A chance to walk through history

 Eamonn O’Donoghue, who has brilliantly brought back to life Claregalway Castle, a 15th century Anglo Norman tower house, and Mike Herwood, director of works,  with the Dominick Browne doorway which was recently reassembled in the castle yard.

Eamonn O’Donoghue, who has brilliantly brought back to life Claregalway Castle, a 15th century Anglo Norman tower house, and Mike Herwood, director of works, with the Dominick Browne doorway which was recently reassembled in the castle yard.

By the 16th century Galway was a compact, well laid out town, with handsome buildings, protected by a strong wall. The wealth of the so called Tribal families, originally Anglo/Normans, built up over decades of canny, and adventurous trade, bought them total control of the municipal authorities. Loyalty to the English crown rubber-stamped their laws to keep the native Irish out of the town. They built large houses in a style that reflected their power, while meeting the aesthetic standards of their European contemporaries. Galway was a place apart from the rest of the island.

For more than 300 years, despite the losses brought about by shipwreck, plague, fires, and famine, Galway prospered to the extent that in these two islands Galway vied with London and Bristol as the busier port.

The fatal blow, however, came within the space of 40 years. Two military invasions in the 17th century, the Cromwellians and the Williamites, not only destroyed the commerce of the town, but having banished the inhabitants to the wild countryside, many of their great houses were dismantled, and its sculptured stone scattered and used for other buildings or ornament elsewhere.

Tantalising glimpses of the grandeur that once was medieval Galway can still be seen on the periphery of some buildings today. More impressively are images still intact on Lynch’s Castle, Shop Street, and on the impressive Browne Doorway at Eyre Square. Many others are out of sight, or hidden by later buildings, while some are kept in storage for future exhibition.

The rarity of a complete gate/doorway, in practically mint condition (some minor stones are missing ), bequeathed to the city by the late Garech de Brún, a direct descendent of the Browne, or Oranmore and Browne, Tribal family, gives a dramatic picture of what once graced Galway streets.

The Browne doorway at Eyre Square, was relocated from its original position at 25 Lr Abbeygate Street, the home of mayor Martin Browne, in 1905; while the ‘new’ Browne doorway was probably attached to the mansion owned by Martin’s cousin, Sir Dominick Browne, on the opposite side of Abbeygate Street, then the Ailesbury Road of medieval Galway.

The Dominick Browne doorway was removed, ending up at CastleMacGarret near Claremorris, where the Brownes sought refuge from Cromwellian marauders. Garech De Brún remembered it there as a child. When he inherited Luggala, a home of singular beauty, deep in the Wicklow mountains, from his mother Oonagh Guinness, he had the gate transported there, with the intention of erecting it on his estate. *

It lay forgotten in a field for 40 years, until, during a lively bout of indulgence in Galway with the late Alec Finn and others, they came across the Eyre Square Browne doorway. Garach was intrigued and promised to return ‘his’ doorway to Galway. Following his death in March 2018, he left it to the ‘ aldermen, burgess and freemen of the City of the Tribes.


The doorway, described as a ‘bow gate’ (probably the main door to an important mansion, or perhaps found at the side of a great house giving access to stables ), arrived at its temporary home at Claregalway castle in October, in crates of cut stone, weighing 25 tons. It had lain for decades in a Wicklow field, overgrown by grass and weeds.

The stones were laid out like a massive jig-saw puzzle, and watched by the city’s heritage officer, Jim Higgins, Galway museum director Eithne Verling, and museum staff, it was assembled by expert stonemasons ,**

Eamonn O’Donoghue, who has rebuilt Claregalway castle with a romantic passion and who is a strong advocate for community care of heritage, remarked that the rediscovery represents an important addition to Galway’s inventory of Renaissance architecture. ‘It is further testimony to an optimistic flurry of building activity a generation before the catastrophic 1650s when the city was changed forever by the ruinous Cromwellian siege and occupation of Galway’.

This Classical doorway is Jacobean in style. In its current form it has no inscribed date or heraldic motif. It has many architectural features in common with the Browne and Darcy doorways and, though more restrained in design and ornament, is likely contemporary – dating from 1620’s.

Pedestrian walk-through

No decision has been taken yet how the Dominick Browne doorway will be displayed. The City Museum plan an extension and it may be the ideal place to exhibit the city’s collection of medieval carved stone. Eamonn, however, believes that it should be incorporated into a pedestrian area of the city allowing people to walk through it. The physical presence of the doorway will be a reminder of Galway’s great past, when so much of it has been lost. A chance to walk through history.

The late Prof Hayes-McCoy, one of Galway’s renowned historians, was spokesman in the early 1960’s for a movement led by The Old Galway Society to preserve the landmark “Lion’s” Tower – which ultimately failed – and he was “regretful of Ireland’s failure to maintain its ancient heritage”. He said: “take my Galway…. .now more prosperous …but no longer distinctive. I do not believe it is essential for progress that we should lose our heritage” . Eamonn O’Donoghue believed he would surely delight in this bequest.

NOTES: * Garech de Brún was the eldest of three sons of Baron Oranmore and Browne and Oonagh, daughter of Arthur Guinness. Garech’s father had the rare distinction of sitting in the House of Lords for 72 years, until his death at the age of 100, without ever speaking in a debate.

Gareach’s brother Tara Browne was a young London socialite whose death at the age of 21 in a car crash inspired Lennon and McCartney’s song: A day in the Life.

Garech was an ardent supporter for the revival and preservation of traditional Irish music which he promoted through his record label Claddagh Records which he co-founded in 1959. He famously asked his friend the uileann piper, Paddy Moloney, to get a few musicians together to record some music, and the Chieftains emerged which went on to achieve international fame and commercial success.

** Galway Stone Design is based at Claregalway Castle and consists of a team of craft builders who are highly skilled in traditional and modern building techniques. The team has carried out the restoration of Claregalway Castle and a variety of commissions for Galway Cathedral, Ulster Bank headquarters in Dublin and a number of Country Houses (incl., Ballybroder, Barnane, Kilconly, Thorncliffe ) and Castles (Annaghdown, Cargin ) in Galway, Cork and Mayo in addition to work at other heritage and ecclesiastic sites. The team includes Michael Herwood, Sebastien Osuch, Joe DeSilva, John Markus, Chris Repka and Niki Kyne.

By coincidence among the Dominick Browne stones was a large capstone with a Latin inscription (after Horace ), and a collection of finely dressed stones, most likely a supporting pillar. This work is from early 18th century and is a a monument raised to the memory of Archbishop John Vesey’s second wife Anne Muschamp.

The archbishop was a quarrelsome man, often rowing with his colleagues in the difficult times of changing Catholic and Protestant kings of England during the 1680s. As Archbishop of Tuam he found himself in dispute with the remodelled corporations of Tuam, Galway and Athenry. He later served as one of the Lord Justices of ireland.

Nevertheless Professor Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha tells us that in December 1691 he bought a large estate in the Hollymount area of Co Mayo, from Colonel John Browne of Westport (ancestor of Lord Oranmore and Browne of Castle Mac Garret, Co Mayo - Garech de Brún was of the latter line ) . The house Vesey then built was at Hollymount and has been dated early 1700s.

He married first Rebecca Wilson with whom he had a son and daughter. After her death he married Anne Muschamp, and had five sons and five daughters with her. Given the reference to the ’numerous beautiful children/dear offspring of a dear mother’ Professor O Dhonnchadha suggests the monument is dedicated to his second wife Anne.

Visitor to Hollymount

The Englishman John Wesley (1703-1791 ), one of the leaders of the Methodist revival movement, visited Hollymount in 1756 and described the house and gardens built by the Archbishop. Fortunately, an entry in his journal for July 1756 evidences the fact that a monument in the gardens bore the inscription discussed below, one that is quite unique, and specific to the Vesey family circumstances:

'In the afternoon we came to Hollymount, some years since one of the pleasantest places in Ireland. Dr. Vesey, the Archbishop of Tuam, fixed on this spot, nine miles from his See, built a neat, commodious// house on a little eminence, laid out fruit and flower gardens round it, brought a river to run through them, and encompassed the whole with walks and groves of stately trees. When he had finished his plan, round a stone pillar which stands in a basin, surrounded by a small green plat of ground, he placed the following inscription: -

Linquenda tellus, et domus, et placens

Uxor, cum numerosa et speciosa prole,

Chara charae matris sobole:

Neque harum quas colis arborum

Te praeter invisam cupressum

Ulla brevem dominum sequetur!

[The works of the Rev. John Wesley, volume 3, pp. 251-2.]

The full inscription may be translated as follows:

Deus nobis haec otia fecit, sed

linquenda tellus, et domus, et placens

uxor, cum numerosa speciosa prole,

chara charae matris sobole,

neque harum, quas colis, arborum,

te praeter invisas cupressos,

ulla brevem dominum sequetur.

'God gave us this leisure/peace, but earth we must leave, and home, and darling wife, with many beautiful children, dear offspring of a dear mother;

nor of the trees you now tend will any follow you,

its short-lived master, except the hated cypresses.'

Eamonn could not resist quoting Horace’s Alas, Posthumus - a rather wry contemplation on death, and surely the first time Horace has been quoted in the Galway Advertiser.

Alas, Posthumus

Alas, alas, my friend Posthumus,

The fleeing years slip quickly by.

No force or virtue can delay them—

We must grow wrinkled, age, and die.

Though you might sacrifice your oxen

Three hundred daily, cease not your fears.

You cannot sway relentless Pluto,

Huge Geryon’s keeper, unlearned in tears.

The dismal waters which confine Tityos,

all of us must sail,

Though we be kings or lowly peasants;

No earthly gifts will then avail.

In vain we flee from blood-drenched combat,

Avoid the sea’s engulfing tides.

In vain we shun the winds of autumn

For fear their chill might harm our hides.

Each in his turn must see Cocytos,

Flowing black in stagnant coils,

And meet the cursed spawn of Danaus And Sisyphus,

damned to age-long toils.

You’ll leave your lands, dear wife, and household,

And though you briefly were the lord

Of well-kept forests, none will follow

Except the cypress—pyre wood!

An heir shall gulp your choicest vintage

And splash upon your pebbled floors

Wine fit to stand on high priests’ tables—

The sweetest of your locked-up stores.

Horace Eheu Fugaces (Odes II.14 )


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