Church Lane was a dark place up until 1983 because of the very large high stone wall that ran the length of it. This was part of a wall that was built around St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church and its adjoining graveyard. The removal of most of the wall and its replacement by the railings that once surrounded Eyre Square was one of the earliest ideas for improving Galway as it prepared for the Quincentennial in 1984. This project transformed the area around the church, making it much more attractive and opening it up to the passing public. It let a lot of light into the city centre.
Our photograph today, which we publish courtesy of Tom O’Connor, shows the beginning of that process. The original wall was much higher than the scaffolding poles you can see on the left.
The church and graveyard have a very large number of funerary monuments of various dates from the 13th century to last century. These provide us with a wealth of information on history, archaeology, design, stone masonry, heraldry, and genealogy, so the removal of the large fortress-like wall made them far more accessible.
At the end of the lane you can see College House which fronted on to Market Street. It was on the site, in 1650, of the Athy Castle, reputedly the first stone castle built in Galway. It was later converted into a barracks and, later again, a school. The building we see was constructed in 1827 for the clergy at a cost of £800 with an extra £30 for the front railings and gates. In 1938/39, Fr P Glynn spent £600 on a new hall and converted the old library into a dining room, and the old dining room into a kitchen. Diocesan conferences were then held there and dinner served to the clergy.
The building we see to the left of and behind College House was part of the old Monastery School. This school was originally set up as a charity free school in Back Street (Augustine Street ) in 1790. In 1824 it was transferred to Lombard Street and located in the Lombard Barracks. On January 15, 1827, two Patrician Brothers, Paul O’Connor and James Walsh, at the request of Warden ffrench, took up residence here, and took over the running of the school. Brother Paul quickly realised that most of his pupils came from a background of desperate poverty, and that many of them who came to school half naked and in a state of extreme hunger had little enthusiasm for learning. So he established an Orphan’s Charity which later became known as The Poor Boy’s Breakfast Institute and from 1830, it operated seven days a week, 365 days a year, until long after its founder’s time. During the Great Famine, up to 1,000 pupils were fed each morning with a breakfast that consisted mainly of oatmeal porridge with molasses or treacle. In 1954 the school, which was known as ‘The Mon’, closed its doors for the last time.
Today, there is a car park on the site of College House and the Old Mon.