Newtownsmith was an important development outside the town wall on the northern side of the city in the late 18th and early 19th century. The project was undertaken by the governors of the Erasmus Smith Estate. In this suburb, the county courthouse was erected between 1812 and 1815, and a little later in 1824 the town courthouse was built. In 1823, it was objected to because there were several suitable sites for a new courthouse ‘immediately in the town’ and that it was ‘quite idle’ to lay foundations in Newtownsmith, or in any part of the suburb. Galway’s second bridge was completed in 1819 and it connected the courthouses with the new county and town gaols on Nuns Island which had been completed in 1810.
In 1842 the Sisters of Mercy moved to their present location, St. Vincent’s convent. Fr Peter Daly built a house and church beside the convent for his own use and eventually gave both buildings to the nuns. A schools superintendent inspected the Mercy school in May 1845 and reported there were 201 girls on the rolls, with an average attendance of 180 in the previous six months, and that there could be 100 more pupils if the school could accept them. The nuns applied for a grant for two teachers and later applied for payment for an ‘industrial teacher’ named Elizabeth Langley. There was an average of 12 pupils in the industrial department and they were taught plain sewing, embroidery, and lace work. The last was described as ‘the chief object’ since regular work was available from a Dublin firm. Proceeds from the contract went exclusively to the girls who were earning between two and four shillings a week. The inspector’s report showed that the opportunity of acquiring needlework skills was the most powerful incentive to educational participation for poor girls.
During the Famine in December 1846, the Mercy Sisters announced that they would provide a ‘daily dinner’ for 100 pupils in the school. Ingredients were collected using a specially acquired horse and car; coarse meal from the millers; offal from butchers; ‘broken bread and crumbs’ from bakers; and sundry ‘alms’ from housekeepers.
In 1859, a Mr Somers was promoting the Newtownsmith Brewery which made ale, porter, and beer, and a little later the ordnance map of 1873 shows that the area was far from a wasteland. On the site of the present school, there was a malt house, a reservoir, a meal, and a flour mill owned by a Mr Hugh Hannon. On the opposite side of the road, there was a corn mill and a smithy. Later, there was a bicycle shop owned by a Mr Barbour which was advertised as ‘the only fully equipped cycle factory in Connaught’.
Our photographs today are from a collection recently discovered in Chetham’s Library in Manchester, the oldest free public reference library in the UK, which has been in continuous use since 1653. The images of Galway city and county include a number of photographs of the fishery on the river, which has been the subject of a major study by Jackie Uí Chionnaith. Jackie had given a lecture on the owners of the fishery, the Ashworth family, to the Bolton Historical Society, so Michael Powell, the librarian sent the photographs to her, and it is with the kind permission of Chetham’s Library (and Jackie ) that we reproduce these ones here. They have no idea where the collection came from and why an album of Galway photographs should end up in Manchester.
One of our images shows Fr Daly’s house and chapel on the right hand side of the road. The house has an elegant facade with carved stone dripstones over all the windows and metal bars on the ground floor windows. It is the wall on the opposite side, backing on to the middle river, that is of the most interest. This is the wall shown in our main image and, as you can see, it has built into it a significant collection of old stone carvings, doorways, arches, marriage stones, windows, an archway, and even a stone urn which is barely visible on top of the wall.
Our third illustration is a close-up of one of the carvings, dated 1623, which shows what appears to be the Lynch family crest with chevron and a trefoil of stylised clover. The crest is surrounded by an ornamental carved cartouche with an animal on top. On the left you can see the IHS symbol, which stands for Jesus, and what looks like a crown of thorns, a weathervane, and a set square. On the right we see the letters MRA which might stand for Mary, a ladder, a bird, a calipers, and a fishing hook. The stone is in two parts and may have been chalked to highlight it for the photographer.
The question is, where did these artefacts come from? The Convent of Mercy lies partly on the site of the Franciscan Foundation established by William Liath De Burgo on St Stephen’s Island in 1296. Might Fr Daly have taken them from the site of his church? Were they part of a building that was replaced by the Town Hall or from some other house or castle in the middle of town? Wherever they came from, they were obviously worth preserving, which begs the next question, where did they go to from Newtownsmith? Does anyone recognise the carved stone?
Most of the above information has been taken from John Cunningham’s book A town tormented by the Sea and from Mary Naughton’s History of Woodquay.