Galway is Europe’s most westerly city and is also its fastest growing urban centre with a population of almost sixty thousand people - large by Irish standards. Widely known in its native country as the ‘City of the Tribes’, the term actually refers to a group of fourteen merchant families who controlled most of the city’s affairs back in the late fifteenth century.
Galway’s history began back in 400AD when a fishing village was first established at the mouth of the River Corrib so like most ancient cities it was founded simply because of its access to water. Galway was relatively unique, however, in that it had access to both fresh water, provided by the River Corrib, and salt water in the form of Galway Bay.
Yet, despite its origins as a fishing village, the invasion by the Normans in the early 1200s soon saw it develop into a walled town. Inside the wall a trading centre began and flourished and led to Galway being elevated from a town to a city in 1484. Evidence of the Norman’s presence in the city remains to this day and can be seen in the ruins of medieval castles, the stone gates and churches which still stand throughout the city.
It was also during this period that the aforementioned ‘tribes’ were in operation and they ruled over this new and prosperous city for the next one hundred and seventy years. The prosperity was not to last, however, and following another invasion – by Cromwell this time – Galway was forced to surrender and the tribes lost control to the English. Rebellion by the locals led to the native Galwegians briefly regaining control of the city but this was lost once again at the Battle of Aughrim in July of 1691.
In the decades following Cromwell’s arrival, the entire country suffered a great deal. The population decreased by two-thirds, the Catholics land was repossessed by Protestants and things were generally at an all time low among the Irish. Galway was no exception and went into steady decline leading to the loss of its city classification in 1841. This was followed by the Great Famine at the end of the decade which halved the former city’s population either through starvation or emigration.
Things were not to improve for many decades and Galway did not regain its city status until 1937. But, it was in the 1960s that the greatest of Galway’s present day industries and earners was to take off – tourism. As well as visitors, however, the two universities have also added dramatically to the city’s appeal with regard to accommodation, entertainment and general atmosphere accepting over twelve thousand new enrolments every year.
Galway is now a vibrant city with a constant buzz about it regardless of what time of year you visit. So, whatever part of Ireland you are destined for, Galway is not so far away that you can’t spend at least one night there. The only problem is that you won’t want to leave.