At the beginning of the last century, the Prince of Wales would have been one of the most famous personalities known to most Irish people. He had been to County Galway on a few occasions hunting, but when it was announced he was going to make an official visit, it aroused very mixed emotions. There were a lot of objections locally, led by an umbrella group known as the National Council. They disrupted preparatory meetings by shouting and heckling. Nationalists were not impressed either and other objectors included Edward Martyn, WB Yeats, Maud Gonne, and George Moore.
However the Urban Council decided on a majority vote to go ahead with the visit. Local businessmen were not content to leave all the preparations to the council and they set up a committee to build up a fund to pay for flags, bunting, and viewing stands. They hired people to do the work but ran into a strike situation as these workers demanded more money (and got it ) before the deadline.
So the city was ready on August 30, 1903 when the prince, later Edward VII, and his wife, who would later become Queen Alexandra, arrived. There were viewing stands at the station, Eyre Square, The Bridge Mills, and in front of Persse’s at the Docks. Windows along the route with a view were being let out for amounts from five shillings to five pounds.
The royals came in on the Clifden train and disembarked at the station. They went by carriage from there through the Square, down Shop Street, over O’Brien’s Bridge, down Dominick Street towards the Jes, around by the Claddagh, and along the Docks where they went on to the waiting Royal Yacht. The future king was presented with a Claddagh ring made by Dillons, and Alexandra was given a Galway cloak made by Moons, the idea being that she would wear this in London and inspire English people to buy lots of cloaks.
The visit lasted only a short time but was regarded as a major success, generating a lot of positive publicity for the city. Large crowds turned out, there was a lot of cheering and applause, and the city looked very well decorated with large banners, flags, and bunting as you can see from our photograph of Williamsgate Street taken from Eyre Square, probably just after the royal carriage had passed. There is an interesting mix of styles of dress in evidence, from top hats and frock coats to long dresses and bonnets to shawls. The carriages on the right were obviously used for transporting flags, etc, as well as doubling as viewing stands.