Galway, historic towns atlas

On Monday next, November 1st, President Michael D. Higgins will launch the latest title in a series of Historic Towns Atlases of Ireland. This one is on Galway and is compiled by Jacinta Prunty and Paul Walsh. It is essentially an illustrated history of the development of the built up area of the city as seen through 57 illustrations starting with the earliest printed maps of Galway, antiquarian prints, 19th century paintings and photographs. Many of these are in colour, and many are A3 in size.

These high quality reproductions are accompanied by a text which contains a remarkable amount of information drawn from the images. So for instance, the list of Streets, Lanes and Entries locates them on the different maps and shows how the place names have evolved over the years. An example of this is Lower Abbeygate Street. It was referred to as Glover#s Street in 1610; the Street of the Leather Dressers in the mid 17th century; Little Gate Street in 1657; Skinner#s Street in 1731; High Street in 1747; Abby St. in 1755 and Abbeygate St. in 1784.

The texts and maps show how the Legal Status of Galway changed from 1247 to 1898, how the Parliamentary and Proprietorial status changed, how the Municipal Boundary evolved and the number of house changed through the centuries.

We are shown how religious houses, churches and graveyards are referenced on the maps; How the military defences started with the Castle of Gaillimh erected by Connacht men in 1124 and evolved through the years, included in which is a comprehensive list of the city walls, bastions, tower, ramparts, barracks, watch houses etc. Locations of, and changes of location of Administrative buildings such as Court Houses, workhouses, post offices, police barracks are shown as are a fascinating number of toll houses and booths.

You can cross reference Primary Production areas like weirs, fisheries, gardens and meadows on the maps. A major section deals with Manufacturing --- mills, bakeries, boot manufacturers, malthouses, ship works, breweries (18 listed ), tanneries, forges, distilleries, rope walks, foundries, cabinet manufactories, ; no less than twenty 19th century cooperages are identified, woollen factories, chemical works, even a straw bottle factory and much much more.

You will understand why Galway was once known as Streamstown when you see the number of bridges and viaducts that appear on the maps. Under the heading of Utilities you will find dunghills, wells, pumps, gas houses, street lighting, cranes, manure yards etc. The many locations of fairs, markets and shambles are identified as are places of entertainment, memorials and societies.

Today, we show you two examples from the collection. The first is the earliest surviving map of Galway drawn in 1583 by Barnaby Googe and shows the walled town as it appeared at the end of the medieval period. The town was closely packed with houses: the D-shaped circuit of walls with mural towers and gates was complete and there was just one bridge over the river. The second dates from 1785 and was drawn by Thomas Sherrard for the Board of Governors of Erasmus Smith Schools. It shows the (mostly ) newly built New Town Smith, also known as St. Stephen#s Island or Barraghallagh. The accompanying text relates to the numbers on the map.

I have always been fascinated by how much historical information an expert can glean from reading old maps, and this collection is a perfect example. It is not a book you can just read through, you have to digest the material and keep referring to the illustrations to really get the value of it. This may sound like a chore but the reader should quickly become absorbed and amazed at the sheer volume of information that can be drawn from these documents. Congratulations to Jacinta Prunty and Paul Walsh, their back-up team and their publishers

The Royal Irish Academy. This is one of the most significant publications on Galway in a long time. No Galway library should be without it, no school, no Old Galway collector. It comes with a CD-rom which will enable one to zoom into the maps or search for a particular lane or flourmill. Very highly recommended. In good bookshops

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