Humble Works for Humble People

Our illustration today is of the inner part of Galway Bay and shows the piers and harbours therein. It is one of the images in a new book entitled Humble Works for Humble People written by Noel Wilkins, a retired professor of zoology who has a number of titles to his name already, many of them dealing with County Galway. This book explores the history of the fishery piers and harbours of County Galway and north Clare. It is a scholarly but eminently readable testament to these piers as feats of engineering, but it also gives us a wonderful account of the human aspect that shadowed their construction, and finally it describes beautifully the maritime activities that gave life to the west coast — kelp making, fishing, turf distribution, and sea-borne trade.

These piers were constructed between 1800 and 1922.

For example, Recorder’s Quay is shown on the 1839 Ordnance Survey map. It was built by James O’Hara of Lenaboy who held the official position of Recorder of Galway, a public and legal office then of some importance in the governance and legal system of the city. According to Nimmo, the pier was too small to be of much use to hookers but it served the needs of small boats reasonably well. O’Hara had lands in Connemara and the pier may have facilitated communications between there and the city. The pier lost its importance and usefulness when the city docks and the Claddagh pier were developed. Its exact location is now reclaimed land. It was located roughly where the Galway Business School is today.

Moneen Quay or Lynch’s Quay was built during the 1820s, principally for landing turf and seaweed. It is located at the head of Lough Athalia in the locality known as Moneenageisha (Móinín na gCiseach, ‘the grassy patch of the wicker baskets’, probably from the wicker baskets used to carry away the turf and seaweed reportedly landed there ). It is located beside Renmore Lodge (now the Holy Family School ), the residence of the Lynch family of Renmore who were large landowners and important merchants in the city. It was they who provided most of the cost of construction. This relic of the severe local famine of 1822 is still there and has been partially restored.

Power Le Poer Trench, the Anglican Achbishop of Tuam, leased a summer house at Seamount in Salthill. In 1827, he wrote to the Fishery Commissioners requesting that a pier and landing place be erected at Blackrock for the benefit of local fishermen. It would be just opposite his house but he declared he had no permanent interest in the project. Indeed he offered to fund a major part of the construction. The commissioners rejected his application because the site was unprotected and was located only two miles west of the Claddagh and two miles east of Barna, both locations with sheltered facilities for fishermen.

These few city piers are just a few of those mentioned in this book. Noel Wilkins provides us with histories and technical details of piers and harbours from Ashleigh in north Connemara to Glenina just west of Ballyvaughan in Co Clare, he retells the human stories surrounding many of them, gives voice to the legacy of the lives that were their making. This book is an invaluable contribution to the maritime history of Galway and north Clare, an overlooked but culturally rich facet of Irish history.

In good bookshops.

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