Hardiman's History of Galway

Chapter 4: From 1484 to the commencement of the Irish Rebellion in 1641


Improvements along quays...

Chapter 4

From 1484 to the commencement of the Irish Rebellion in 1641

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Old map of Galway

About this time a company, formed of the principal merchants, for the purpose of providing more spacious and convenient accommodations for the increase of shipping and commerce, commenced several new improvements along the quays and harbour, and by fort-hill and the fosse which surrounded the town wall: but, though they were bound to complete these undertakings within a limited time, the works gradually declined, and were never brought to perfection. It is probable, however, that they were at first suspended in consequence of a destructive fire that broke out in the east suburbs on the 1st of May, 1619, occasioned by a musket shot unintentionally fired by some young men, amidst diversions usual on that day, which fell on the thatch of a house, and spreading, raged so violently, that it threatened the entire town with destruction. Tradition informs us that, shortly prior to this period, a Dutch colony, consisting of forty families, induced by the situation of Galway, proposed to emigrate from Holland and settle in or near the town; that they offered the corporation a sum which would be equivalent to 35,000 at the present day, for the unfinished works above alluded to, and the adjacent ground, on which they were to erect, within fifteen years, several dwelling-houses and extensive stores, intending also to take in a considerable portion of the strand; but that, through motives of mercantile jealousy, these proposals were rejected. - A circumstance connected with this affair is also handed down, which, though bordering on the incredulous, is somewhat curious. The Hollanders, as the story goes, contracted to cover over as much ground, as they wished to obtain, with a certain species of silver coin, (but of what dimensions or value are forgotten, and the space they are said to have marked out would have required to the amount already mentioned to purchase it. This glittering proposal was at first agreed to by the town's people; but, upon further reflection, they prudently considered that these industrious settlers might monopolize all their trade, and injure the town, and they accordingly had recourse to a most ingenious artifice to get rid of the agreement when it came to be carried into effect, by insisting that the ground was to be covered with the coin, placed not on the sides, as has been supposed, but close on the edges. This unexpected turn created so material a difference, that it soon put an end to a treaty, which, if the entire be not, as is most likely, a fable, might have been of service to the country.

But, passing over this and other idle and worthless tales of tradition, for more useful and authentic information, it appears that the town, county of the town, and county of Galway, were, in 1616, at the instance of the earl of Clanrickard, erected into a separate jurisdiction, entirely independent of the presidency of the province - a circumstance which afterwards proved of the utmost consequence towards preserving the peace and tranquility of this part of the kingdom. Upon his resignation of the presidency, his lordship was appointed governor or lieutenant of the town and county, and of the inhabitants there resident, as fully as he had enjoyed and exercised the same as lord president of the province.eee The lord deputy, Falkland, came to Galway in 1625, and was most honorably received. His lordship knighted Sir Richard Blake Fitz-Robert, and Sir Henry Lynch, bart. and munificently bestowed 300l. towards building a college, and 500l. to portion and apprentice several orphan children of the town. He particularly attended to the state of the fortifications, and directed a fort to be built on the lands of Ballymanagh, beyond the west bridge, the foundation of which was laid, and a good part of the walls built in 1625; and, at the same time, all the gates of the town were repaired at the expense of the corporation.

The appointment of the earl of Clanrickard to the government of the town having terminated on the death of King James, it was renewed by his successor;fff the preamble to whose grant states, that the king, taking inio consideration the many and singular good proofs of his lordship's fidelity and sincere affection to the crown, and conceiving good hopes of the like in his son Ulick, lord Dunkellin, afterwards marquis of Clanricarde, (which it will be found were amply realized,) and the better to secure his subjects of the said county and town of Galway, appointed them to the government thereof during their respective lives.

The improvement of the town and environs still continued to occupy the attention of the corporation. In 1630, the square plot, at the green outside the east gate, (since called Meyrick-square,) was set apart for the purpose of public amusement and recreation. it was inclosed with wooden rails, and handsomely planted round with ash trees, many of which were standing within the memory of persons yet living. The highway within the liberties, along Castle-Gar, was soon afier completed: the new works at Barachalla and about the great gate, which were left unfinished in the mayoralty of Sir Valentine Blake, were likewise resumed and perfected in the interior of the town, the main street, from the great gate to the cross, was paved, and several other valuable improvements were made, ggg which at length rendered the town one of the most perfect in the kingdom, possessing every convenience which could tend to promote the health or increase the comforts of the inhabitants.

Sir Thomas Wentworth, (afterwards earl of Strafford,) lord deputy of Ireland, visited the town in 1634: his entry was splendid, and his reception equally correspondent. During his stay he resided in the mansion-house of Sir Richard Blake, for whose polite attention he made the most grateful acknowledgments. He conferred the honour of knighthood on Sir Dominick Brown, the mayor; and, having expressed much satisfaction at the highly finished state and opulent appearance of the town, his lordship departed for Dublin.

For the first fifteen years of the reign of Charles I. a time of profound peace in Ireland, there are but few particulars related of the town; but, during the turbulent remainder of the life of that unhappy monarch, it took a leading part in the political transactions of the times, invariably manifesting the greatest zeal, loyalty and affection in his cause. The only occurence worthy of remark during the former period, in addition to those already detailed, is the celebrated tyrannical proceeding of lord Strafford against the sheriff and jury of the county of Galway. This able but despotic ruler having formed the unjust and impolitic design of subverting the title to every estate in Connaught, by shewing that the province, notwithstanding all prior grants to individuals, was entirely vested in the crown, and still at its disposal, caused separate commissions to issue on the 15th of June, 1635, directed to certain commissioners, who were to inquire, by the oaths of a jury, what estate, right or title, the king, or any of his progenitors, had to every county in the province. Leitrim having surrendered without trial, the first inquiry was held at Boyle, in Roscommon, on 10th July following, when the jury found the king's title without scruple. This servile example was followed in Sligo, where the trial was held on the 20th of the same month, and in Mayo, where it took place at Ballinrobe, on the 31st;hhh but when they came to Galway their progress was stopped, and this arbitrary measure met with the most determined and effectual opposition from the gentlemen of the county, whose independent spirit, strict adherence to truth and justice, and conscientious discharge of their duty, on this occasion, deserve to be for ever commemorated. The trial came on at Portumna castle. where, notwithstanding the presence of the lord deputy himself, who sat on the bench, and the many specious arguments made use of by council, to induce the jury to find the king s title, they unanimously found against it. His lordship, violently enraged at this decision, immediately put the sheriff, Mr. Martin Darcy, of the family of Kiltolla, and the jury under arrest, had them brought close prisoners to Dublin, and there tried before himself in the castle chamber. "We bethought ourselves," says he, "of a course to vindicate his majesty's honor and justice, not only against the persons of the jurors but also against the sheriff, for returning so insufficient. indeed we conceived so packed, a jury, and therefore we fine the sheriff in l000l to his majesty, the jurors in 4000l. each, and to be imprisoned until the fines should be paid, and until they should acknowledge their offence in court upon their knees." iii -The jurors petitioned to be discharged, but were refused, except upon condition of their making a public acknowledgment that they committed not only an error in judgment but even actual perjury in their verdict, terms which they disdainfully rejected. The sheriff died in prison, owing to severe treatment,kkk and the jury were most cruelly used, until, after suffering all the rigors of confinement, their fines were reduced, and themselves released, at the solicitation of the earl of Clanrickarde.lll

The lord deputy, still determined to carry his point, again caused two further commissions to issue; the one. to find the king's title to the county: and the other, to the county of the town of Galway. The commissioners met at St. Francis's abbey on the 5th of April, 1637, when the present county jury, terrified at the example made of the former, was induced to find for the crown, as did the jury of the county of the town the day after, in the tholsel-hall.mmm Upon the return of these findings, the county was planted at a double rate, and the natives lost one-half of their lands, whereas the other less refractory counties lost but one-fourth. Thus terminated, through the influence of power, this illegal proceeding, for which, with other arbitrary measures resorted to in England, and during his government here, the ill-fated Strafford afterwards lost his head; but its injurious effects, without benefiting the crown, were lasting and considerable. Irritated beyond measure at so glaring an act of injustice openly committed against them, after so many royal assurances in their favour, the gentlemen of the county loudly proclaimed their discontent, and fixed resolution to embrace any opportunity which might offer to be revenged; and of the reality of their determination, the fatal events, which soon after took place, afforded melancholy proof.

Before entering into a detail of the momentous transactions which immediately follow, it may not be uninteresting to the reader to dwell a little on the state of the town at this period. By the preceding facts, gleaned, with much labor, from the generally imperfect materials which, at this distance, have been spared by the hand of time, it appears that the town of Galway was esteemed the most distinguished of any in the kingdom for wealth and trade, and that it ranked amongst the most considerable for strength and population. The causes which gradually led to the extraordinary change, from its original state of comparative insignificance, appear also to have been its well regulated and increasing commerce for the three preceding centuries; its advantageous situation; but, above all, the enterprizing spirit and tried integrity of its inhabitants, which appeared on many occasions, and which are satisfactorily testified by various records. The extent of its commerce, and that at very remote periods of time, has been proved by indubitable authority; and its excelient situation needs only inspection to be convinced of the advantages which must have been derived from it. The town, though early incorporated and governed principally by its merchants, was surrounded by a poor country, and persecuted natives, (with whom "the settlers," as they were called, were in a continual state of hostility,) and could consequently derive but few materials for export, or means of industry, from its local situation. The inhabitants, therefore, were obliged to have recourse to distant parts of the kingdom: and by becoming, in fact, the home-importers of the produce of France, Spain and England, and by exchanging the commodities of one country for those of another, the town gradually arrived to its present state of prosperity, while the country in its neighbourhood was immersed in poverty, wretchedness and vice, This opulence. however, was now at its height: henceforth it continued to decline, and gradually sunk almost to nothing, in which condition it continues at the present day. The reader will not be here detained by an investigation of the causes of this decay; it will be reserved for another place, in order to proceed without further interruption.

Next: Viscount Falkland arrives in Galway, 1625


Chapter 4

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