“On Monday last (July 1st, 1816 ), Galway witnessed a scene unparalleled in her history, or in the history of the British Empire. It was an unusual but gratifying sight to behold Protestants and Catholics, the Civil and Ecclesiastical Corporations, the Secular and Regular Clergy, all clothed in their robes of office, preceded by their various insignias, and marching in solemn procession through the principal streets of the town – not for the purpose of reminding Catholic of the galling degradation under which he labours – not to keep alive those feuds which have so long distracted our wretched country – not to display with ascendancy, pride and intolerant bigotry, those shameful destructions which have hitherto been a barrier to the repose and happiness of Ireland – no – but to lay the foundation stone of an edifice, which being dedicated to the supreme worship of the deity, will at the same time be a monument to succeeding generations of the unanimity, concord and harmony which exists between those of every religious persuasion in this loyal and extensive county.
“On arriving at the site on which the Chapel is to be erected, the warden handed a silver trowel to our worthy and liberal Mayor who laid the foundation stone, with the accustomed ceremonies, amidst the acclamation of upwards of 10,000 people.”
That report appeared in the Freeman’s Journal and Daily Advertiser in July 1816. The foundation stone being laid was for the ‘parish church’ which was built on the site of an old 1752 church on the corner of Middle Street and Lower Abbeygate Street. The new church was completed in 1821 and followed the late medieval style of tall castellations around the roof. The exterior is in a simple Gothic style built of rough cut limestone blocks with two storeys of pointed windows, indicating the former presence of galleries, a five bay facade with a three bay breakfront, windows with Y mullions and crests over them. Among those are the crests of the Blakes, Lynches, Brownes, Martins, and Frenches. After Galway became a diocese, the church became known as the pro-cathedral.
On the night of the big wind, January 6, 1839, a number of statues and stone decorations on the building were blown down and badly damaged, but thanks to the stone parapet, the roof was saved.
Daniel O’Connell attended Mass here on St Patrick’s Day, 1841, before going up to Eyre Square to address some 30,000 people.
On Christmas morning, 1842, as the celebrant was about to leave the sacristy for 6am Mass, there was a shout from one of the galleries that the floor was falling. The cry was taken up by others, and panic ensued. The passages leading to the doors were blocked and many jumped from the galleries. Thirty six people were killed and a large number were injured.
Our illustration shows the interior as it was about 1870, and is almost certainly the earliest photograph taken of the church. To the left and right of the photograph you can see the galleries that caused such panic in 1842. The picture was probably taken in May if one is to judge from the elaborate May altar seen on the left. The large painting over the altar seems to depict Christ being taken down from the Cross and you can just make out the altar rails in front.
When the Cathedral was built in 1965, this church was deconsecrated, and very sadly, was sold off to be converted into offices. It would have made a wonderful municipal building.
This is one of the photographs found recently in a Galway album in Chetham’s Library in Manchester, and we are grateful to the library for permission to publish it.