August 3 1857 was a day of celebration in Galway as the British War Department handed over two Russian cannons to the town commissioners. These cannon were described as “64 pounders of a heavy and clumsy description, each weighing two tons”, and were part of a large amount of Russian ordnance which fell into the hands of the 88th regiment during the Crimean War. Many of these artillery pieces were presented by the War Department as trophies to cities and town across the British Isles.
Some sources say they were captured at the battle of Inkerman, others think they were taken after the siege of Sebastapol. They were shipped from Woolwich Arsenal to Galway on board the Lady Eglinton at the end of July. Their arrival more or less coincided with a visit by Prince Louis Napoleon of France on board his steam yacht, a visit which sent shockwaves through administrative circles in Dublin and London, and which tended to overshadow the arrival of the cannons.
The Sebastapol Trophies, as they were known, were taken to a goods yard beside the railway station, and were made ready for the official handing over ceremony. It took place at midday on August 3 in the pouring rain. The guns were mounted on iron carriages and taken in procession to the Railway Hotel, where they were placed on plinths on each side of the entrance. Because of the rain, the speeches were short, and then the crowd went to the Town Hall for refreshments. Later, when the rain cleared, there was a fireworks display.
The guns were removed to Custume Barracks in Athlone in 1866 because the Government was afraid that the Fenians might attempt to re-service them and use them against the crown. Two years later they were brought back to Galway, to a new location near the top of the park in Eyre Square. Our photograph today was taken at the turn of the century and shows a group of children playing around one of the cannons. The statue to the right was that of Lord Dunkellin which ended up being thrown into the river after the British army left the city.
Sadly, the guns, which had become a major feature in the square, were removed when it was decided to change the landscape there. Their location today, at City Hall, is not ideal. They should really have a higher profile... what about near the Mutton Island causeway on Grattan Road, where the ‘Gunna Mórs’ had their guns over a century ago?
The above information comes from a new book entitled Hidden Galway by William Henry which has just been published by Mercier Press. It is a collection of short essays on a range of people and events in Galway’s past, some well known and others less so. There are stories of murders and executions, of disasters and love stories, of smugglers and highwaymen, all of which make for a fascinating and very readable pot-pourri which brings many aspects of Galway history to life. Highly recommended. The book will be launched by the Mayor in the Meyrick Hotel tomorrow evening at 8pm and is available in good bookshops.