Steam Wharf, Galway, c1850

A report on Galway Bay and Harbour published by the House of Commons in 1838 makes for interesting reading.

“Galway is a tide harbour, the quays on both sides of the river being dry at low water. The rise and fall in ordinary spring tides is fourteen feet.

Galway Roads is the only place where a vessel can lie afloat at low water. It lies to the south-east of Mutton Island, and has from three to six fathoms good holding ground.

At present this roadstead is exposed to south-west gales, and requires a breakwater to be run out from the south end of Mutton Island to protect it. The breakwater would not extend more than two cables’ length to the southward of Mutton Island, to embrace a good anchorage with four fathoms at low water spring tides.

Mutton Island is steep too, an excellent quay might be constructed at a moderate expense, along its southern beach, connecting the minor part of the breakwater with Slate Quay [now Nimmo’s Pier], now forming the larboard entrance into the river.

Along the quay, ships would always lie afloat, and be well protected, having their heads to the south-west, the best possible direction.

A ridge of rocks extends from Mutton Island to the main land, over which an excellent causeway might be constructed. The expense of the work would be amply repaid by the value of the land for building store houses.

A tram road along the causeway would facilitate the removal of cargoes; and for all commercial purposes, be equal to having the ships at the town.

A very good dock is now constructing at Galway, which at high water will admit vessels drawing fourteen feet. It is intended to communicate with a lake above the town, and thus open the resources of the country.

This dock will be very useful for steam vessels until the breakwater is made, as they can lie afloat in it.

Westerly gales alone could prevent a vessel beating out of Galway Bay; and sheltered as the bay is by the Arran Isles, if a ship could not beat out of it, she would make but little progress outside.

A vessel beating out of Galway Bay has the same advantage as if she were beating out of the English Channel; that is, by keeping in the parallel of latitude of the bay, she would have several harbours under her lee in case of necessity.

Galway, in my opinion, is too far north for a packet station, independent of its being situated at the bottom of a bay, which must naturally retard both the arrival and departure of the packets; but if a breakwater were constructed, it possesses advantages which might make it a commercial town of importance.”

Some 15 years after that report was published, an artist named J Mahony made the drawing we have for you today. It was entitled Steam Wharf, Galway and is probably as imaginative as it is realistic. It is certainly difficult to interpret. I am not sure from which direction the artist was looking, but he created an image of a busy dockside, with a number of steamships tied up. It looks as if the one nearest to us is about to leave, as it is building up a head of steam. An interesting feature is the railway track, with wagons loaded with product which may have been just imported, or was about to be exported.

The wonderful news that the Volvo Race is returning to Galway has given us all a tremendous lift, and we congratulate John Killeen and his team for their vision, courage, and hard work. We are all in your debt

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