Banks Castle

We came across this drawing in the National Library titled “A narrow street in Galway, c.1840-1850”. The clue is in the handwriting at the top of the image, ‘Castle Bank’. In fact, it was a courtyard, not a street, looking at the back of Banks Castle off High Street. Our photograph (courtesy of the Chetham Library in Manchester ), shows us much the same view about 25 years later. The property is now part of the King’s Head.

The castle was an almost square building of maybe six storeys with a double pitched roof. It dates from 1612, and belonged to one of the tribes of Galway, probably the ffrenchs. It was a prestigious building which was occupied by the Mayor, Thomas Lynch Fitz-Ambrose, in 1654, He was evicted by Col Peter Stubbers, who had arrived with the Cromwellians and was appointed Military Governor of Galway. He was a nasty piece of work who rounded up and sold about 1,000 Galway people, mostly women and girls, as slaves to Barbados in the West Indies. The castle became known as ‘Stubbers’ Castle’ for a time, then as ‘Old Castle’ for a time, and later it appeared as ‘Banks Castle’ on an 1823 map. It appeared on the 1651 map as probably the highest building in the city. It remained in the Stubbers family until the last century, but it was leased out to a variety of people through the years. Laurence Geoghegan, a gun maker, was there in 1856, later Sarah Molloy, a grocer and spirit dealer, in 1881. It eventually became a public house occupied by John Joseph Kirwan, later Thomas Finn and Peter Quinn.

The courtyard is situated to the rear of Tom Nally’s Hairdressers. It also appeared on the 1651 map and was originally accessed from High Street via an arched gateway and passage through Sarah Molloy’s premises just north of where the King’s Head is today. It was roughly rectilinear in plan with dimensions of c8.5 x 5.4 metres. As you can see, the walls contained a lot of interesting stone features.

The courtyard and structural remains of the castle are remarkable for their scale and degree of preservation and, as a group, represent a rare survival of the mediaeval “courtyard house” layout, the most important such example in Galway.

Col Peter Stubbers was one of Cromwell’s right hand men, one of his most trusted generals who had laid siege to Galway for nine months before the city finally capitulated. He most likely simply took the property we know as the King’s Head from the then owner as part of the spoils of war. He was appointed military Governor of Galway. He extorted money from the population and impoverished many, and eventually was replaced by a Colonel Sadler. He retired having bought a lot of land in the vicinity of the city.

King Charles I of England was beheaded at Whitehall, London, on January 3, 1649. Contemporary accounts tell us that two executioners were in attendance, both having ‘insisted on the utmost precautions being taken to hide their identity including a false beard and wig’. This was necessary as the crime of regicide was a very serious one. Local folklore in Galway had it that the two were a man called Deane and a Richard Gunning, both of whom came from Middle Street. Gunning lived at the back of where the King’s Head is today and often boasted that his arm ‘had felt the muscles on the neck of the King of England’.

When Charles II was restored to the monarchy he brought in an Act of Indemnity which absolved all those who had supported the Cromwellian Cause once they admitted their crimes, but a number of influential Royalists forced the new government to try several people ‘for the wellbeing of the kingdom’ with those directly responsible for the execution of the king being particularly marked out. Some were executed, some went into hiding, and others fled. It would seem Stubbers was the only member of Cromwell’s inner circle to escape any form of punishment and he left Ireland. In March 1661, King Charles II wrote that the former estate “now in the possession of one Stubbers, a halberdier, that assisted at that execrable murder of our Royal Father …. And exempted by Our ‘Declaration’ from pardon, it is ordered that Fitzpatrick be forthwith restored thereto”. In other words, this letter, which was recently discovered in the Bodleian Library in London by Dr Jackie Ní Chionna, tells us that it was Stubbers, who once lived in High Street, who executed King Charles I and was no longer subject to a pardon.

A halberdier is a soldier, guard, or attendant armed with an axe-like blade and a steel shaft mounted on the end of a long shaft.

Watch out for the Galway History Festival which will run from March 5 to 16. It is being organised by the Department of History at NUIG together with Galway City Council and support from Creative Ireland. You can access the programme on Recommended.


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