Woodquay in 1850
By Tom Kenny
Last week we showed you a reproduction of a painting of Woodquay which was painted by an English artist, William JC Bond, in 1850. Today, we show you two details from that painting, each one showing a side of Woodquay.
The first shows the area between Sickeen and Woodquay as seen from roughly where the bus shelter is on St Brendan’s Road today. At one time a small stream ran through Sickeen. The land around it was marshy and boggy and this extended to where the Commercial Club is today. It was shown on maps as being very liable to flooding. In 1670 a member of the Eyre family got a grant of land of “The void place opposite Barrachalla, alias Woodquay, along the river to Sickeen and to the stone gate and causeway about to the cabbins on the south side, leaving a sufficient highway (Eyre Street) not exceeding 20 feet between it and the opposite cabbins.”
The thatched houses look to be in very poor condition, with many of the roofs needing re-thatching, but we must remember this image was painted just after the Famine. All of the houses have smoking chimneys, as of course fires were lit, not just for heating purposes, but for cooking as well. There are pigs wandering around outside (and possibly inside) some of the cottages. The tall slated house (behind the mast) was probably at the top of Eyre Street. Notice the trees. The flashes of colour are provided by the clothing worn by people who inhabit the painting, especially the women.
The boats are wide beamed working boats which in this case seem to be carrying turf. The donkey and cart on the left of picture are being loaded up with some of that cargo.
Our second image shows the opposite side of Woodquay with the towers of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church and the Abbey Church in the background. The strip of land in the middle foreground was known as Horse Island. We know from the Eyre grant mentioned above that the wood quay existed from 1670 which underlines the importance, even then, of river traffic to the city. The placename Barrachalla (Bárr an Chalaidh) meant just that, ‘the top of the port’. In other words, this area was the centre for loading and discharging from Lough Corrib (and later Galway Docks after the canal was built) until the construction of Steamers Quay in 1858. “The Lough Corrib Navigation Trustees had jurisdiction over the boat harbour and wharfage at Woodquay having a depth of four and a half feet at Summer level and also the landing pier at Woodquay, 150 feet long with six and a half feet of water alongside at Summer level, with one ton hoisting crane and mooring posts complete.”
Obviously this quay was a very busy place if one is to judge from the number of large masts and sails we can see moored there. The boat in the foreground is carrying what appears to be a cargo of turf. It would have been one like this that caused the tragedy at Anach Cuain.
The thatched houses we see to the left of the Abbey Church correspond to McDonagh’s Terrace today. Just to the right of those, and possibly out of picture, was a Mendicity Hospital. The buildings below the Tower of St Nicholas’ Church are roughly where Daly’s Place (named after Fr Peter Daly) is today.
All of the above information comes from old maps and documents, and in an era before photography reached our city, underlines the importance of paintings such as this as historical documents.