The Galway Board of the Town Commissioners was established in the early 1830s and one of its first objectives was the provision of gas lighting in the city. In December 1836, the commissioners invited a Mr Lyddle from Glasgow to do a survey of the town and he recommended the establishment of a Galway Gas Company. His advice was taken. Shares were snapped up, an agreement was reached between the company and the town commission, and the Rev D’Arcy was appointed company secretary.
The gas works were erected on Queen Square near the new docks on land leased to the company by Robert Hedges Eyre. Lamps, lampposts, and braziers were manufactured at Stephen’s Foundry, Back Street. Work on the streets to cater for the piped distribution of the gas proceeded quickly through the summer and autumn until the night of November 30 1837 when the lights were switched on amid great bustle to “the enthusiasm of the inhabitants of every quarter”.
The initial enthusiasm was short-lived. The corporation complained: “We can get no better terms from them than that of putting up 100 lamps to be kept lighting every night for one hour after sunset and one hour before sunrise for £600 per annum.” The following winter it was observed that the lights were “quite dim, not half as brilliant as last year”.
‘Coal gas’ or ‘town gas’ was produced by distilling bituminous coal. It was an ‘illuminating’ gas as opposed to a gas where the heat output was an important consideration. The coal was burned in a process that did not let it flare up into a fire. This process took place in the building in our photograph and the resultant gas was pumped across the road into a regulator which rose and fell depending on how much gas was in it. The weight of the regulator created the pressure that drove the gas through the lead pipe system to the various street lights. The regulator was to the right of our photograph and was a continuation of Forthill Street and passed by the old city morgue and the county council tar depot. This was the site that was later occupied by the big oil tanks and which is now vacant.
I do not know when the gas company ceased operations
The gas lights used to be lit by men known as gas lighters. The Aran poet, Mairtín Ó Direáin, wrote a beautiful poem about them in Irish called ‘Fear Lasta Lampaí’. You can read it on the Prom near Blackrock, together with an English translation by the poet’s brother.
Much of the above information comes from A Town Tormented by the Sea by Dr John Cunningham, and we also thank Dick Byrne for his help.