The Lion’s Tower was part of the old city wall. In the last century, it was situated on Eglinton Street between the Garda Barracks and the Savoy Cinema. Our photograph today, which we show you courtesy of the Board of Works, dates from about 1950 and shows the tower as seen from the yard beside the barracks.
Up to 1957, the bastion was protected by a preservation order issued by the Commissioners of Public Works. It was on private property but was regarded as a national monument or structure of historical importance, and the order ensured that it could not be altered or destroyed. Negotiations for the purchase of the bastion which had been started by the borough council failed because the owner would not sell it for less than the full commercial value of the site.
Following presentations by the owner, the preservation order was revoked in 1957 and destruction then became a possibility. In 1958, the Military Society of Ireland began a campaign for preservation. The National Monuments Advisory Council, which had earlier acquiesced in the revocation of the preservation order, refused to alter its view that the problem was a local one. Bord Fáilte was willing to assist in the repair and preservation provided the bastion could be brought into public ownership.
In 1960, offers were invited for the sale and destruction of the tower. Professor Gerry Hayes McCoy wrote to the Chamber of Commerce pointing out that this meant the removal of one of the last surviving pieces of Old Galway, part of the town wall built by the people of Galway at a time of national crisis in 1646. Because of its historic associations, it was unique in Ireland, its loss would be irreparable culturally and from the point of view of tourism, and no excuse and no amount of argument would alter those facts.
The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society said everything possible should be done to retain the tower. In May 1960, the county manager made an order prohibiting the demolition, but this did not prevent it changing hands. It was sold to John Higgins. The Old Galway Society sent a deputation to the corporation asking it to keep the order so that they could raise a fund by public subscription.
On January 16, 1963, John Higgins wrote to Professor Hayes McCoy as follows: “I am satisfied from enquiries I have caused to be made and from my architect’s report, that the ruin in Eglinton St commonly called the Lion’s Tower is neither historical nor ancient and I regret I cannot sympathise with your view on it.” In actual fact, there was a stone inscription on the tower which said it “was erected by the Towne and Corporacion in the yeare of Edmund Kirwan Fitzpatrick his mearalty 1646”.
It seems the borough council had revoked the preservation order because in March 1963, John Higgins applied to erect a hoarding on the footpath in order to take down ‘dangerous and decayed masonry’, saying it was the upper part of the structure which was dangerous.
After a long struggle, materialism had triumphed and Galway had lost (or in the words of Professor Hayes McCoy, had ‘thrown away’ ) something priceless that could never be replaced.