This photograph is part of the Clonbrock Collection in the National Library, and was taken from the tower of St Nicholas’ Church in 1880, looking over Market Street. This panoramic view extends as far as the river. The chimney you see on the horizon was that of Persse’s Distillery. In the distance (you probably will not be able to see it in this reproduction ) is the Clifden railway embankment running along the river bank. The building that is now the County Club is near the top left of the picture, the tower of the Mercy Convent near the top right.
The buildings to the left in the foreground were part of the Forster estate. First on the left (now on the corner of Bowling Green and Market Street ) was occupied by Thomas Hart who seems to have been a marine dealer. Next door is where Des Kavanagh’s shop is today. The building beside that, now run by St Vincent de Paul Society, has not changed much since. The house beside that is now the entrance into the car park, which was created when the buildings behind, known as The Old ‘Mon’, were demolished to make way for a car park.
There is a lot of history attached to the site of the car park. The medieval town wall extended across the northwest end of the site. The medieval town house known as Athy Castle may have been close to the south end of the site. The 1651 map of Galway depicts a line of dwelling houses fronting on to North Street (Market Street ) with large gardens extending back to the town wall. In 1749, the Lombard Barracks were built on this site. In 1823, Warden French purchased the barracks from the government, and the buildings were subsequently reused to house the Monastery School.
On January 15 1827, two Patrician Brothers, Paul O’Connor and James Walsh, took up residence in the ‘Mon’ and opened it up as a school. Three hundred pupils turned up on the first day but it was difficult for half naked, half starved, boys to come to school and be enthused about learning. So the Brothers set up the Poor Boy’s Breakfast Institute in May 1830, and this continued for 365 days a year long after the founders’ time. The boys were given oatmeal porridge with molasses or treacle, and during the Famine, 1,000 pupils were fed every morning.
In 1828, the timetable was as follows: 7.30am, school opens; 8am, morning prayer, arithmetic, writing on slates, bookkeeping; 9am, Mass followed by breakfast; 11am, writing on paper and slates; 11.30am, tasks; 12 noon, Acts of Faith, Hope and Charity, the Angelus; 12.30pm, Monitors – pupils acting as teachers; 1pm, drafts, reading; 1.30pm, sums, writing on slates; 2pm, monitors reading to masters; 2.30pm, catechism; 3pm, spiritual lecture and prayers; 3.30pm, school day ends.
In 1848, four teachers managed to teach, feed, and care for 1,250 pupils, a superhuman achievement. Most of this information is included in James Casserly’s book The Old Mon.