Woodquay in former times

William Joseph JC Bond (1833-1926 ) was a landscape and marine painter of the Liverpool School who was much influenced by Turner, and in the 1850s and 1860s, by the Pre-Raphaelites. His work features in a number of museums and galleries. He came to the west of Ireland on a number of occasions, we know one of his paintings was titled “Near Oranmore” and he also painted “The Galway Coast” in 1872. Our main image today is of an oil painting he did of Woodquay in 1850, and the second is a detail from that painting. He may have taken some artistic licence, but his picture underlines the importance of early artworks as historical documents in an era before photography reached Galway.

Galway was originally known as Streamstown because it was made up of a series of islands which were surrounded by the river and associated waterways. The area of Woodquay is described as one of the earliest inhabited parts of Galway. Evidence found in the river bed suggests that there were people living there some 3,000 years ago. In olden times, Woodquay was made up of three islands, the largest of which was Saint Stephens Island which would contain an area roughly where the Town Hall, The Courthouse, The Franciscan Abbey and The Convent are today. On the 1651 map, it is shown as Ship Island. Both names are now obsolete.

The area which encompasses where Galway Rowing Club, the Commercial Club and Daly’s Place are today was largely made up of two islands, a long narrow strip of land for which I don’t have a name, and Horse Island. This island must have at one time extended as far as The Lion’s Tower, because it is given in a deed as a mearing with the Lion’s Tower. It was given as the western boundary of Suckeen and it featured on Logan’s 1818 map of Galway. The name “Oileán na gCapall” was still current in 1905.

This view of Woodquay was painted from roughly where the bus shelter on St Brendan’s Road is today. The main features in the distance are the Abbey Church on the right which was finished in 1836, and the friar’s residence next door which was completed in 1820. In the centre is the old tower of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, a close-up of which you can see in more detail below. The branch of the river in the foreground flowed south to the bottom of Eyre Street and then swung sharp right to flow parallel to the city walls at Bowling Green, entering the main river further on. The bright green strip of land we see in the centre of picture was the long narrow island mentioned above. The land between these islands was gradually filled in and reclaimed. Jimmy Redington, who was mayor of Galway over 60 years ago, could remember the river coming up Woodquay. He remembered stepping stones across the end of Abbey Lane, and how a woman named Melia fell in there and drowned.

The area we see on the left of the painting is the end of what we now know as St Brendan’s Road and the beginnings of Woodquay as you head towards Eyre Street.. It was marshy and boggy and shown on early maps as ‘liable to flooding’. The slated house behind the mast on the left was probably at the top of Eyre Street and the tall house we can just see on the extreme left would have been at the top of Prospect Hill. There are an interesting number of trees in the painting. Looking at the thatched cottages and church buildings is like looking at the old and new Galway of 1850.

Our second image is a detail from the painting showing the old tower of the Collegiate Church with its viewing area near the top. This tower was rebuilt in 1883, which is probably when the ‘town clocks’ were installed. The tall buildings we see to the right on the horizon were put there by the artist to break up the skyline. The houses in the foreground are those leading in to Daly’s Place.

More details of this

painting next week.

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