From drab facades to the Latin Quarter

This photograph was taken only 25 years ago, but it shows how much Galway has changed in that space of time, and particularly the area of High Street, Quay Street, and Cross Street.

It seems a short time ago that Quay Street had only a few commercial premises like McDonagh’s fish shop, Ellwood’s pawn shop, Lydon’s pub, Hickey’s fish and chip shop, and the first nightclub in Galway, Nóra Crúbs, run by sisters Nóra and Dilleen. Half of Cross Street was derelict. True, there was Carr’s paint shop, Anne Lee’s pub, the Galway Cleaners, the guesthouse known as The Swan, and of course, Tigh Neachtain. High Street had more businesses, some of which are happily still there like Deacy’s fish shop, Eileen Kelly’s tea rooms (for 54 years her father Martin had a grocery business there and sold the best spare ribs in Galway ), Healy’s barber shop, Freeney’s pub, and Murphy’s pub. Some private houses on these streets would have boxes of fish by the door, as the residents tried selling fish to make a few bob.

It is fair to say that the area was drab and colourless. I can remember a particular building being painted just before the papal visit in 1979. The painter was very high up on a ladder doing his work when an old Claddagh man passed by and said in a loud voice, “Well, fair play to you there amackeen, I remember when that place was painted last ... for the Eucharistic Congress it was.”

Things began to change about 1980 as new shops opened, derelict buildings were renovated, and old facades were chipped away to uncover cut stone facades. These newcomers settled in quickly and became part of the community. There always was, and still is, a great community spirit there. When my parents moved there during the war in 1940, not only would people on the street never shop outside Galway, they would never shop outside the street unless they had to. This idea of supporting your own, your friends and neighbours, by buying local is exactly what this newspaper is trying to encourage in today’s difficult economic situation.

A whole new energy and atmosphere came into these streets in the early 1980s. They held the first street festival of the Quincentennial in Easter Week 1984. They began to brighten up their shopfronts. The derelict spaces gradually disappeared and the area was referred to as ‘Galway’s Left bank’ or ‘The Latin Quarter’. Our photograph records some of that change. We see Murphy’s house on the corner of High Street and Cross Street being demolished. The corner shop opposite was a sweetshop occupied by Leo Gilligan. The building next to it was originally Egan’s pub, they then sold it to the corporation and it, in turn, sold it to Tom and Mary Corcoran who developed it into The Bunch of Grapes. Beside it was Naughton’s drapery shop, run by Sonny and Teddy Molloy. When they retired (not all change on the street was for the better ), it was converted into a pub called Sonny’s. To the right of that was Raftery’s warehouse, and on the far right, you can see part of the gable of The Stella Cafe.

Tomorrow evening’s Nationwide programme on RTE 1 features a number of the buildings and personalities of the Latin Quarter and shows how it changed from quiet streets to the bustling, cosmopolitan, colourful, and lively area it is today.

Just to hand is Volume 63, the latest issue of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society’s journal. It is an impressive publication, packed with well illustrated, interesting, articles and reviews, a great addition to any Galwegian’s library. The society has a very good lecture programme which can be viewed on its website, Membership of the society (including the journal ) only costs €20. The journal is €30 to non-members.


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