Towards the end of the 19th century, tourism interests in Galway used to advertise the Promenade as a place unrivalled in the country, where one could take the healthy invigorating salt air like nowhere else. In those times, it was just a narrow crooked roadway, very rough and untarred, and the footpath seemed to extend from Palmer’s Rock to roughly opposite the entrance to Rockbarton, if one is to judge from how it finishes in the foreground of our photograph, which was taken c1890. The road was known as the Lower Sea Road. The houses in the background are Belmore, owned by McDonoughs; Brinkwater, owned by Maurice De Courcey Dodd; and Maretimo, owned by the O’Beirne family.
There was very little beach and what was there was rock-strewn and shingle-cluttered. There was no such thing as shelters or flowerbeds or seats. Flooding from the tide would have been more frequent then. The clean-up process of the beach began when breakwaters and groynes were built. Later the Salthill Development Association spent a lot of the money they collected when they rented out the Hangar ballroom, to remove rocks and stones from the beach.
There were many improvement plans drawn up for the Prom over the years but the local authorities often regarded these as a luxury and they tended to focus on road works or sewerage systems instead. Then, in the 1940s, the county surveyor compulsorily acquired some of the lands from householders along the front, and widened and straightened the road. He built shelters and flowerbeds and improved the seating. The ladies’ pool system was built and the new diving tower at Blackrock was finished in 1953. Later the ‘new prom’ was built connecting the existing one to Grattan Road, and in more recent times a path was developed around South Park and another along the shoreline at the golf club.
“Walking the Prom” has been one of the great healthy Galway pastimes for many generations now. It is a wonderful asset to the city and must be the most used facility of its type in the country. Natives and visitors alike have been availing of the Prom at all times of the day or night and in all kinds of weather. The changing light and various moods of the weather can make it exciting. There are days when you can almost touch the Clare hills, and days when you cannot see them. The sunrise on the bay around Christmas time creates wonderful colours, mauves and silvers and pinks, and if we are lucky enough to get a clear evening in November or late January/February, the sunsets are spectacular. The perfume of the seaweed and the salt air is refreshing, as is the sensation of seaspray in your face.
If you are into people watching, then the Prom is the place for you — people of all shapes, sizes, and ages are there, and their speeds vary considerably — strollers, shufflers, arm swingers, power walkers, people recovering from illness, families, poseurs in designer gear, lovers, tourists with cameras, people who take baby steps, others who take giant steps, joggers, runners, teams out training, prams and buggys, lopers, some of military bearing, others bent into the wind, people with duck’s disease, dogs and dogshit, long leads, short leads, no leads, children on scooters, ice cream sellers, mackerel fishermen, speeding cyclists (in spite of the signs ), surfboarders, little old ladies twice your age who seem to glide by you at speed, the fellow you know is going to stop you for a long chat (the way to deal with him is to take out your mobile before he reaches you, pretend to speak animatedly into it, give him a wave as you pass and pray that your phone does not ring ), and year round swimmers. Gone are the days of the childhood chant “Stay away from the bay/ till the end of May/ Swim till you die/ in June and July.”