A street scene in Galway, 1835

Some weeks ago we reproduced a painting by William Evans of Eton College in this column. It was a colourful scene painted at the back of the Spanish Arch in 1835. Today’s image was painted in watercolour over pencil and heightened with body colour in that same year and was entitled “A Street Scene in Galway”.

But, which street is it? When you look through the arch you can see water and boats and buildings on the far side of the river.There are two possibilities. There was an entry or alleyway shown on Logan’s 1818 map at the back of the Spanish Arch between Lower Merchants Road and the Arch. It went back 70 or 80 feet from Long Walk, but according to the painting we showed a few weeks ago there were houses along where Nimmo’s Restaurant is today and they would have blocked the view of the water.

A more likely possibility is that this was the bottom of Kirwan’s Lane which was much closer to the river then...... on the 1818 map there is no sign of the mill race that runs alongside where Jurys’ Hotel is today . There has been a bit of artistic licence taken by the artist , making the arch higher than it is and putting some buildings in at the end on the left , but then there are a number of stone arches on both sides of the street that are not unlike the ones in Kirwan’s Lane today.

Whichever thoroughfare it was, it is a wonderful depiction of street life in Galway before the Famine. There is an overall continental feeling to the architecture with three storey buildings on both sides. There is a very high pitch on the roof facing and the white obelisk type structure (partially hidden ) was probably a chimney.There is an unusual canopy over the door on the right and notice the birdcage under the first floor window.

Notice also the various lines of washing hanging out to dry, which tells us that these buildings were all occupied. When they were developing Judy Greene’s in the lane they discovered that in a lot of the small rooms people had broken into the main chimneys and built small fireplaces and that a lot of these rooms were tenements. It looks like there was a west wind from the direction in which the clothes are blowing , and we know from the shadows that this picture was painted in the morning.

There is an interesting variety of shawls on view and blue cloaks and red petticoats. The young boy on the right is barefooted. The woman with the creel on her back may have been selling fish or carrying in turf. We can read part of the sign over the door on the left which says “J. O’........, Porter , Spirits Store”.

The Galway Archeological and Historical Society is hosting a lecture on Monday in the Harbour Hotel at 8pm. It will be given by Basil Fenton and the title is “The History of the Freemasons in Galway since 1733”. The organisation was set up in Galway in May, 1733 which is 275 years ago, so it has to be one of the oldest institutions here. The talk will deal with some of the recorded memories from then until now. It sounds fascinating and all are welcome.


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