay. In the event, all of the thatched homes were replaced by council houses.

During the Black and Tan period it was said that the Tans would only go as far as the pump beside the church in the Claddagh. When the Tans, on leaving Renmore in their Crossley tenders, got to O’Connell’s Bar at the corner of Spanish Parade, their headlights would shine on the pillars of the Claddagh Church. Local children would hide behind the pillars and then jump out and make large silhouettes on the facade of the church (there being no electricity in the Claddagh at the time ), and then run into the village. It was a sort of game between the children and the Tans.... probably the only benign one played by the Tans during their stay in Galway.

Much of today’s information comes from Peadar O’Dowd’s wonderful book Down By The Claddagh.

Dr Tom O’Connor will give an illustrated talk on the history of Rockbarton in the Gort Ard residence, Rockbarton North, this evening (Thursday ) at 8pm. It is an informal opportunity to learn something of the historical development of the area. There is no charge and all are welcome.

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