The Augustinian Friars have been in Galway since 1508 when Margaret Athy, whose husband was mayor at the time, built a friary at Forthill, near a spring called St Augustine’s Well, the waters whereof wrought miraculous cures. In O’Flaherty’s Iar-Chonnacht, there is reproduced a document in which a miraculous cure is attested to by the signatures of several witnesses.
The nuns’ first convent in the city was called St Monica’s and was founded in 1646 in Middle Street, where the Mechanics Institute is now.
The friars and the nuns had to endure many hardships and persecutions down through the years, Cromwellian and penal, and it was not until the middle of the 18th century that they were really well established publicly again. The friars were in their present site in Middle Street and the sisters were also in that street, roughly at the back of where the Old Malt is.
The nunnery flourished for about 100 years until it began to decline in the 1830s. In 1833 there were five sisters there, in 1835 there were four, and in 1842 the names of Sister Eleanor Connaughton and Sister Margaret Kelly were the only two on the books.
These were the last Augustinian nuns in Ireland and they spent the end of their days in Market Street (where the Connacht Tribune is today ) due to the run down state of the Middle Street premises.
This photograph of the Middle Street ruins is taken from a glass slide taken in 1903. Judging from the carved doorways and windows and the stone fireplaces you can see in the chimney breasts, it must have been a handsome building once.
Pa Hynes, who once had a garage on the site of the Racquet Court, directly opposite these buildings, used to regularly relate how he had seen the ghosts of two nuns, one dressed in black, the other in white, going down Middle Street. He remembered particularly one night seeing one in white coming towards him and rather than embarrass her — for nuns were rarely seen in public in those days — he stepped into his doorway, but she never passed and when he looked again, she was not to be seen.
Margaret Griffin and her sister Polly used also to tell of how they had seen nuns, one in black, the other in white, in Middle Street. They presumed these to be the spirits of the Augustinian nuns who once lived there.
Much of the above, apart from the ghosts, is taken from Fr John O’Connor’s book The Galway Augustinians.
The Old Galway Society is hosting a lecture this evening in the Victoria Hotel at 8.30pm. The title is “New State, new Future?” and it will be given by Professor Gearóid Ó Tuathaigh. All are welcome.
On Monday next the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society lecture takes place in the Victoria Hotel at 8pm. It will be given by Tom Crehan on the subject of “The Ballinlass Evictions, 1846”, and all are welcome.