The title of this photograph is ‘Old Building, Market Street’ and it was taken about 100 years ago. The building in the foreground was at one time occupied by the Augustinian nuns who were based in Galway (where the Mechanics is today in Middle Street) before 1651. The last Augustinian nun to die in Ireland is buried in Forthill. These sisters formed part of the same Augustinian Order as the friars, as do their contemplative successors today in countries like Spain and Italy. Continuing persecutions and other historical pressures saw to the end of these nuns in Ireland, though some lingered on in Galway up to the middle of the 19th century.
Notice the dressed stone windows on the facade.
The first reference to Eyre Square, or ‘The Green’ as it was then known, was in 1631 when it was planted with ash trees by Sir Valentine Blake. It was located outside the East Gate of the medieval city. “The square plot at the Green was set apart for the purpose of public amusement and recreation; it was enclosed with wooden rails and handsomely planted around.” The 1651 map of Galway features a row of small buildings which ran the length of the east side of the square.
At the turn of the 18th/19th century, the building of the ‘East Suburb’ of the Green was carried on and all within the walls got the name of the Old Town to distinguish it from the new improvements. It was about this time that the pub we now know as Richardson’s was built.
One hundred and ninety five years ago this week, the Presentation Sisters opened their convent on Presentation Road, on March 25 1819 to be precise. Some years before that, Doctor ffrench, the warden of Galway, went to Kilkenny to ask the sisters there if they could found a convent here. He had a fund for the purpose, and so, on October 27 1815, three sisters arrived to a house in Kirwan’s Lane. This building was not large enough for them and the 30 girls of the school which had been handed over to them by a committee of ladies, so they moved into a larger house on Eyre Square where they remained for three years.
The house they moved into in 1819 ‘at the west end of the suburbs’ had originally been built as a Charter school, and was later a military barracks and later left vacant for a period. The sisters set about renovating the building and, at the same time, the construction of a new school building on the river bank which opened in 1820. Soon large numbers were coming to the school. According to the constitution, “The Sisters shall with all the zeal, charity and humility, purity of intention and confidence in God undertake the charge and cheerfully submit to every labour and fatigue annexed thereto. The scholars shall be divided into classes of ten or twelve. There shall be a book in which the mistresses shall register the names and addresses of the children at their entrance, the names of their parents, their occupation in life and their places of abode. The children shall be taught reading, writing, needlework and spinning. The hours of the school shall be in the morning from nine till twelve and a quarter, and from one till half past three o’clock.”