The Castle Hotel

“An important addition to the accommodation for visitors in Galway is provided by the Castle Hotel. This hotel is conveniently situated in Lower Abbeygate Street, opposite the Pro-Cathedral. The proprietors claim that it is not only the newest of Galway’s hotels, but it is also the most comfortable and central tourist, family, and commercial hotel in the city, and with this contention, many who stayed there would fully agree. The Castle Hotel is within a few minutes walk from the railway station and docks. It is fully licensed. Parties are catered for.”

This extract is from a guide book to Galway published in the forties. The proprietors in question were the Powell family who also claimed to have “The most up to date equipment, beauty-rest mattresses, etc…. the food is excellent and the charges moderate…. All trains and buses met by porter…. phone Galway 137”.

Powells eventually sold the hotel to Paddy Ryan in the late fifties. Paddy had a butcher shop in Dominick Street, and he once ran in the local elections. His slogan was simple and effective “Vote PR, Vote Paddy Ryan”.

At that time, a lot of Aran trawlers came into the docks, and these fishermen regularly stayed there. It became a great Aran house for people who came in to Galway from the islands for whatever reason. You often heard more Irish than English spoken there. It was also closely associated with An Taidhbhearc as actors and backstage crew often went there for a drink after rehearsals and to meet members of the audience after shows. The bar also did a very good trade with people who lived locally.

The Castle features very strongly in that Irish language classic, one of the great Galway books Lig Sin I gCathú by Breandán O hEithir. Indeed, Breandán regularly stayed there.

When you went in the front door, you were in a lounge. There was a door into the dining room to the left, the stairs were in front of you, to the right of that was a glass door that led into the bar, and to the right of that again was a small reception desk which connected through to the bar. In 1973, Dick Byrne was commissioned to change the interior, which he did by knocking the wall between the lounge and the dining room and putting this bar in our photograph against the side wall on the left.

Henry O’Connor bought the hotel around 1975, and in 1981 converted it into an office building. He called it the Ard Rí and placed a suitable copper relief sculpture on the façade.

In the early seventies, at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, there were a lot of warnings in the media advising people to beware of suspicious parcels in case they were bombs. One night someone spotted a stringed brown paper parcel left under a stool in a corner of the bar. None of the people who were there laid claim to it, and then it was discovered that a ticking noise could be heard from it. Nobody seemed to know what should be done, so one of the staff got a dustbin and half filled it with water, then gingerly placed the parcel into it. It was carried outside. The gardaí had been called and they in turn called the bomb squad. When the bomb squad arrived, they could see all the customers with their pints milling around the bin. They knew immediately it was not a bomb… had it been, it would already have blown half the street to bits. So the parcel was removed from the barrel and was found to contain two pairs of knitted socks bought from Sonny Molloy, and an alarm clock. It belonged to an Aran Islander who had gone up to bed after a few jars, and forgot to bring his parcel with him.

Our thanks to Henry O’Connor for this 1976 photograph.

Birdwatch Ireland will host an illustrated presentation by Alex Copland, senior conservation officer with Birdwatch Ireland, tomorrow evening (January 29 ) in the Anno Santo Hotel, Threadneedle Road, at 8pm. The title is ‘From Corn Bunting to Linnet, Farmland Birds in Galway and Beyond’. Admission is free but contributions will be much appreciated.

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