The Shambles Barracks, 1910

This photograph was taken from the first floor of The Galway Arms at 2.25pm on a summer day in 1910 when these people were processing over O’Brien’s Bridge to the site of Saint Mary’s College for the laying of the foundation stone for that school. The large crowd is being led by a group of priests all wearing birettas, followed by several RIC men. There is an interesting mix of styles on view with some women wearing patterned Galway shawls while others are sporting large fashionable hats. Virtually all of the men are wearing headgear, be they hard hats or soft caps. Notice the tramtracks.

The large building in the background was the Shambles Barracks, a British army barracks. That part of the building we see on the right was the officers’ quarters and the officers’ kitchen. There were a number of privys for officers, for soldiers, and for women just behind the high wall. The sheds which you can see on the far left of the picture were washing sheds. The barracks were rectangular in shape, built around a large parade ground. The section running along Bridge Street was the soldiers’ quarters. Bridge Street was much narrower then than it is today. The section of the barracks facing the market and St Nicholas’ included ante rooms, pantries, cells, and the mess. The other side of the complex contained the soldiers’ quarters, the cook house, a library, and stables for the officers’ horses, sheds for hay and straw, etc.

There was a lane off Lombard Street which ran along that side of the barracks more or less parallel with Bridge Street. It originally housed tenements, but there was no one living there when this photograph was taken. It was called Birchin Lane, but was known locally as ‘Burnt Shin Lane’. Apparently some of the women who lived there were in the habit of bringing your chair so close to the fire if they wanted to tell you a secret that you were likely to get your shins burnt. The lane is no longer there.

The Shambles Barracks were eventually knocked, leaving the site as an ugly, desolate, wasteland for some time. The bishop had the area in mind as a site for the cathedral, but when the gaol site became available it was considered a more fitting place for that purpose. In the early 1950s, St Patrick’s National School was built here.

Our photograph of GAA supporters in last week’s column featured, among others, PJ Guinane and Joe Kennedy from Loughrea.

A new publication came our way this week entitled The Parish of Clonthuskert, Glimpses into its Past. It is an impressive volume, beautifully produced, and very well illustrated. It covers just about every aspect of this part of east Galway from its prehistoric archaeology to rural electrification, land ownership in the 1600s, the land struggle 1800-1920, the War of Independence, parish customs and pastimes, etc. It was obviously a labour of love for the Clonthuskert Heritage Group who compiled it, under the editorship of Joe Molloy. An outstanding local history, available in good bookshops at €30 hardback and €20 in paperback.

A ballad is a story in poetic form, often about love and often sung. Sometimes it tells a story similar to a folk tale or legend, and often it has a repeated refrain. Criostóir Mac Gearailt has been writing ballads for as long as I can remember, about many of the characters he has met and about different aspects of life in Galway. Tonight, at 8.30pm in the Mercy School, Newtownsmyth, the Old Galway Society will host a lecture by Criostóir entitled Ballad Tributes. Guaranteed entertainment. All are welcome.


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