The Square appears as a green piece of land outside the city walls on the early maps of Galway. The 1651 map shows it more or less in the shape it is today. In 1710, Edward Eyre (whose family had come over with the Cromwellians ) became mayor of the city. He lived in a house roughly where the Meyrick Hotel is today and the patch of land in front of his house was known as ‘The Mayor’s Garden’. He presented it to the city and it became known as Eyre Square
A year after the 1798 rising, a General Meyrick came to Galway to oversee the ‘martial court’ in the prosecution of some 400 United Irishmen from throughout the county who were charged with treasonable offences. Fifty of these were sentenced to death by hanging, 50 were transported, and 30 were whipped. Some time later, when he was in better humour, he had some improvements made to the Square and it was decided it should be named after him. But the locals soon reverted it to Eyre Square. In the 1960s it was officially called Kennedy Square after the visit of JFK, but this name never gained traction. To most Galwegians it is simply ‘the Square’.
It has seen many changes, from being a jousting field to hosting cricket and tennis matches. In the early days of the races, people camped there, and later Toft’s Amusements took it over for the summer. Daniel O’Connell spoke there, as did Parnell, and of course John Fitzgerald Kennedy. It has seen political rallies, St Patrick’s Day parades, All Ireland homecomings, and arts festival installations. It hosted cannon guns which were captured in the Crimean War in the 1850s and are now outside City Hall; the Dunkellin statue which was dragged through the streets and dumped in the river; the once elegant Browne Doorway which is now a disgrace to the city; the Pádraic Ó Conaire statue which was beheaded; the JFK memorial and the Quincentennial Fountain which is no longer a fountain.
Cattle fairs were held here as were sheep fairs, horse fairs, pig fairs, hay markets, sock markets, egg and butter markets, and worst of all, labour markets where groups of spailpíns lined up against the railings hoping some farmer would pick them to go and work on his farm.
Much of the hustle and bustle and noise of these events is captured in this drawing entitled The Market Square in Galway by JF Weedon, which was published in an American newspaper called Redpath’s Weekly in 1883. I am not quite sure what kind of fair or market he was recording but the artist has managed to include the shawls and the capes, the top hats and the soft hats, the pigs and the creels, the turf and the hay, town and country, haggling and more haggling. Notice the barrels outside what is Richardson’s corner today, the railings, the young trees, the steeple of St Patrick’s Church. This is one of the images in a small exhibition of Galway Markets and Fairs which is on show in the city museum. It is well worth a visit, especially to see the blow-up of an old photograph of the Fishmarket. You can almost walk into it.