This interesting aspect of Courthouse Square shows the Town Hall on the left and the Convent of Mercy National School in the distance. The Mercy Sisters arrived in Galway in 1840 to a house in Lombard Street. The following year they bought Joyce’s Distillery and Mill house and stores on St Stephen’s Island together with the excellent dwelling house and offices in which Mrs Joyce resided. They converted these and opened a school there and called it St Vincent’s Academy. They were very busy during the Famine and ran three soup kitchens, one in St Vincent’s, one in Bohermore, and one in Bushypark.
In 1875 they built the primary school in our photograph on a vacant site across the road. The design was Gothic and very attractive and was built to accommodate 700 pupils. The Reverend Mother had a tunnel built under the road to connect the school and convent. English, French, arithmetic, music, domestic economy, and book-keeping were on the curriculum. In 1902, Irish was added, and from 1922-24, Pádraic Ó Conaire taught there, his aunt Sister Magdalen Conroy being a member of the community. Nora Barnacle went to school here.
The original Town Hall in the city was known as the Tholsel and was situated in Shop Street. Construction was started in the 1600s but was delayed by various wars and the building was not finished until 1709. Just over 100 years later it was condemned as being dangerous and was demolished in 1822, the stone being removed to build a new market house in Eyre Square, where the Bank of Ireland is today.
Work began on the new Town Hall on June 21, 1824 and proceeded very quickly. It was actually built as the town courthouse. The building would have been in a position to house the summer assizes in August of the following year, but the Grand Jury of the town considered it would be more prudent to allow time to elapse to ensure it would be safely dried out.
The County Courthouse on the opposite side of the square was built at the same time. Each courthouse had its own Grand Jury. As time passed, the need for two separate courthouses came to be questioned, and once the Grand Jury of the town agreed to pay a contribution towards the upkeep of the larger courthouse, cases relating to the city began to be heard there.
According to Leigh’s New Pocket Road Book of Ireland published in London in 1827, the building in our photograph became known as the ‘Town Hall and Courthouse’, and in the course of time it became known as ‘The Town Hall’. As a courthouse it was now superfluous and it was suggested that the building be passed to the Galway Town Improvement Commissioners. There were legal problems which left the project in limbo for a time until 1894, when Sir Henry Grattan Bellew moved at a meeting that it be handed over, and so the Town Courthouse officially became the Town Hall.
Notice the Royal Coat of Arms over the portico. Does anyone know what happened to it? There was a matching coat of arms over the other courthouse which now can be seen in the grounds of NUIG.
The Old Galway Society will host a lecture in the Mercy School, Newtownsmith, this evening at 8.30pm. The title is ‘Galway Election of the 19th Century’ and it will be given by Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh and it should not be missed. All are welcome.
And all are welcome to a lecture organised by An Taisce in The Ardilaun hotel next Wednesday, October 17, at 8pm when Willy Henry will talk about 1916. Don’t miss it.