The story of Galway and it’s relationship with the sea is one that goes back farther than the history books. Every great city has a great story and Galway is no exception, the story of the fourteen tribes that led the city to a golden age of prosperity and international acclaim is a legacy from the past that we still cherish today.
Today, Galway City is a thriving modern city. It is one of the fastest growing cities in Europe and is one of Ireland’s leading locations to live and to work in.
It is easy to forget that in the time before trains and cars, transportation was difficult. The quickest route for news, goods, or people was often by water. Galway, like any port town, drew its wealth from the sea; both from fishing and from the extensive trade it carried out with France, Spain, and the West Indies.
Alongside the great fleets of Europe one craft that came to distinguish itself, as Galway’s signature upon the water that was the Galway Hooker. The Hookers were probably at their greatest presence in the Bay in the years preceding the Great Famine when the Claddagh was at its height. Indeed, several reports from the period verify that the Claddagh fleet itself numbered at least 100 vessels. Unfortunately, famine, depleted fishing stocks, and the advent of modern technology would eventually seal the Hooker’s fate as a working vessel.
THE CITY OF THE TRIBES
The story of the Tribes begins with the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland during the late 12th century. Among the invaders were those of the powerful de-Burgo family. The de-Burgos took a keen interest in the province of Connaught and with the consent of Henry II of England they wrestled the land from the natives.
Following the de-Burgo’s claim, many families of Norman descent swept into the area. In a short time, fourteen of these families distinguished themselves as merchants. As recorded in Hardiman’s History of Galway, those families bore the following surnames:
Profiting from one of the best seaports in Western Europe, the families accumulated such immense wealth and fame that they claimed complete control over the civic affairs of the city. The merchants had supreme control of Galway for nearly the next two hundred years.
Galway is still “The City of the Tribes” – it is welcoming, innovative and consistently meeting the challenges of its time. And its relationship with the sea remains unfaltering.
Times and tides have changed and the Port of Galway has always changed with them. Much of the land that Galway City is built on is reclaimed from the sea, the last large-scale reclamation took place in the 1800s. Prior to this the tide came right up to where the Hardiman Hotel is today. This process has served the city well over centuries and we hope it will continue to do so in the 21st century.