Nuns Island about one hundred years ago

In the 19th century Nuns Island was part of the industrial heartland of Galway. The 1911 census tells us that the street comprised two lodging houses, Grace’s Asylum, the Presbyterian Church, a ladies’ school, a fever hospital, Her Majesty’s Prison, a brewery and malt house, St Joseph’s Seminary, two flour mills, a granite works, and the Poor Clares Convent as well as the various residences.

Our somewhat hazy photograph was taken about 100 years ago, and shows, on the left, the gates into the Bishop’s School. The tall building next to it was a bonded warehouse belonging to JT Miller and Sons. The Patrician Brothers bought this building in 1930 with the intention of erecting a new school there. The Bish had originally opened its doors on this street in 1862 — next year will be the school’s 150th anniversary — and gradually grew into one of Galway’s most important educational institutes.

In the distance you can see Palmer’s Mills. Palmers were flour millers, the bakers of the celebrated Star of the Sea bread. They also ran the Nuns Island Brewery which made T Palmer’s Superior Porter, which they advertised as being ‘equal to Dublin’. This brewery was situated near the entrance to the Poor Clares, as were stables for horses used to distribute Palmer’s products. McDonough’s Flour Mills were next to Palmers. Palmers was an extensive company which originally owned most of the left hand side of the street as we look at it.

As you walk from O’Brien’s Bridge, the houses on the right were numbered from 1 to 24. Numbers 1 to 17 were substantial residences, and the remainder were probably built by Persse’s Distillery for its workers. The product Persses made was called Galway Whisky. For about 60 years the business thrived. At its peak it was producing 10,000 gallons at 25 over proof per week, and employed more than 100 people. It closed in 1908.

Our photograph is one from The National Archives. Dr Caitríona Crowe is the head of special projects there, and is the manager of the Census Online project. She will give a lecture to the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society on Monday next, March 14, in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm. The title of the talk is ‘The Census of 1911, the Western Dimension’, and she will look at Galway city and county, 1911, with reference to selected Census returns and photographs. All are welcome.

The Old Galway Society’s lecture takes place this evening in the Mercy School, Newtownsmyth, at 8.30pm. It will be given by well known historian William Henry on the subject of 1916, and again, all are welcome.

Finally, An Taisce will host a lecture in The Ardilaun on Wednesday next, March 16, at 8pm. The speaker will be Paul McGinley and his subject is ‘Patrick Kavanagh, the Popular Poet’ and all are welcome.

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