Galway market in the mid-twentieth century

“Let not the visitor miss the joyful chaos of Galway’s week-end purchasing. Saturday is not a day of speed. Petrol must give way to horsepower and donkey-power, and cattle that like to investigate both sides of a road. Proud, glittering models of fame crawl humiliatingly in face of a stream of vehicles of astonishing build and variety, rumbling in from Connemara. Carts piled with sacks of oats, potatoes, flour; others with crates of wondering calves and bewildered fowls. It is the great day – not necessarily a happy one – of small brown donkeys further dwarfed by huge wheels and the garden produce heaped above them. Around you in the streets, or about the food market in the shadow of the ancient church, you can hear the musical Gaelic speech. Tall, handsome women of Spanish type dark-haired and dignified: island women whose features speak hardiness and force of character: and women of the rock-strewn dazzling region about Carraroe unwittingly bring upon themselves the staring that notabilities endure. The men also receive attention. Of fine physique their faces healthily browned by sea and mountain winds, they attract you so that you wander, fascinated, from group to group. Old men in home spun, with the wide-brimmed Connemara hats, and the younger in tailored suits and coloured felts of fashion are alike in keenness of selling and shrewdness of buying.”

This was how one Louis Coppin, a visitor to Galway, described Saturday in the marketplace in 1948. The market expanded greatly at Christmas, and there would be two or three extra markets where the emphasis would be on selling turkeys or geese. On these occasions, the market would extend all the way to Lillis’ Drapery Shop. There was a very special atmosphere about the Christmas market with cackling geese, turkeys going “gobble gobble gobble”, Christmas trees with holly, hustle and bustle, thousands of people, town meeting country. Above all there was haggling and bargaining. In fact at one stage the corporation brought in a scales to weigh the turkeys, but this was largely ignored as people preferred to haggle. The biggest market was one week before Christmas Day. People stocked up with potatoes and carrots and cauliflower for the occasion. It was a wonderful tradition, Galway at its most Christmassy, and not a Christmas light or decoration to be seen.

Our photograph today captures it all. It was taken in the late 1950s by Fr George Quinn, and given to us by Eamonn Quinn. Here you can see old shawls and ‘modern’ coats. Berets were popular.

The building on the left in the background was JC Brennan’s store and garage. It was originally two small houses. Next to that was John Naughton, a shoemaker, and on the corner was Geraghty’s Tailors. This building was constructed in 1934 by John Higgins. The Geraghty family lived overhead. The buildings in the background, on Bridge Street, were Carr’s, Pierce’s, and O’Mahony’s.

We would like to wish all of our readers, contributors, and letter writers of this column a happy and peaceful New Year.

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