Next year the magnificent building of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, this venerable edifice in the centre of our city will celebrate
700 years of continuous Christian worship in Galway. The church is the largest medieval parish church in Ireland and its history is a kind of microcosm of the history of Galway. It is thought that it was first built early in the 14th century. There was a legend that a man from the Aran Islands died in the 16th century, aged 220 years who could remember a time when the building did not exist. It sounds like a good story.
The evidence of the architecture and such records as exist suggest that the church was founded c1320. It was dedicated to St Nicholas, a fourth century Bishop of Myra, who is the patron saint of Russia, of sailors, and of children, as well as being the origin of the Santa Claus legend. Churches
in seaports are frequently dedicated to him.
In 1484, the church was granted collegiate jurisdiction by which it was to be governed by a warden and vicars who would be appointed by the mayor and burghers of the town. In 1537, Lord Deputy Grey demanded the transfer of the allegiance of the church from the Pope to Henry VIII. In 1643, Roman Catholic worship was resumed until Cromwell took the town and his troops wrecked the church. In 1689 when James II arrived in Ireland he granted the Catholics possession but two year later, General Ginkel arrived and handed the church back to the Protestant clergy. Anglican worship has continued uninterrupted there since. Other faiths have been allowed to worship there too.
One of the major recent changes to the church grounds occurred in 1983 in the lead in to Galway’s Quincentennial celebrations. It was decided to remove the high stone wall around the building and replace it with the railings which had been removed from the park in Eyre Square. Our photograph shows work in progress on this project along the Church Lane side of the complex. This had the effect of letting a lot of light into the centre of the city and making the church more accessible to the general public. The vestry can be seen on the right of our image.
As we said, next year will be a significant milestone in the history of the building. Events already planned for the occasion include an anniversary service, an opera based on the history of the church, bell ringing including ringing in the New
Year, school pageant and nativity play, a flower arranging school, an NUI Galway symposium/seminar, concerts, the annual Garden Fete and Christmas Fayre, and importantly, an exhibition linking St Nicholas’ Church with the city and beyond. In this regard if you
have any old manuscripts, artefacts, documents, photographs, etc, relating to the church, contact Christine Hunt, c/o St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church or by email at [email protected] com. Any items loaned will be cared for and returned safely.