Galway’s Quincentennial, 1984

On January 1 1984, President Patrick Hillery officially launched the Quincentennial, a year long celebration of 500 years of civic independence unique in western Europe. In 1484, a number of Galwegian merchants persuaded King Richard III to grant the city a charter which made the town a mayoral city. In the same year Pope Innocent VIII granted them the power to nominate their own warden and priests.

The Quincentennial happened because of the vision of two men.

Prof Tom O’Neill of the history department at UCG was on sabbatical in Philadelphia in the early 1980s. Some town local to where he was staying celebrated an anniversary, it was a couple of hundred years old. Tom was intrigued by the way the people marked this with a programme of events. He formulated a plan, and when he returned to Galway he went to see Seamus Keating, our county manager at the time, he showed him the plan, and hats off to Seamus, he ran with it. Tom and Seamus were visionaries and executives. They wanted 1984 to be an occasion in which to inspire people to understand the past and to look to the future.

They set up a committee about two years in advance. Our photograph shows members of the committee with corporation officials. It was taken on January 1 1984. They are, front row: Joe Lally, Anne Ryan, Professor Tom O’Neill, Seamus Keating, Michael Leahy Mayor of Galway, and Joe Gavin. In the second row are Peter Osborne, Councillor Pat McNamara, Reverend Leslie Forrest, Dean of St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, Councillor Bridie O’Flaherty, Councillor Mary Byrne, Councillor Gerry Molloy, Tom O’Connor, and Ronnie O’Gorman. At the back are Bob McDonald, Councillor John Francis King, Willy Fahy, Gerry Leyden, Councillor Tom Browne, Tom Kenny, Bob Burke, and Bernie O’Hara.

This committee planned strategies and events well in advance and by the time January 1 came along, the city was ready. Some local businesses and individuals financially supported the project with Coirle Forde from the Skeffington Arms being the major contributor, many people came forward with suggestions on how to improve the city. A good number of these were published in this column and it is impressive, looking back at the list, just how many of those suggestions were acted on.

It was a year of many highlights, and transformed the city. Many businesses tidied up their buildings or painted their facades. A new civic pride permeated the city. Some of the major events included the meeting of every mayor of every municipality, north and south, in Galway, a lot of seminars on our history, heritage, and genealogy, the visit of Ronald Reagan, and street festivals where each area wanted to outdo other streets. These important local events had the effect of generating local pride and local bonding. 1984 was the year our mayor, Bridie O’Flaherty, told the world’s media that there would be “No nudity in my constituency”. This referred to a show Els Commediants were putting on in Leisureland for the Galway Arts Festival. They needed to fill about 650 seats each night to cover expenses. Bridie’s word had the effect of packing more than 900 into Leisureland every night, and as a result the festival ended up in the black for the first time. And everybody who was at the outdoor son-et-lumiere and fireworks display by Els Commediants, when we danced through the streets with them in the pouring rain, will remember that night.

Galway is a different and better place now than it was before 1984. Seamus Keating and Tom O’Neill have left us an important legacy.

Apologies for a case of mistaken identity in last week’s column about Galway hurlers. The man we identified as Paddy Jordan should have been named as Paddy Forde.

The library in Westside has been collecting a lot of old photographs of Shantalla, Rahoon, and parts of Newcastle for some time now. On Wednesday next at 6.30pm, it is organising an ’evening of reminiscences’ in the library. If you are a resident, or former resident, of any of these areas, you are invited to this event where locals can mingle, chat, and revive old memories of the place they grew up in. Not to be missed.


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