Ghosts of Galway’s past

One of the mysteries of Galway is that curious phrase under the west facing clock on the Galway Camera Shop on William  Street, which says: Dublin Time. The fact that now the clock shows ordinary winter time only adds to the mystery. But not so long ago Galwegians, delighting in the longer days of sunlight than in the east of the country, and displaying an oddity that makes living in Galway a pleasure, set their clocks a full eleven and an half minutes behind Dublin. However, trains had to run to a standardised timetable otherwise transport chaos would ensue. The timetable was set at Dublin time (linked, like the rest of the civilised world, to Greenwich Mean Time ), so  as Galwegians hurried to the station they could glance at the clock, and probably have to put on speed (perhaps Galway Time explains why most meetings here are usually 11 minutes late? ).

I do not think that many of us  follow Galway time today. But I gleaned this information from Paul Duffy’s wonderful Galway City - Snapshots Through Time* where he takes the reader on a tour of old Galway through postcards he has collected from 1890 to 1950, with some mid-1960s added. With each card he makes a comment, or an historical reference. The Camera Shop was formerly Dillon’s jewellery, and the shop was probably part of the Williamite gate into the town, which contained a clock tower for the benefit of its law-abiding citizens. Several cards at different times illustrate this important city landmark.

There are lots of images of a changing Eyre Square, and the disappearing statue of Lord Dunkellin. The noble lord was heir to the Clanricarde estates, and had been an MP for Galway city and county. He died in 1867. The inscription on the plinth recorded that the Clanricarde tenants had willingly contributed to the cost but, in fact, they had been forced to do so. The Clanricardes were a detested landlord family in the Portumna area. The statue was heaved off the Claddagh pier one winter’s night.

It was replaced  by a charming statue of the gentle writer Padraic O’Conaire, carved by Albert Power in 1935. Unfortunately it was vandalised in 1999, and now rests in the city museum. I personally regret Padraic’s removal.

Of course there are several views around St Nicholas’ church at Lombard Street. The Lombards came to Galway with the Anglo-Normans. They were bankers with unique powers. They collected papal taxes levelled on the clergy, and were much valued by the popes. They were allowed to charge interest on their loans. They lent money to merchants, and  if you didn’t repay them on time, they would give the nod to the pope who would threaten to  excommunicate the unfortunate  scoundrel. Excommunication was pretty well a ticket to hell, and almost always ensured prompt repayment, with interest, fines, and costs.

The Claddagh women

The Fish market and Spanish Arch are well loved city landmarks. Fish caught by the Claddagh fleet, was originally sold by the women in the family, along Bridge Street. To ensure a quick sale some of the women went up town, and sold wherever they could. Townspeople complained that the ‘smell and filth’ of discarded fish and their entrails was ‘insufferable’ at times.

A new pedestrian bridge, now the formidable Wolf Tone bridge, was erected linking the Claddagh with the town during the building of the canal, O’Brien’s bridge, and the Claddagh basin. It was intended to remove the bridge when the large building project was completed. But it had become so well used that it was retained. The landowner on the town side, General Meyrick, ‘induced some of the principal inhabitants to enter a subscription for the purpose of providing another fish market’ at the end of Quay Street. The new market contained several sheds, pumps and a porter’s lodge. The good general, clearly well pleased with himself,  erected a sign stating that the new market was built under his patronage (adding modestly ), ‘who during his residence here acquired the praise of a grateful people for his administration of justice and benevolence.’  

The Claddagh women hated it! There were screaming rows. Boys with catapults pelted the women, who  resisted selling their fish there until, I assume, they were shifted out of the town, to what eventually became accepted as the fish market on Spanish Parade.

Ghost stories

Historian and Galway guide Peadar O’Dowd has compiled an entertaining collection of strange and usual ghost stories, all with a local provenance, that will bring a smile, if not a backward glance as we walk home on a winter evening. There was a time when ghost stories were shared after a game of ‘25’ in a neighbour’s house during the Christmas season, and Peadar has brought that memory back.

Have you ever heard of the Shantalla Glumuck? A poor girl who disobeys her mother and sneaks out to play with friends at the Sliding Rock is confronted by a ‘huge black dog, with his enormous black paws resting on top of the gate’.... ‘a head more like a horse than a dog’, with red eyes; or the young man camping near Menlo castle who was woken by the roar and screaming of the two maids imploring help from a top attic window. The man had been mysteriously transported back to the terrible fire of July 30 1910, when the flames forced the girls to jump; or the teacher who was so frightened by the figure of an Indian brave in his room that his heart practically stopped. As he gasped and tried to breathe normally be remembered the boy who angrily told him that if he did not let the class watch Connacht play the All Blacks in the Sportsground, he’d never die of a heart attack, ‘because Sir, you don’t  have a heart!’

My favourite is the Clifden Banshee, where an elderly farmer and his equally elderly dog are coming home from an evening with friends. He sees a figure of a woman sitting nearby combing her hair. The figure cries out, ‘filling the valley with her ghostly sound’. The man flees to his home, locks the door, and has a stiff drink. Eating his supper later he hears a noise outside his door. ‘The sausage on his fork froze in mid-air.’

He is relieved to wake safe and sound the next day. When he opens the door, however,  it is the dog that the banshee came for.

Peadar is a prolific writer, and his The Spirits of Galway’ (only €10 ) is a gift.

NOTES: This is Paul Duffy’s second book, a follow up to his successful Galway: History on a Postcard, published, and sold out, some years ago. He set himself a formidable challenge. Not only did he collect postcards of the city and county, but he limited himself to cards only printed locally from such photographers and companies as RW Simmons of Nuns Island, Tonery’s of Salthill, Cloherty’s, Glynn’s and O’Gormans of the town. He has magnificently completed his task. It is a fascinating record of a changing city. Published by Curragh Press, it sells for €19.99.


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