Galway itself grew from a small fishing village in the Claddagh area and became a walled town when Richard De Burgo and the Anglo Norman’s captured local O’ Flaherty territory in 1232. The Anglo-Normans are thought to have built the town walls around 1270. In 1396, Richard II granted a charter to the city, transferring power to fourteen merchant families or tribes (hence Galway’s name as the ‘city of tribes’). Mostly English or Norman in origin, numerous clashes ensued between these families and leading Irish families in Connemara.
Clinging to its independent status, the ruling merchant families continued to remain loyal to the English crown. Galway’s isolation, however, encouraged a very successful trade with Portugal and Spain and for a significant period the county enjoyed great prosperity. The tables were soon to turn, however, following the arrival of Cromwell in 1651 and the besiegement of the city. This event marked the beginning of a period of decline for Galway. With Dublin and Waterford claiming the important sea-traffic, trade with Spain was almost at an end. Many years were now to pass before Galway would again enjoy such bounty.
Today, Galway tells an altogether different story. A bohemian mecca, the city boasts a wealth of great shops and restaurants and like any other Irish city, caters for every taste and tipple as far as pubs are concerned. Galway also plays host to one of Ireland’s largest cultural events – the Galway Arts Fest. Each summer the Arts Fest hits Galway’s streets, entertaining crowds with top class acts and performances from both home and abroad. The Galway Races in the last week of July draw similar crowds.
Attractions to look out for around the city include the Collegiate Church of St Nicholas of Myra. This is the largest medieval parish church still in use in Ireland and is the cities most important monument. Although a lot of work has been carried out on the building over the centuries, it still retains a lot of its original form. Bowling Green is an interesting little stop-off too. Once the home of Nora Barnacle; partner and later wife of James Joyce, the house is now a small museum and opens from May-September. In the surrounding area, Lynch’s Castle (said to be the finest town castle in Ireland), the Spanish Arch and St Nicholas’ Cathedral are also worth checking out.
North West of the city, things change pace a little, as one travels into the barren heart of Connemara. With a myriad of bogs, valleys, mountains and small lakes, the place has a wonderful character all of its own. Connemara National Park covers 2000 hectares of bog, mountain and heath and has a visitors center in Letterfrack. The center provides an insight into the park’s flora, fauna and geology and organizes guided nature walks during the summer months.