Last weekend I went to Galway with the intention of visiting Galway’s medieval sites and writing up something about it. Galway and the west of Ireland lived up to its reputation: it has loads of really amazing historical sites but it also rains a phenomenal amount aswell. Given I was naively optimistic, without a rain coat, I only caught a tiny part of medieval Galway as I avoided the rain. However I got to spend an hour in St Nicholas’ Cathedral and this alone was well worth the trip.
St Nicolas’ Cathedral Galway was built in the 14th century getting its name not from any christmas association but rather its maritime heritage – St Nicolas is the patron saint of Mariners. Since the medieval period Galway has been one of the major ports in the west of Ireland and the only city west of the river Shannon. Like any other major port city it was run by major merchant families and many of these families and the odd visitor have left their mark on St Nicolas’ Cathedral over the last 7 centuries.
So here’s St Nicolas’s Cathedral in photo’s and a medieval musician I came across and filmed!……..
The above pictures show the knave (left) and transcepts (right). The Cathedral was built in a compact cruiform shape like most Western European cathedrals. In ordinary terms the knave is the longside while the transcepts are the short sides that jut out forming the cross-shape.
The cathedral has a more modern feel to it than many other similarly aged cathedrals which I think is due in no small part to the fact the walls are plastered. However you are immediately reminded of the cathedrals age by a medieval water font right inside the door (above).
What I was most struck by was the window in the southern Transcept. The window itself (in the above centre) is a beautifully carved stone frame but one either side are the remains of two angels (left and right above) are both defaced. These smashed angels are a fascinating reminder of 17th century conflict in Ireland. These were both smashed by puritans in Oliver Cromwell’s new model army when they arrived in Galway in 1652. This was not a random act of vandalism – the puritans were fanatically opposed to icons believing them to be idoltrous. They used the cathedral as a stables, a fate also shared by several other churches including the Black Abbey in Kilkenny.
The walls are littered with funerary momuments. They really give the history of the cathedral a personal aspec.t. This one reads “HERE LYE THE BODY OF HENRY WALTERS WHO DYED 12 OF MAY 1709 t HIS WIFE CATHERIN WALTERS AND THEIR POSTERITIS”
It was not unusual for the rich to leave money to the poor in their wills. Unfortunately this was more an effort to be remembered than any consideration for the less well off. Although not legible (apologies) the patron of the monument above left money to feed the poor of Galway who they refer to as “Objects”!
In the Northern section of the knave the most visible monuments are all dedicated to the dead of World War One. This large celtic cross contains the names of those killed in World War I.
Fixed to the walls are standards of the Connaught Rangers the British army unit levied in the West of Ireland including this flag in an apt state of repair reflective of the fortunes of a unit savaged in the blood bath of World War I.
The entire floor along the Northern wall is faced with reused grave slabs of craftsmen of the city. If you look carefully you can see the tools of each trade marked out on each slab. There is dividers and a set square on the slab in this image. On the top of the photo you can see hammers depicted on the slab, depicting stone masons.
These are just a few of literally dozens of artefacts around the Cathedral walls that you can spend a hour or two perusing. The Cathedral is situated in the centre of Galway just off Shop Street a is free of charge and comes highly recommended.
After the cathedral we ventured out into the pouring rain (testified to by the drop on the lense above!) and made our way to the city museum. Entering the museum we passed through Galways famous Spanish Arch (above) which cuts through the last remaining section of city walls. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the arches is not their appearance – they are relatively benal, but they were severely dammged in a tsunmai in 1755!
Unfortuntaley the museum was closed but this guy was performing there in the “Early music festival” – something you dont see everyday!