A New Discovery:
Hidden behind a modern partition, stripped away during refurbishments at a city centre hotel, lay pieces of an ancient and intricately carved stone entrance, salvaged from the long lost mansions of Galway’s merchant tribes.
During recent renovation works at the site of the former Jury’s Inn, now rebranded as the Leonardo Hotel, workmen uncovered remnants of a medieval doorway that once welcomed guests to the great manor houses of the city.
“A partial doorway has been uncovered and, although it’s not complete, it’s still a significant find,” says Galway Walks guide and tourism professional, Brian Nolan.
“Like the marriage stone unearthed during the recent revamp of the bar, we have to find the origins of this medieval doorway. It was definitely moved to this location at one time in our history.”
A Haunting Heritage:
These majestic doorways provide a glimpse into Galway’s architectural past and preserve the legacy of a city that was destroyed during the Cromwellian conquest during the siege of 1651-1652.
They are all that remain of the opulent manor houses of the 14 Tribes of Galway, powerful merchant families who dominated the political, commercial and social landscape of the city at the time.
For over 700 years, people have passed through these stoic stone entrances, some leaving a ghostly trail in their wake.
“There are seven separate ghosts in Galway city,” explains Nolan, “many of them sitting in the doorways, both modern and medieval.
“I know of one lady in spirit who resides in a doorway on Kirwans Lane, one of our oldest streets. Many have seen her there. A lot of Galway’s doorways are haunted – but mostly by friendly spirits!”
Elaborate Stonework in the City:
In fact, all of the major manor houses of the period had elaborate stone entrances inscribed with a coat of arms, a family motto and detailed etchings.
According to Nolan, the biggest homes at the time belonged to the Lynch, Blake, Kirwan and Ffrench families.
“Our city was completely destroyed during the siege of 1651-1652,” explains Nolan.
“Most of the beautiful mansions and townhouses were so badly damaged they had to be demolished.
“While the city was rebuilt completely in the 18th and 19th century, tantalising remnants of the doorways to these beautiful merchant houses can still be found on the streets of Galway, if you know where to look.”
As a walking tour guide, he knows exactly where to spot these insights into our heritage.
From the fragments found at Jurys, to the restored Browne’s Doorway in Eyre Square, he has the local knowledge and fascinating stories into these relics of the past.
“There is a lovely one leading into Kirbys,” he says, “and another of note at Judy Greenes. The one at the old museum building has two pineapples at the top, a sign of welcome.
“There is one opposite Easons on Shop Street, where James Gallagher plays his music, and there’s a fine example behind the Franciscan church, where the Mercy convent nuns have their nursing home, there’s a gorgeous one there.
The Browne Doorway:
Perhaps the most noteworthy and recognisable, the Browne Doorway in Eyre Square, is one of the many that survived the destruction wrought by Cromwell’s army.
Rescued by the Galway Historical Society, the Browne Doorway was originally part of the Browne mansion of 1627.
Upon demolition of the great house, the doorway was moved from its original location in 1905, to become a feature and main entrance of a gated Eyre Square.
When the railings were removed in 1984, as part of the cities quincentenaries’ celebrations, they were relocated to St Nicholas Collegiate Church, leaving the Browne Doorway as a freestanding landmark.
However, for Nolan, the relocation of the iconic structure could be reconsidered.
“If you look at the back of McDonaghs fish and chip shop, it looks like the very shape of Brownes Doorway, and it’s possibly where it should be,” he quips in his own inimitable style.
To find out more about Galway’s great doorways and their exact location, or to take part in Brian Nolan’s highly entertaining and informative walks of the city, log on to galwaywalks.ie.