1st January 1837
Back to List

A snapshot of pre-famine local history, as described in the "Topographical Dictionary of Ireland" by Samuel Lewis, 1837. (The information collected here was submitted by members of the local gentry and clergy of the time).

GALWAY (County of), a maritime county of the province of CONNAUGHT, bounded on the east by the counties of Roscommon, King's county (Offaly), and Tipperary, from the former of which it is separated by the Suck (river), and from the two latter by the river Shannon; on the north, by those of counties of Roscommon and Mayo; on the west, by the Atlantic Ocean; and on the south, by Galway bay and the county of Clare.

  • It extends from 52° 57' to 53° 42' (N. Lat.), and from 7° 53' to 10° 15' (W. Lon.); and comprises an area, according to the Ordnance survey, of 1,510,592 acres, of which 955,713 are cultivated land, 476,957 are unprofitable bog and mountain, and 77,922 are under water.
  • The population, in 1821, exclusively of the town and liberties of Galway, which forms a county of itself, was 309,599; and in 1831, 381,564.

In the time of Ptolemy, this region was inhabited by the Auteri, who spread themselves also into the adjoining counties of Mayo and Roscommon. At a later, though still a very remote, date it was thus parcelled out among tribes or families; Clanconow, or Clonmacnoon, among the Burkes; Clanfirgail, among the O'Hallorans; Hymaine, among the O'Dalys and O'Kellys; Maghullen, now Moycullen, among the O'Flahertys; Silnamchia, now Longford; and Hy-Fiacria-Aidne, after-wards Clanricarde, possessed by the Burkes, Burghs, or De Bourgos.

  • The Burkes or De Bourgos alone were of Anglo Norman descent, and settled here in consequence of a grant made by Henry III. to Richard de Bourgo, of the whole kingdom of Connaught. A border warfare consequently ensued, and De Bourgo succeeded in securing some of the southern parts of the present county of Galway, making Meelick Castle one of his principal strongholds. Under this family the towns of Athenry and Galway considerably increased; and in 1333, William de Bourgo, Earl of Ulster, being assassinated, this part of his possessions was seized by a younger male branch of the family, who assumed the Irish title of Mac William Eighter, which was also adopted by his successors, until their acquisition of that of Earl of Clanricarde. Sir William, or Ulick, was the first Mac William Eighter, and from his son Richard was the name of Clanricarde first given to his territory and people. The limits of his dominion were extended or curtailed according to the strength of arms possessed by the Anglo-Norman chieftain, but they commonly comprehended the six present. baronies of Athenry, Clare, Dunkellin, Kiltartan, Leitrim, and Loughrea.
  • The chief subinfeudators of the De Bourgos were the Birmingham's.
  • Another English colony was in the mean time planted in the northwestern extremity of the county, now forming the barony of Ross, in the reign of Edward I., by Thomas Joyes or Joyce, who married the daughter of an Irish chieftain: they became tributary to the O'Flaherties, adopting the Irish language and customs; and that. part of Connaught is known to the present day by the name of the Joyce's country.
  • The last chieftain of Clanricarde, who bore the title of Mac William Eighter, was Sir William de Burgh, created Earl of Clanricarde by patent of the first of Edward VI. Until the reign of Elizabeth, the county of Galway was regarded as part of the county of Connaught, which comprised all the province of the same name except the county of Roscommon.

The present county, therefore, called after the name of its chief town, has no earlier antiquity as a distinct shire than the re-division of Connaught into shire ground by the Lord-Deputy, Sir Henry Sidney, in 1585. At this time, and until the middle of the 17th century, the septs and families possessing the western parts of the county were the O'Flahertie's, O'Malley's, and Joyce's; the north-eastern districts were held by the Mac David Burkes, and the Birmingham's; in the eastern quarter were the O'Naghtens, O'Fallons, O'Kellys, O'Mullallys, O'Dalys, and a branch of the Birmingham's.

  • Clanricarde contained, besides the territories immediately held by the Earl, the lands of the O'Heynes, O'Maddens, and O'Shaughnessys ;
  • bordering on Lough Corrib were the O'Hallorans ;
  • and in the immediate neighbourhood of the town of Galway were the possession of the Kirwan's, Martins, Blake's, Skerrets, Lynches, French's, Browne's and Darcy's, all mercantile families of that town.

In the rebellion of 1641, this county took part with the confederate Catholics, notwithstanding the exertions of the Marquis of Clanricarde. At the termination of the war a great proportion of the landed property passed into the hands of new families, to whom it was confirmed after the Restoration; and the war of the Revolution served hut to confirm the change.

The whole western portion of the county, between Lough Corrib and the Atlantic Ocean, is frequently called Connemara, signifying, "the Bays of the Ocean;" the name, however, is strictly applicable to only one of the three subdivisions of this district; those of the other two are 'Iar-Connaught' and 'Joyce's' country'. These, respectively, are almost conterminous with the three existing baronies of Ballynahinch, Moycullen, and Ross.


The county is partly in the diocese of Killaloe, and partly in those of Elphin, Kilmacduagh, and Clonfert, but chiefly in the archdiocese of Tuam, and contains the episcopal cities of each of the three last-named dioceses within its limits.

For purposes of civil jurisdiction it is divided into the baronies of Arran, Athenry, Half Ballymoe, Ballynahinch, Clare, Clonmacnoon, Dunkellin, Dunmore, Kilconnell, Killian, Kiltartan, Leitrim, Longford, Loughrea, Moycullen, Ross, and Tyaquin. It contains,

  • independently of the provincial capital, which forms a separate county, the corporate and market-towns of Tuam and Athenry;
  • the market and post-towns of Loughrea, Eyrecourt, Gort, and Headford;
  • the greater part of the market-town of Ballinasloe;
  • the sea-port and post town of Clifden; and
  • the post-towns of Ahascragh, Aughrim, Castleblakeney, Dunmore, Portumna, Oranmore, Craughwell, Oughterard, Kilconnell, Monivae, and Dangan,
  • The largest among its numerous villages are Mount Bellew, Woodford, Kinvarra, and Mount-Shannon.


Prior to the Union, it sent six representatives to the Irish parliament, two for the county at large, and two for each of the boroughs of Tuam and Athenry ; since that period, its sole representatives, exclusive of those of the town of Galway, have been the two sent by the county to the Imperial Parliament; the members are elected at Galway. The constituency, in January 1836, was, freeholders, 364 of £50, 224 of £20, and 3053 of £10; clergymen, registering out of their respective incumbencies, 24 of £50 5 of £20, and 3 of £10; rent-chargers, 5 of £50, and 9 of £20; making a total of 3681 registered electors.

The county is included in the Connaught circuit: the assizes are held at Galway, and general sessions of the peace are held twice in the year at each of the towns of Loughrea, Tuam, Eyrecourt, and Gort. The county courthouse and gaol are in Galway; and there are bridewells at Clifden, Eyrecourt, Loughrea, Tuam, Woodford, Ballinasloe, and Gort. The number of persons charged with criminal offences and committed, in 1835, was 651.

The local government is vested in a lord-lieutenant, 21 deputy-lieutenants, and 151 magistrates, besides whom there are the usual county officers, including four coroners. There are 99 constabulary police stations, in which are a force consisting of 12 chief constables, 122 constables, 540 sub-constables, and 15 horses: the expense of its maintenance is defrayed partly by the county and partly by the government. There is also a peace preservation police of one magistrate, one chief constable, 13 constables, 42 sub-constables, and 4 horses.

The county infirmary and fever hospital is at Galway, and there is a fever hospital at Ballinasloe, where also is the district lunatic asylum for Connaught; and there are dispensaries at Claran Bridge, Dunmore, Ballymoe, Portumna, Tuam, Loughrea, Ballinasloe, Kiltulla, Headford, Ahascragh, Clifden, Ballygar, Miltown, Killane, Monivea, Glanmodda, Oughterard, Gort, Killyan, and Eyrecourt, maintained by private subscriptions and Grand Jury presentments.

The total amount of the Grand Jury presentments, for the year 1835, was £43,938. 8s. 71/4 d, of which £1443. 0s. 6 1/2 d., was for the public roads and bridges of the county at large; £11,197. 3s. 1 1/4 d for the public roads, being the baronial charge; £12,905. 7s. 9d. for public establishments, officers salaries, buildings, &c., and £14,022. 7s. 5 1/2 d. for the police.

In the military arrangements the county is included in the western district, except Mount-Shannon, which is in the south-western; and contains six barrack stations, three for cavalry at Loughrea, Gort, and Dunmore, two for infantry at Ballinasloe and Oughterard, and one for artillery at Mount-Shannon, affording in the whole accommodation for 21 officers and 415 men.


Lough Corrib divides the county into two unequal portions, which differ very considerably from each other in several important points; the eastern is, for the most part, fertile, and comparatively level; the western is rugged, mountainous, and barren.

  • The former of these, with the exception of the Slievebaughta mountains, which separate it from Clare (county), is generally flat and uninteresting. A very fine vein of land, supposed by some to be a continuation of the Golden Vale of the south, proceeds from Gort by Loughrea to Aughrim and Ballinasloe; and in the northern part, about Dunmore, the country is exceedingly picturesque, being highly diversified with hill and dale, and mostly rich pasture or tillage. The land between Oranmore and Monivae exhibits a sterile surface, covered with short heath and fern, yet with a substratum of limestone gravel.
  • Amongst the mountains of the western portion, those of Benabola, commonly called the Twelve Pins, are the most elevated: they lie midway between Lough Corrib and Aghris point, in a western direction, and between Birtirbuy and Killery bays. in a northern, covering a space of about six miles square, and consist of two ranges or groups connected by the elevated pass of Maam Ina. Knockenhiggeen, the highest, is 2400 feet high. The cliff on the south side of Glen Ina is particularly grand, being a naked perpendicular precipice of about 1200 feet, over which a considerable sheet of waterfalls.
  • On the east of the same vale, a chain of hills proceeds along the boundary of the barony of Ross: the passes through which are known by the name of Maam, a term also used in the highlands of Scotland; they are called Maam-Turk in the north of Derbyshire. But the western district, although mountainous, is not an upland country like county Wicklow.

At least three-fourths of Connemara proper are less than l00 feet above the level of the sea. A great part of Iar-Connaught rises from the shore of Galway bay, by a gentle elevation to about 300 feet, at the upper edge of which there are some hills of about 700 feet, and beyond them a low lime-stone country, to the edge of Lough Corrib, which is but little elevated above the level of that lake. Joyce's' country, on the other hand, is an elevated tract, with flat-topped mountains from 900 to 2000 feet high, and intersected by deep and narrow valleys. the entire western part of the county is justly regarded as one of the most uncultivated parts of Ireland, presenting in a general view a continuous tract of bog and mountain; the quantity of arable land not amounting to one-fiftieth of the whole; yet the greater portion of it is capable of being reclaimed, being everywhere covered with a surface of peat, with a declivity sufficient for drainage, and intersected by numerous layers of limestone rock, thus affording an inexhaustible supply of material for the best manure, and of that of fuel for its preparation.


Of the lakes, of which there are upwards of 150 of every size, the largest and most interesting is Lough Corrib, covering a surface of upwards of 30,000 acres. It derives its origin from several streams in Joyce's country, and assuming the form and magnitude of a lake near Castlekirk island, spreads to a considerable breadth near Cong where it has a subterranean communication with Lough Mask, in the county of Mayo, from which it is about two miles distant: it narrows at the ferry of Knock, and again suddenly expands, until, about two miles from Galway, it assumes the character of a river, which it retains to the sea. It receives several large rivers, and at its outlet seems to be fully equal to the Shannon, at Athlone, but more rapid. The islands in it comprehend together about 1000 acres: they are Inchiquin, Inishrater, Inishnavoe, Island Shendela, Inishgall, and Inishdarus, inhabited; and Castlekirk, Ennisdavey, Ennisrobin, and St. Francis's, uninhabited. Its level is about fourteen feet above high watermark, and it rises about three feet in floods. This lake is navigable from its head down to Galway, and a plan for a water communication by means of lockage, between it and the sea, has been estimated at a cost of £13,000. Between the mountains of Maam and Galway bay, a line of lakes, 27 in number, extends in a westerly direction from Oughterard to Ballynahinch, a distance of 23 miles; the principal are Loughs Fuogh, Baffin, Derryclare, Uriel, Poulnagopple, and Ballynahinch, which latter empties itself into the bay of Birtirbuy. Loughrea, situated near the road from Dublin to Galway, and giving name to a barony and a large town, is remarkable as well for its extent as for its picturesque scenery.

  • Lough Ross is in Joyces' country; it receives the waters of several rivers and numerous mountain streams, yet has no visible outlet; there are numerous small but very interesting lakes near Roundstone, scattered over various parts.
  • Lough Mask is bounded on the whole of its western shores by the county of Galway; a high ridge of land, about three miles in breadth, separates it from Lough Corrib. A subterraneous communication between these lakes serves as a vent for the waters of the former, the whole of which, after passing through a series of extensive caverns, rises again in numerous magnificent springs near Cong; and, after turning several mills, hastens by a rapid course to mingle with the waters of Lough Corrib.
  • Some tracts, called Turloughs, which are dry in summer, assume the appearance of lakes in winter, owing to their outlets being insufficient to discharge their accumulated water. The largest is that of Turloughmore, which covers a large tract near Tuam; the next in extent is near Rahasane; and there are several smaller. They maintain seven or eight sheep to the acre, for about four months in summer, but in wet seasons are scarcely of any value.

The coast from Killery bay to the county of Clare presents a bold line of cliffs indented by numerous fine bays and inlets, many of which are adequate to receive vessels of every description. After passing Renville point, at the north of Killery, the harbour of Ballynakill presents itself, capable of accommodating large ships, and protected by Truchelaun or Heath island.

  • The bay of Claggan, about two miles in length, is more open than the preceding, though protected in some degree by the island of Innisbofin. From Claggan to Aghris cape, the most western point of the county, the shore is low, and near it are Crua, High, and Friar islands, exhibiting only a few monastic ruins.
  • Streamstown is a long inlet, narrow and dangerous, and, therefore, frequented only by smugglers: at some distance from it is Omey island, and within it are the cultivated islands of Tarbert and Innisturk.
  • Ardbear harbour branches into two inlets, the northern of which terminates at the rising town of Clifden; the southern enjoys the benefit of a salmon fishery. Mannin bay, though extensive, is but little frequented by large vessels; but a good kelp shore and a valuable herring fishery bring many boats to it occasionally. Between it and Roundstone bay is the peninsula of Bunowen, terminating at Slyne Head.
  • From Slyne Head, where two lighthouses have been erected, the coast turns eastward to Roundstone bay, the entrance to which is sheltered by the islands of Innisnee and Innislacken. Near its mouth is the new village of Roundstone : this harbour could shelter the whole navy of England.
  • The boggy peninsula of Rosrua intervenes between Roundstone and Birtirbuy bays, which latter, though deep and with good anchorage, is little frequented: in the offing is the island of Cruanakely, used as a deer-park. The islands of Masa, Mynish, and Finish, south of this peninsula, are inhabited by a population actively engaged in the kelp trade and the fisheries. In Elanmacdara are some curious monastic remains.
  • Kilkerran bay has a most productive kelp shore, of nearly one hundred miles in extent, including those of its islands, although the direct distance across its mouth to the western point of Costello bay is but eight miles. A series of fords, passable on foot at low water, but navigable for boats during the height of the tide, connects the islands of Garomna, Littermore, Littermullen, Knappagh, and Furrinish, which lie on its eastern coast: between Garomna and the peninsula of Killeen is Greatman's bay, a safe harbour for vessels of moderate draught.
  • Caslah or Costello bay, to the east of Killeen, is the most eastern of the harbours of Connemara. This district, therefore, exhibits some very extraordinary features: it contains upwards of twenty safe and capacious harbours, fit for vessels of any burden, about 25 navigable lakes in the interior, each a mile or more in length, besides more than 100 smaller, and commands a coast line, including that of its islands, of not less than 400 miles.
  • South of the county is Galway bay, having its entrance protected by the islands of Arran, described under their own head, and including the minor harbours of Oranmore, Renville or New harbour, one of the finest stations along the coast, having a natural pier with 14 feet of water at ebb tide, improved and deepened by an artificial structure.
  • Further south are Kilcolgan Point, whence the first Marquess of Clanrickard took his final departure from Ireland during the troubles of 1641; Kinvara harbour, protected by Edey island; and the peninsula of Duras, with which is connected that of Aghnish, a detached portion of Clare, which county forms the southern boundary of this magnificent bay.


The climate, though subject to storms and rain, is peculiarly healthful; the prevalence of disease being more attributable to the habits of the humbler classes than to the influence of the atmosphere. Frost or snow seldom lies long on the western coast, and cattle of every kind remain out during the winter, but the summers are commonly wet.

The soil of the eastern portion is in general suited to every kind of crop, and produces wheat of the best description, particularly to the south of Galway. Much of the land, however, being light and rocky, is better adapted for sheep feeding.

  • The northern parts near Tuam improve in quality, and still further north they are all rich pasture or excellent tillage ground. On the south shore of Lough Corrib, where cultivation has made the greatest progress, the arable land is interspersed with extensive tracts of naked limestone rock, of a most desolate aspect; and it appears to be only by incessant exertions that a few patches of soil have been won from the general waste. These spots are, nevertheless, of the greatest fertility, and the pasturage among the rocks is peculiarly fine.
  • The other parts of Connemara are for the most part barren moors, consisting of bog of various depths, upon a bottom of primitive rock of difficult decomposition, and affording little soil ; but several beds of limestone run through the country, and arc distinguishable by the verdure in their vicinity. For improving the lands of this district there are convenient banks of shell and coral sand on all the coast, especially in the bays of Kilkerran, Birtirbuy, Bunown, and Mannin : that of Kilkerran, Birtirbuy, and Mannin is pure coralline.

Wheat is the crop at which the farmer mostly aims, and it is always sown after potatoes, except in moory soils, when oats form the succession. The want of manure for potatoes is supplied by hiring land and paring and burning the surface: the ground is skinned, or 'scrawed' by a spade, sharp and broad at the end, with a considerable bend in the blade to prevent the necessity of stooping. Where seaweed is used, the potatoes are planted on it after it has dried; as, when used fresh, it injures the potato sets. A dry spring always ensures a plentiful crop of potatoes; a wet one, on the contrary, is the usual forerunner of scarcity.

On the sea coast corallines are also used for manure, the succession being potatoes, wheat, oats, and, in sandy soils, barley, and then potatoes with a fresh manuring. In many places on the sea coast, very fine early potatoes are raised in several feet of pure sea sand, manured by seaweed, and after that fine barley, which is mostly consumed by the innumerable private stills of Connemara. The small farmers or cottiers till almost exclusively with the spade. Crops of every kind on the lands of cottiers are generally carefully weeded.

  • The chief markets for grain are Galway, Loughrea, Tuam, Ballinasloe, Gort, Eyrecourt, Mount Bellew, and Clifden; they are well supplied.
  • The numerous flour-mills lately established have tended much to increase and improve the cultivation of wheat. Among the green crops, the use of which is daily extending, that of 'fiorin' is peculiarly encouraged, as being found among the most productive and congenial to the soil.

Pasturage is carried on to a great extent. Heathy sheep-walks occupy a tract of dreary country ten miles square, between Monivae and Galway. A considerable quantity of pasture is obtained from the turloughs, particularly the Turloughmore: there is also an extensive range of many miles between Athenry and Ardrahan, stretching down to the sea at Kinvarra, chiefly occupied by sheep: the baronies of Ballynahinch, Ross, and Moycullen, are all under pasture, with the exception of patches of tillage in the valleys. To many farms large tracts of moory bottom are attached, which, if judiciously drained, a process as yet but ill understood and little practised, would amply repay the outlay.

Agriculture as a system is in a backward state, except in the neighbourhood of Ballinasloe, Tuam, Hollymount, and Gort, where the rotation and green crop systems have been introduced. The barony of Kiltartan has also made rapid strides in this respect since 1833, at which time the first clover and vetches were sown; they are generally cut and carried away as green fodder. The deepest and best soils in the county are around Ballymoe and Tyaquin. In most of the eastern portion of the county the iron plough and light angular harrow are generally used; but the land is never ploughed sufficiently deep, the antiquated system of merely turning up the old soil being adhered to: in most parts grain of every kind is sown too late, hence it sustains great injury in wet seasons.

Hay is rarely cut till the month of September, and even then very injudiciously managed; the greater quantity of hay is produced on low meadows, here called 'Callows', where it is put up in large 'cocks' in the field and suffered to remain until November; hence it is always much injured with rain and liable to be washed away by the autumnal floods.

  • Although the iron plough is very general, the old wooden plough is retained in many places. Threshing and winnowing machines are sometimes seen, but only with the gentry.
  • One-horse carts with spoke wheels are so general that the old solid wooden-wheeled car is now seldom seen, and the slide car never. Waggons of a very superior construction, drawn by two horses abreast, are frequent in the neighbourhood of Galway.
  • In Connemara, Iar-Connaught, and Joyce's. Country, wheeled vehicles are almost unknown; everything, even to the manure and grain, being carried upon the backs of men or horses.
  • Dairy farms are by no means general, but a good deal of butter is made, particularly at Barna, in the neighbourhood of Galway.

Farms are of every size; those of large extent are mostly in the mountains, and used for pasturing young and store cattle; they are always held in bulk. Those in the valleys and on the sea coast are mostly small, but in the plain, or eastern portions of the county, the size of the farms varies from 20 to 200 acres. The principal manure is the surface of the turbary, called black bog or moreen, carried home in baskets, spread over the yard, and mixed with dung, clay; or gravel. Another manure is ashes, produced by burning the surface sod, as already noticed. Coralline, commonly called oyster bank sand, is used in Connemara, with the best effect: wet moory land has been converted by it into rich meadow, mostly of fiorin grass, which has continued to throw up a fine sward for forty years. Lime and limestone gravel, found in the escars is much used, particularly to the south of Galway. Sea-weed of every kind is applied to the soil as manure, particularly for potatoes and vegetables: its effect is powerful but transient. Irrigation is little practised. The fences are walls, formerly of dry stones rudely piled up, but latterly more carefully built, from 3 to 6 feet high, and topped with sods; the clearing of the ground generally supplies the materials. Ditches are not common.

The breed of black cattle has been greatly improved within the last few years. The favourite stock is a cross between the Durham and the old long-horned native cow: the cross between the old Leicester bull and the native thrives well in hilly and exposed situations. The old Irish cow is still seen. Sheep are also a very favourite stock: the new Leicester, first introduced by Mr. Taaffe, is peculiarly prized both for carcass and fleece. The cross between the new Leicester and the native sheep, though not so large as the preceding, is celebrated for the flavour of its mutton; its wool, though short, is good. The South-down sheep have degenerated, the fleece becoming short and coarse.

The fairs of Ballinasloe, which are particularly noticed in the article on that place, regulate the prices of sheep and black cattle throughout Ireland. The character of the Galway horses, both as roadsters and hunters, has been long celebrated. Connemara was famed for its breed of small hardy horses, but they have latterly lost character in consequence of an injudicious cross with large stallions; the genuine breed is now extremely scarce. Pigs are numerous, and of every variety of breed. Goats are frequently met with, but not in flocks. The old red deer is sometimes seen in the mountains of Connemara and Joyces' Country, but the race is almost extinct,

The quantity of large full-grown timber found in the bogs proves that the county, though now nearly bare, was once well wooded: the hilly districts abound more in bog timber than the plain country, The trees most usually found are oak and fir, the latter of which is manufactured into ropes, which resist damp better than those of hemp. Yew of considerable size and finely grained is frequently found, Another proof that the soil is well adapted for the growth of timber may be drawn from the fact, that in almost every dry knoll or cliff the oak, beech, and hazel may be found shooting up in abundance, when not checked by the destructive browsing of goats. The plantations at present are mostly confined to skreens round gentlemen's demesnes. Although the county now exhibits such tracts of neglected waste, several attempts on a large scale to improve its natural advantages have been made. A farming society was formerly held at Loughrea; the Farming Society of Ireland held its great annual meeting at Ballinasloe till its dissolution; and the newly formed Agricultural Society of Ireland holds one of its periodical meetings in the same town.

The general fuel of the county is turf, of which the stores contained in the bogs of the western districts are deemed inexhaustible, and great quantities are taken by boats to the county of Clare, as well as to the isles of Arran, and the inner shores of Galway bay. The only parts where any scarcity of this fuel is experienced are in the districts bordering on the shores of Galway bay, and in the line from the town of Galway to Athenry and Monivae: the use of sea-coal is almost confined to the town of Galway.


In a geological point of view, the county may be considered as divided into two great regions, the limestone and the granite: the high road from Galway to Oughterard nearly marks the division, which is also discernible to the eye of an intelligent observer by the decline of the verdant hue that enlivens the former. The country north and east of this boundary line is limestone; that to the south and west, with a few minor exceptions, is granite. The Slievebaughta mountains are silicious; the great group of Benabola chiefly quartz: Poulacopple mountain is hornblende. Between Ballynakill bay and Ardbear is a tract of mica-slate and quartz interspersed with veins of primitive limestone. The same formation runs through the hills to Oughterard; it contains very beautiful serpentine and verd antique. The largest deposit of it is in the centre of the Benabola group, where it is nearly unattainable in consequence of the difficulty of conveyance; but the most valuable quarries are at Bawnanoran and Lissouter, near the head of Birtirbuy, whence the splendid chimney-piece presented to Geo. IV., and now in the Carlton Club House, was taken. A quarry at Letterlough contains a marble of a deep green porphyritic substance, unique in character and appearance, Lead ore has been found in many places, nodules of which of very pure quality are frequently met with in the mountain streams, and along the seashore. Iron ore was extensively worked, while timber was plentiful for smelting it. At a quarry at Dunmore, millstones are made, said to be superior to those of France. A crystalline sand, of very superior quality for scythe boards, occurs at Lough Coutra, for which mowers come from twenty miles' distance, Manganese has been found in Slieve-an oir, near the border of Clare. The limestone, except that of Connemara, contains fossil remains in various quantities, from that of Oughterard, disfigured by sections of large shells, to the beautiful marbles of Angliham, Menlo, Renville, and Merlin Park, near Galway, which are of a fine black, nearly pure, and highly prized in England and in Dublin. At Ballyleigh, near Gort, a fine black marble has long been used; some of superior quality is found near Athenry; and a very beautiful grey marble has been discovered at Woodbrook. Near Ardfry, and in Mr. D'Arcy's demesne, in Connemara, large beds of oyster shells may be seen many feet above high water mark.


Coarse linen was formerly manufactured to some extent. it was generally of the kind called 'bandle' linen, but the fabric was not good. The principal markets for it were Loughrea and Tuam, where also a considerable quantity of linen yarn was sold. A diaper manufacture flourished for some time, but is also extinct. In Connemara some fine linen was manufactured, and a large quantity of coarse, the latter chiefly for domestic use. Canvas for bags is in good demand; a very coarse kind is bought at Tuam, for packing wool: large quantities also are sent to Cork, Waterford, and Limerick, for packing bacon for exportation.

The woollen manufacture consists chiefly of flannels and friezes for home sale. A considerable quantity of white friezes and caddow blankets is manufactured and sold at Galway and Longhrea, and in the neighbourhood of the former of these towns flannels are woven to a large extent. Knit woollen stockings are made and sold in Connemara, to the amount of nearly £10,000 per annum: the wool is peculiarly fine, and they possess a much greater degree of softness and elasticity than any woven stocking, but from being made only of a single thread, they afford but little wear.

The manufacture of kelp, commenced about the year 1700, was very general, and tolerably productive: when first exported it sold from 14s. to 16s. per ton, and gradually rose in price to £13 per ton : about 10,000 tons of it were annually made in Connemara, but the removal of the duty on salt has nearly destroyed the trade, and the weed is now sold as manure.

Paper is manufactured in the town of Galway, and a good deal of it sent to the Dublin market.

There is also in that town a considerable manufacture of black marble chimney-pieces, much prized as being wholly free from white marks. Tobacco pipes and coarse pottery are also made there, and at Creggs and Dunsandle. Coarse felt hats and straw bonnets are made at Loughrea, and some other places.

The trade in grain employs 23 flour-mills, six oatmeal-mills, and two malt-mills in Galway town alone; and there are twelve other large flour-mills in different places. After supplying the home demand; the rest of the produce is sent to Dublin, to the amount of about 12,000 tons annually, from the Galway mills.


A valuable source of employment to this county is its fisheries, which, however, notwithstanding the abundance of fish on its coasts, have heretofore scarcely sufficed to supply the home demand, owing to the want of skill and systematic industry among the fishermen.

  • The fishery for the basking shark, commonly called the sun-fish, commences in April, and continues for about six weeks : a single fish produces from four to twelve barrels, each of 30 gallons, of oil; but the boats engaged are few, and too small to venture into deep water, yet even under this defective system the fishery produces oil of the value of several thousand pounds annually.
  • The cod and ling fishery commences in February, when these fish approach the shore from the great bank that lies seven or eight leagues from the land; the quantity of ling exceeds that of cod, in the proportion of five to one.
  • The herring fishery commences at a later period than formerly, and is said to be less productive: the season begins in February or March, and during its continuance, all other fishing is nearly abandoned. When it commences at Galway, almost the entire of the male population of the neighbouring villages flock to the shore to assist and have a certain share of the profits. Five thousand herrings are reckoned a middling night's capture for one boat: all that are taken are sold to supply the home demand, which is so far from being satisfied that many cargoes are brought from the north-west coast. Some times several men join in a boat and nets for this fishery, many of whom are tradesmen in different branches, who at this period abandon their usual occupations.
  • The bay of Galway abounds with every kind of fish, including shell-fish, and the white fishery might consequently be made of considerable value. There are about 500 fishing-boats belonging to the bay, besides 200 or 250 belonging to the Claddagh village, near the town. Lobsters are generally in great abundance; on some parts of the coast they are put into holes in the rocks that are covered at half ebb, and fed to a large size with fish and other food.
  • At the falls of Ballinahinch, between the lake of that name and the bay of Round-stone, is a very valuable salmon fishery, being the most profitable in Ireland, except those of Ballina and Coleraine: there is another at Galway, between Lough Corrib and the sea, and a third at the head of the Killery; and there is in Lough Corrib abundance of trout, especially the much-esteemed gillaroo trout.
  • Oysters of superior quality abound on the coast of Connemara, and all round the bay of Galway, and are in season nearly the whole year.
  • Pearls of great beauty, but not very large, have been taken from the pearl muscles in several rivers, particularly near Oughterard.


The Suck is the principal river: it receives the Shiven at Muckenagh, and near Ballinasloe the Ahascragh from the west, and joins the Shannon at Shannon bridge: its course is in general very sluggish, and it does much damage every year by overflowing its banks.

  • The canal from Ballinasloe to the Shannon, an extension of the Grand Canal from Dublin, is chiefly fed from this river.
  • The Shannon borders only a small portion of the eastern side of the county, between the confluence of the Suck and Mount Shannon, separating it from the King's county and Tipperary.
  • The Black river, or Shruel, empties itself into Lough Corrib, as does also the Moyne: both these rivers are subject to inundations; and the former sinks into the ground through an aperture called a swallow, at a short distance from the town of Shruel, but soon emerges through several large springs.
  • The Carnamart passes through the southern part of the county, and empties itself into the eastern extremity of the bay of Galway.
  • The Ballynahinch river has a short but rapid course from the Twelve Pins mountains to Birtirbuy bay.


The roads are numerous, and generally in excellent repair; the materials for making them being everywhere abundant and good. The principal lines are the mail-coach roads from Dublin to Galway, and to Tuam, Castlebar, and Westport, which intersect the county from. east to west. Several new lines have been lately made through the western part. One line, commencing at Oughterard, proceeds by the lakes to Ballinahinch and Clifden, with numerous lines branching from it into the centre of the mountains. Another line passes from Clifden by Streamstown, Banynakil, Kilmore, and Killery, into the county of Mayo, with several branch lines leading chiefly to the coast, These lines, with their several branches, extend through a distance of 127 miles, and although they are carried through the midst of the mountainous district, they seldom deviate from the level.


There are seven ancient round towers in the county; at Kilmacduagh, Ballygaddy, Kilhannon, Meelick, Roscam Murrough, and Ardrahan. Raths are numerous: a very fine ruin of this kind is to be seen in Arranmore. Cromlechs are also found in several places; one in good preservation in the demesne of Marble hill, another near Dunsandle, and another of very curious construction at Monument hill, near Loughrea, The remains of ancient monastic buildings are very numerous, and are noticed in the accounts of the places where they are respectively situated: the most celebrated is that of the Cistercian monastery at Knockmoy, about six miles from Tuam. Ancient castles are also numerous; some of them are in ruins, and others still kept in repair, as places of residence. Between Gort and Kilmacduagh are the remains of a round castle, a style of architecture uncommon in such buildings,

  • The seats of the opulent gentry are very numerous and well built and are noticed in the articles on their respective parishes.
  • Those of the farmers are of very defective construction; the floors are generally below the level of the soil; the windows and often stopped up, so that the light enters only through the door; the offices badly constructed and arranged,
  • The dwellings of the peasantry are still worse, often of dry stones or of sods, and thatched: this description applies more forcibly to the western part of the county, though even there and other parts there are many laudable exceptions,
  • In Connemara proper and Joyces' Country the population is thinly scattered along the coast, and by the sides of the old rugged roads; in Iar-Connaught it is dense, and the holders of land in better circumstances than those of the preceding districts, who combine fishing with farming; yet throughout the whole of the three districts there is scarcely a comfortable house, and the habits and appearance of the families, who have means sufficient to improve their condition, are little better than those of the indigent,
  • The food is invariably the potato, with fish in Connemara, where also cows are a frequent appendage to the small farmer's home-stead, as is a cabbage garden to his cottage,
  • The clothing is of home-made frieze for the men: flannel jackets and petticoats, generally of blue and dark red, were the prevailing dress of the women, but they are giving way to cottons,
  • The men in winter generally wear shoes and stockings, also home-made; the women frequently go barefooted, Beer is now much more in demand than formerly, Un-licensed whiskey is still made in great quantities in the mountainous districts.
  • The lower classes exhibit the strongest proofs of industry when working for themselves, as is shown by their care in clearing the ground of stones, and in the reclamation of bog when they are secured in a profitable tenure.

The use of the English language is daily increasing in all parts. The Irish language, however, is said to be still spoken better here than in any other part of the island, both with respect to idiom and pronunciation. The crying at funerals, the attendance at wakes, and other old customs are still preserved.

The county almost everywhere abounds with springs of the purest water; those of Eyrecourt and Kilconnel abbey are peculiarly celebrated. A spring near the rocky summit of Knocknae is never dry.

  • The most remarkable of the mineral springs, which are numerous and mostly chalybeate, are at Oughterard, Kiltulla, and Kingston; the last is pronounced by Kirwan to be one of the best in Europe: another near Dunsandle is much frequented.
  • At the village of Quose is a well which instantly kills poultry that drink of its water.
  • A spa between Clonfert and Laurencetown has been used with great effect in liver complaints; that at Oughterard attracts many invalids thither.
  • Those at Athenry, Rathglass, near Kilconnel, Woodbrook, Killimor, Ahbert, and Hampstead, are all of high repute in their respective neighbourhoods.

The county gives the title of Viscount to a branch of the Arundel family, resident in England. The title of Marquess of Clanricarde expired with the first Marquess, who died without male issue, but the earldom descended to another branch of the family of De Burgh, which enjoys it to the present day, and to which the Marquesate was restored by patent, in 1825.

SOURCE: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland by Samuel Lewis (pub 1837)

Got an ancestor from this county? 

We'd love if you added them to our Ancestors roll-call to #BringTheirMemoryHome:

Add your ancestor

Want to help post timelines like this for your local parish or county? To join our content volunteers please email us or simply click the link below to:

ADD YOUR OWN  Local History Timeline

READ MORE 1837 Lewis' Parish Reports

Some communities associated with this timeline

Some buildings associated with these communities