Galway’s Riverside

Sitting here in a shady spot, the sun is sparkling over the water. The Cathedral is in full view as is
the weir with that wonderful curving sweep. The Salmon Weir bridge downstream has locals and
tourists hanging over it, looking for elusive salmon on their way upstream. To my right, the water is
quiet and tranquil. The supports for the railway bridge still stand proud in the river, though the
railway itself is long gone. Birds chatter and flutter. Swans float majestically by. A robin lands near
my feet and looks directly at me.
My eyes close in the bright sunshine and my mind drifts through time.
I hear the shouts of men constructing the Salmon Weir Bridge, a great source of employment in
1818. And then I hear the thud of soldiers’ boots conducting the prisoners from the Courthouse to
the Jail, where the Cathedral now stands. Much misery must have been felt in those few square
yards, as with prisons everywhere. I remember the intimidating Jail wall before construction of the
Cathedral was completed in 1965. Do the tourists and parishioners remember the prisoners? The
monument to them in the car park is understated, and maybe for good reason.
Near me, behind the Courthouse which still administers justice, is a refuge for women and children,
Waterside House. Soon they will move to more spacious accommodation in the erstwhile Magdalen
site, now renamed and repurposed. Being in Waterside, such a beautiful location in the heart of
Galway, may sound idyllic but it is their sadness that comes to me as my mind wanders through the
Working boats would have come by here long ago, bringing people, turf and produce to Woodquay
and into Galway from the upper reaches of the Corrib. I see in my mind’s eye the shawled women
and the pipe smoking men, old before their time through work and deprivation.
And then I remember the tragic story of Anach Cuan, when such a group of people from
Annaghdown were coming this way by boat to a fair in Galway in September 1828 with their sheep
but nineteen of them were drowned. The haunting poem by Raifteri has helped preserve their
Such sadness brings tears to my eyes and I open them again to drink in the peaceful scene before
The sun still shines and the water sparkles. Remembering those who went before us helps keep
perspective in these busy modern times. I look around me and I see happy people – little family
groups marvelling at the ducks and swans, older couples relaxing on benches and taking in the early
summer sunshine. Behind me I see the Boat Club of the Bish school, from where crews of athletic
boys are coming out with their kayaks and purposefully taking to the water. A little farther upriver,
lies the Corrib Princess, a pleasure boat for tourists, ready to take in a fresh group for a trip to the
lake. Across the river is the mighty sixteen bay weir and the white Fisheries house, and since 1864,
the Corrib Boat Club, standing proud. It has not all been gloomy. Galwegians and visitors have
enjoyed these waters and the opportunities they present, through the ages.
The water flows peacefully on. Tomorrow the sun will rise again and the water will make its way
downstream to the fast flowing Corrib River, past the Spanish Arch, Nimmo’s Pier and to the great
sea – as always. The robin lands again and cocks his head towards me. He seems to say, ‘I told you