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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.

Port of Galway Harbour Galway Hooker Boat History

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 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:

The Fourteen Tribes of Galway
Port of Galway History City of Tribes
Future of the Port of Galway

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.

The Port of Galway:
A Brief History through the Centuries

10th Century

The King’s Castle

  • In 1124, Turlough O’Connor, King of Connacht, erected his castle to create a strategic frontier fort, possibly supplanting an existing small fishing village.
13th Century

The Anglo-Norman Invasion

  • The Anglo-Norman invasion of Connacht is successful when Richard de Burgo finally laid claim to the fort in 1235 and developed a centre of trade at this important river crossing. There is evidence of a strong sea trade developing by the middle of the 13th century
14th Century

A Growing Port

  • With links to France, Flanders and Italy strengthened Galway’s status as a big commercial port in Ireland and in 1380 Richard II gave permission to Iberian and Galway merchants to inter-trade.
15th Century

A Major Port

  • Galway was licensed as one of the four ports in Ireland along with Dublin, Cork and Waterford and developed lucrative trading links with European ports St. Malo, Dieppe, Lisbon, Seville and further afield to the West Indies and Newfoundland
16th Century

A Period of Decline

  • The 16th century saw the apex of Galway’s greatness as a maritime port but lead to a period of decline after the Cromwellian and Williamite wars reflecting the ebb and flow of the city’s economic fortunes from then on.
18th Century

A Revival

  • Trade revived somewhat with a new dock for shipping at the old mud dock and the development of the “Long Walk” promenade by Edward Eyre
19th Century

Becoming the City We Know Today

  • The city experienced its greatest expansion with the development of the town as we know it today, streets, merchant houses, churchs, the university and Court House fuelled by water powered industries following the development of a new dock in 1842 and the opening of the canal system in 1852. 1880 saw the advent of scheduled sailings of large cruise vessels and Dún Aengus Dock was developed in 1882.
Early 20th Century

Transatlantic Liners

  • In 1927 and 1933 the transatlantic liner trade was re-established in and over 100 ships had called to the port. That trade ceased in the 1950s

Commercial Dock Development

  • 1964 saw the deepening and development of the Commercial Dock.

Enterprise Park

  • 1994 saw the opening of the Enterprise Park and access bridge on reclaimed lands south east of the harbour

New Port

  • 2000 saw the commencement of the Planning and Design to expand the Port to future proof its economic development

Volvo Ocean Race Stopover

  • 2009 saw the relocation of the oil farm to the Enterprise Park. 2009 also saw the Port host a stopover leg of the Volvo Ocean Race

Volvo Ocean Race Returns

  • Volvo Ocean Race returns to Galway for the finalé of this global sporting event generating €60M economic benefit for Galway


  • West of Ireland Offshore Racing (WIORA) held at the Port

Port Expansion Planning

  • Planning for the Port Expansion is lodged with An Bord Pleanála

Port Expansion Hearing

  • Oral Hearing for the Port Expansion is held in January

Seafest, LÉ Aisling & LÉ W.B. Yeats

  • The Port plays host to Seafest which draws 60,000 people to the city’s quays. Galway chosen for a return of WIORA. In June LÉ AISLING was decommissioned at a ceremony at Mulvoy Quay. In October, the latest Irish naval vessel LÉ W.B. Yeats is commissioned at the Port

ORIANA Arrives

  • Seafest is another success, attracting over 100,000 people to learn all about “ships and the sea”. The largest cruise ship calls to Galway. P&O’s ORIANA with 2,800 passengers and crew