There can be few streets in this country that are as well documented as St Bridget’s Terrace. It was built 100 years ago on St Bridget’s Hill. The hill overlooked the town and was of great strategic and military importance. Both the Cromwellian and Williamite armies camped there when attacking Galway. During the 17th century, the hill was known as ‘Gottyganavy’. In 1710 the name had evolved to ‘Knocknegany’ and on Logan’s 1818 map of the city, it is depicted as Cnoc na Gainimhe (the Hill of Sand, or Sandpit Hill ).
Up to the mid 19th century, deep wells within the city walls provided water to the population. These were located in convenient places and were protected by Government statute, which ensured a clean water supply. In the 18th century sanitary conditions began to deteriorate, so in 1868 large reservoirs were built where St Bridget’s Terrace is today, thus giving the city running water for the first time. There were a lot of leakage problems with these reservoirs and they were eventually replaced by the waterworks at Terryland.
On July 26 1910, the Urban Council proposed building a scheme of houses on the reservoir site. Construction was completed in 1912 at an estimated cost of £6,512. The terrace was named after St Bridget and was in the shape of a T, with 20 houses on the main terrace, and four houses on each side of it on Prospect Hill. All of the houses had half doors. The street resembled a building site for a while, and the residents had to walk on timber planks. A number of the occupants worked on the Galway-Clifden railway. The rent was 3/- per week per house.
Most of the boys on the street went to Bohermore School until St Brendan’s opened in Woodquay in 1920, and the pupils were literally marched from one school to the other. The girls went to the Convent of Mercy.
A number of men from the terrace fought in World War I and some did not survive. There was a lot of activity on the street during the Black and Tan period. The Sinn Féin Hall (later the site of Forde’s garage ) was burnt down and many of the terrace people helped prevent the fire from spreading. Hubert Tully was pulled from his bed in number 35 and shot dead; around the corner in O’Donoghue’s Terrace Christopher Traynor was also shot dead; Tom Courtney from number 18 was tortured by the Tans and had to go on the run. When the truce was announced bonfires were lit at the top of the street.
There were three shops on the street, Lane’s in Number 7, O’Connell’s in Number 8, and Carew’s in Number 35. On the feast day of St Bridget, children would go from house to house with the ‘Brídeog’ collecting money, and on St Stephen’s Day the wren was always popular. Some of the games the children played were marbles, bumpers, hobbies, handball off the gable end of Paddy Griffin’s house, soap-box trollies, and soccer and football in ‘the Plots’. Brennan’s shed was used as a local theatre and many the fine show was put on there.
There has always been a great sense of community in the terrace as you can see from this photograph of a number of the residents gathered around an altar set up at the end of the street to celebrate the Eucharistic Congress in June 1932, including Elizabeth Carew, Mrs O’Connell, the McDonnell sisters, and Mary Ann O’Leary-Fleming.
This photograph is one of a huge number of illustrations in a book just published entitled A Place in Our Hearts which celebrates 100 years of St Bridget’s Terrace. Written by William Henry, it traces the history of the street, its good times and bad, its characters and their pastimes and reminiscences. It is a delightful compilation, a great addition to any Galway library, available in good bookshops.
The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society’s next lecture will be given by Peadar O’Dowd in the Harbour Hotel on Monday next, October 8, at 8pm. The title of the talk is ‘The History of St Mary’s College’ and all are welcome.