Memory Lane: Eyre Square, Galway

                                      
Posted: 12/08/2020 16:46:07


Last month we explored the history of Patrick Street, Cork in our Memory Lane blog series. From Cork City our journey sees us hopping on the 51 Bus Éireann service in Parnell Place Bus Station, making a brief stop at Shannon Airport before travelling 200 kilometres to lively Galway City. Upon exiting the bus station in Galway on foot we turn left and walk down Forster Street to arrive three minutes later in this month’s memory lane location of interest, Eyre Square.

RENOVATION

Thursday April 13th 2006 was a momentous day for Galwegians, as Eyre Square was officially reopened after lengthy renovations works costing almost €10 million. Upon viewing the finished project many locals concurred that it was worth all the disruption as they marvelled at the new children’s play area, 120 newly installed trees and the marvellous paving that now adorned the pedestrian walkways around the square.

THE CROMWELL CONNECTION

This iconic part of Galway City was developed by the then Mayor Edward Eyre, who gave this amenity to the people of Galway as a gift in 1710. He was a major landowner whose Irish lineage began when a relation was gifted a substantial acreage by Oliver Cromwell as a gift for helping him defeat people who had risen in anger at the restrictions on those who were members of the Catholic faith.

STATUES

John F. Kennedy

It was initially enclosed by wooden fencing which was replaced by iron railings in the 1700’s. They were to remain in place until the 1960’s, when they were removed and now surround Saint Nicholas’s Church on Lombard Street. The Square’s official title is “John F Kennedy Memorial Park” in honour of the late U.S. President who visited Galway City on Saturday June 29th 1963, less than 5 months before he was assassinated in Dallas Texas. A bust of him commemorating the visit now stands in the park named after him, and is one of a number of monuments dotted around this square space.

Pádraic Ó’Conaire

As you walk around JFK Park you will notice the statue of a man sitting down and deep in thought;  The man in question is the late Pádraic Ó’Conaire,  reckoned by many to be the finest writer of works in the Irish language. This writer of some renown was born in what is now Galway City in 1882, but when his parents passed away he firstly lived with relatives before being sent to boarding school. He was to take on a Civil Service role in London and became active in the local branch of the Gaelic League where he taught Irish to others and wrote his first ever work, a short story entitled “An t-Iascaire agus an File” (The Fisherman and the Poet). O’Conaire mostly wrote about the harsh reality of ordinary life in Ireland, be it emigration, alcoholism or poverty and the like. In 1906 he won the prestigious Oireachtas Literary Award for his short story “Nora Mhárcais Bhig” (Nora, Daughter of Little Marcus) and continued to write until his passing in 1928

Liam Mellows

The final statue is dedicated to the late revolutionary Liam Mellows. Mellows was born in Manchester but moved to Dublin at very young age when his father an army sergeant was transferred there.
As a young boy Liam suffered from ill health and it was decided that living with his grandfather in Inch near Gorey Co. Wexford might cure him. This coupled with trips to Dublin to see his parents gave him in an insight into the urban/rural divide at the time.
He had undertaken training to become a solider in the British Army but dropped out and took up a variety of office jobs. After a discussion with Tom Clarke (a signatory of the 1916 Proclamation) he was to join Na Fianna Eireann and then the Volunteers. He also began publicly airing Socialist views after befriending James Connolly. His activities saw him placed in a prison cell on a number of occasions and eventually the authorities decided to deport him to England to serve out his sentence. With the help of his brother Barney and Nora Connolly – James Connolly’s daughter – he managed to escape whilst dressed as a priest and was soon on a boat from Stranraer to Belfast. During the 1916 Rising he was commander of IRA forces in Connaught and in the 1918 General Election was elected in two constituencies; Galway East and North Meath.

In June 1922, Mellows joined a band of anti-Treaty militants who had been occupying the Four Courts on Dublin’s Quays since April of that year; many regard this event as the start of the Civil War. When the occupation failed he was executed in Mountjoy Jail in reprisal for the shooting of TD Seán Hayles outside the Ormonde Hotel on Dublin’s Quays.
 

GALWAY RAIL

The reconstruction of Eyre Square that finished in 2006 was a fine blending of the old with the new as many of the magnificent old buildings that look out on this popular thoroughfare, including Ceannt train station and the Hardiman (formerly Great Southern Hotel) sit harmoniously alongside the new paving and street lighting.

Galway Train Station was opened in 1851 enabling people to travel from the west coast to Broadstone Station in Dublin. Eight years later the branch line to Athlone was established and it played a key role in its growth into the major town in the Midlands. The first section of what we now know as the line from Heuston Station went as far as Cashel and later Cork and then Waterford extensions were completed.

It was then decided to open another spur off the original line which would bring this new form of transport westwards. This of course raised the ire of the various canal networks, with the trains helping companies to get goods from A to B far quicker than by barge; decimating their previously hugely profitable enterprise.



As well as the commercial impact, the opening of the Dublin-Galway line also had a massive social impact as it was now far more viable to travel from one end of the country to another from both a time and cost perspective.

The Great Western Railway company was later to add lines to Ennis and Sligo. By 1976, both lines had closed, but the bulk of the Ennis line was reopened in 2010 with trains now going from Galway to Limerick.

In 1966, the year of the Half-Centenary of the Easter Rising, Galway station was officially renamed Ceannt Station after Éamonn Ceannt, who played a pivotal role in the insurrection. He was one of the fourteen men who were executed in Kilmainham Jail in the immediate aftermath of the Rising.

A GRAND HOTEL

Opened in 1852, the Midland and Great Western Railway Company built a hotel they originally called ‘The Railway Hotel’ at a cost of almost £25,000 (almost €3.5 million today). Five years later the hotel attained its status as the go-to place in Galway when Prince Louis Napoleon of France visited to have lunch while travelling around Ireland.

In 1925 the hotel was renamed ‘The Great Western Hotel’, a name most people still associate it with now. In 2006, the hotel was sold and renamed as ‘The Meyrick’, but this name change did not last too long when in 2019 it was given its third re-branding and is now known as ‘the Hardiman’.
With so many wonderful bars and restaurants residing around the area, Eyre Square is and will continue to be one of the focal points in Galway City and Ireland as a whole.

A CITY OF FESTIVALS

One of the highlights in any Galwegians calendar is without doubt the Macnas Halloween Parade. This is where the world famous dance theatre company parades various floats and dance routines based around a particular theme, and usually take place on the last Saturday in October.

Another event that brings the crowds to Eyre Square and surrounding area is the highly regarded Galway Arts Festival, which takes place in July but like many events has been cancelled in 2020 because of Covid-19. Under normal circumstances you’d see everything from street performances to plays performed by internationally renowned theatre groups in venues such as the Black Box Theatre on Dyke Road.

And last buy by no means least, we cannot leave the highlight of the sporting calendar in the West (sorry GAA fans!) The Galway Races Summer Festival. Usually drawing a crowd of almost 200,000 attendees from all over Ireland and abroad, this year it will not be open to the public but we can still enjoy all the action virtually from 27th July until 2nd August and witness the finest jockeys pit it out on board magnificent racehorses to win the many prestigious prizes on offer.

End of the day

Eyre Square and its environs offer a wide variety of places to eat, drink and be merry. With so many wonderful restaurants and Public Houses in the heart if Galway City it is no surprise that it is such a magnet for visitors.

For sure, that magical feeling you get on a hot clear summers day as you exit Ceannt Station and take your first glimpse of Eyre Square is one that is hard to beat.

So why not plan a trip to “The City of the Tribes”? To help you make the most of your visit download ‘GeoFindit’ a free, useful location app available in iOS and Google Play.
 

Interested in more?

Why not check out the rest of the Memory lane blog series, along with many more fascinating blogs on topics ranging from data tech to ice-cream!

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