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Galway City History

Galway first appears in recorded history as a strategic royal fortress built by King Turlough O'Connor of Connaught in the year 1124. After the Norman conquest led by the powerful De Burgo family in 1232, the wood and earthen fort was replaced by a stone castle with adjoining hall, and by 1270 the city wall building programme had begun. In 1484 King Richard III granted the town a charter allowing total independence from outside control and transferring power from the De Burgo overlords to the leading merchant families, later known as the fourteen tribes of Galway.

In the following year Pope Innocent VIII issued a papal bull (decree) granting Galway a church wardenship allowing it to administer its own ecclesiastical affairs. The royal charter had empowered the city to elect its own mayor and corporation (local government) initiating a period of sustained prosperity, making Galway one of the richest and most powerful city states in Europe.

The newly independent City-State traded mainly in wine, salt, fish and iron, becoming the next port after London and Bristol while the wealth of its citizens was expressed in the many fine stone-faced buildings erected during the later medieval period. However the aftermath of the parliamentarian and religious wars of the 17th century saw Galway and its old merchant families much reduced in status. A partial economic recovery was to take place during the early 19th century based on the city’s waterpower industries including that of the famous Persse Whiskey Distillery on Nuns Island.

Despite the ravages of the great famine the 19th century also saw the introduction of the railway to Galway, the construction of a new harbour and the establishment of a university on the west bank of the River Corrib. In recent times Galway has become an important centre for promoting the arts and culture and has rediscovered its old prosperity with the development of large scale tourism and a hi-tech industrial base.