Is anyone else intrigued by Galway’s unusual relationship with its river? Every other city or town I can think of that is built on a river tends to grow up on both banks along the river – Dublin, Cork, London and many more – but Galway is perpendicular to the Corrib. The town runs from Quay Street up through Shop Street and away from the river. Similarly, the part of town that has grown up to the west is also at right angles to the Corrib. As you move upstream and north, there is considerably less development and much of it recent. The western bank is primarily university land and the eastern side appears to have little in the way of building.
Is this because of the nature of the Corrib River? Is it too wide, too deep, or are the channels too dangerous, preventing the more normal settlement pattern that we see at other towns built on rivers? Is there an ecological reason? Is it to do with the water tables? And yet, in other respects, Galway has a very healthy relationship with the Corrib – the frequency with which I see fishermen, rowers and other pleasure craft attests to the river’s undoubted qualities.
An urban historian friend (Dublin-based) suggested the answer might lie in the history of land ownership in the area. If one looks at Galway on the Down Survey, a narrow slice of land on the eastern bank called ‘Gallway’ – encompassing Terrylan, Castlegare and Ballibritt – is clearly demarcated. Is this an old city boundary that has left its impression and forced the development of the city to the North-East and away from the river? If so, what does this tell us about urban development both here and elsewhere? And is Galway’s relationship with the Corrib as unusual as I think?
– Máirín Mac Carron