Galway City lies on the River Corrib where it enters Galway Bay. The Irish name for the river is Gaillimh, meaning ‘stony river’, and the original settlement was called Dún Bhun na Gaillimhe, ‘fort at the mouth of the Gaillimh.
One of Galway’s nicknames is ‘City of the Fourteen Tribes’, which refers to the merchant families who controlled the city in the Middle Ages. They are remembered in the flags which fly in Eyre Square in the centre of the city, and also in the names of the many roundabouts (traffic circles) on the Galway ring road.
The city thrived on international trade in the Middle Ages, especially with France and Spain, and the ‘Spanish Arch’ was constructed near the harbour in the 16th century.
There is also a legend that Christopher Columbus visited Galway. Several years later, he wrote a note in his copy of Imago Mundi, saying, “Men of Cathay have come from the west. We have seen many signs. And especially in Galway in Ireland, a man and a woman, of extraordinary appearance, have come to land on two tree trunks.” It is said this is what persuaded him to sail across the Atlantic, having seen the signs of a land beyond the ocean. This monument was presented by the city of Genoa to Galway on the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America.
Galway is also known as Ireland’s Cultural Heart, and there are various music and arts festivals during the year, as well as the International Oyster Festival, and Galway Races.
There are two main churches in Galway, St Nicholas Church of Ireland, and the more imposing Roman Catholic cathedral, with its copper dome, which was built on the site of the city jail in 1958.
Adjacent to the city is Claddagh, originally a small fishing village outside the city walls. The thatched cottages were demolished in the 1930s, and colour washed stone houses now line the quayside.