In 1812, there were 468 cabins or houses, all thatched, in The Claddagh. These were occupied by 50 families, totalling 1,050 males and 1,286 females. That was a lot of people and houses in a relatively small geographical area and could be described as a “clachan”, a large irregular group of houses clustered closely together. All of these houses were single storey buildings, only the two-storeyed Aran View House and the early 19th century coastguard houses were higher.
As the village grew in size, many new houses were constructed west of the church. If a house was left vacant for whatever reason, locals might remove the stone to build their own new house. The siting of a house depended on availability of space, street plans had nothing to do with it, so the pattern of lanes and gaps between houses was regularly changing.
This haphazard arrangement led to problems of hygiene and cleanliness when dung heaps and muddy passages marred the general appearance. Hardiman’s History of Galway records that, prior to 1808, “The streets and exterior of this large village were as remarkable for want of cleanliness as the interior of most of the houses was for neatness and regularity.” About that time, a captain in the Royal Navy based in Galway persuaded the fishermen to leave a small portion of their pay aside for the purpose of paving and cleaning about their houses. In this way, they got rid of most of the contagious disorders. So for many years the image of the village was of humble cottages which, though varied in size, were always whitewashed with a heavily thatched roof over their heads.
By the late 1920s, many of the houses were in poor condition. Of the 250 buildings surveyed, 51 were classed as ‘poor’, 60 were ‘bad’, and 106 were ‘very bad’ under normal housing conditions at the time. Cleaning and sanitation costs were high, and eventually the medical officer declared the area to be unhealthy. It was recommended that new houses should be erected for the people; the scheme was estimated to cost £30,000.
There was a lot of argument and debate about the knocking down of the old village, and a great deal of opposition to it. Eventually construction began, and by April 1932, 95 houses had been erected at a cost of £34,000. Over the following years the remaining thatched houses were replaced by rows of neat two-storey houses with gardens. The main section in the ‘Big Grass’ area was started when Mrs Sarah Curran’s house, the last of the old ones still standing, was demolished in 1938.
Our photograph, courtesy Galway City Museum, shows the process of demolition going on. The cottage we see has almost gone and the one attached to it will soon follow. In the background on the left you can see one of the few trees that grew in the village, and on the right, Long Walk can be seen in the distance.