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Galway County

GALWAY COUNTY, a county in the west of Ireland, in the province of Connaught, bounded N. by Mayo and Roscommon; E. by Roscommon, King's County and Tipperary; S. by Clare and Galway Bay; and W. by the Atlantic Ocean. The area is 1,519,699 acres or about 2375 sq. m., the county being second in size to Cork among the Irish counties.

The county is naturally divided by Lough Corrib into two great divisions. The eastern, which comprehends all the county except the four western baronies, rests on a limestone base, and is, generally speaking, a level champaign country, but contains large quantities of wet bog. Its southern portion is partly a continuation of the Golden Vale of Limerick, celebrated for its fertility, and partly occupied by the Slievebaughty Mountains. The northern portion of the division contains rich pasture and tillage ground, beautifully diversified with hill and dale. Some of the intermediate country is comparatively uncultivated, but forms excellent pasturage for sheep. The western division of the county has a substratum of granite, and is barren, rugged and mountainous. It is divided into the three districts of Connemara, Jar-Connaught and Joyce's Country; the name of Connemara is, however, often applied to the whole district. Its highest mountains are the grand and picturesque group of Bunnabeola, or the Twelve Bens or Pins, which occupy a space of about 25 sq. m., the highest elevation being 2695 ft. Much of this district is a gently sloping plain, from 100 to 300 ft. above sea-level. Joyce's Country, farther north, is an elevated tract, with flat-topped hills 1300 to 2000 ft. high, and deep narrow valleys lying between them.

Galway possesses the advantage of a very extended line of sea-coast, indented by numerous harbours, which, however, are rarely used except by a few coasting and fishing vessels. At the boundary with the county Mayo in the north is Killary Harbour which separates the two counties. The first bay on the western coast capable of accommodating large ships is Ballynakill, sheltered by Freaghillaun or Heath Island. Next in succession is Cleggan Bay. Off these inlets lie the islands of Inishbofin and Inishark, with others. Streamstown is a narrow inlet, within which are the inhabited islands of Omey, Inishturk and Turbot. Ardbear harbour is divided into two inlets, the northern terminating at the town of Clifden, with excellent anchorage; the southern inlet has also good anchorage within the bar, and has a good salmon fishery. Mannin Bay, though large, is much exposed and little frequented by shipping. From Slyne Head the coast turns eastward to Roundstone Bay, which has its entrance protected by the islands of Inishnee and Inishlacken. Next in order is Bertraghboy Bay, studded with islets and rocks, but deep and sheltered. Kilkieran Bay, the largest on this coast, has a most productive kelp shore of nearly 100 m.; its mouth is but 3 m. broad. Between Gorumna Island and the mainland is Greatman's Bay and close to it Costello Bay, the most eastern of those in Connemara. The whole of the coast from Greatman's Bay eastward is comprehended in the Bay of Galway, the entrance of which is protected by the three limestone islands of Aran, Inishmore (or Aranmore), Inishmann and Inisheer.

The rivers are few, and, except the Shannon, of small size. The Suck, which forms the eastern boundary of the county, rises in Roscommon, and passing by Ballinasloe, unites with the Shannon at Shannonbridge. The Shannon forms the south-eastern boundary of the county, and passing Shannon Harbour, Banagher, Meelick and Portumna, swells into the great expanse of water called Lough Derg, which skirts the county as far as the village of Mount Shannon. The Claregalway flows southward through the centre of the county, and enters Lough Corrib some 4 m. above the town of Galway. The Ballynahinch, considered one of the best salmon-fishing rivers in Connaught, rises in the Twelve Pins, passes through Ballynahinch Lake, and after a short but rapid course falls into Bertraghboy Bay. Lakes are numerous. Lough Corrib extends from Galway town northwards over 30,000 acres, with a shore of 50 m. in extent. The lake is studded with many islands, some of them thickly inhabited. The district west of Lough Corrib contains a vast number of lakes, about twenty-five of them more than a mile in length. Lough Rea, by the town of the same name, is more remarkable for scenic beauty than for extent. Besides these perennial lakes, there are several low tracts, called turloughs, which are covered with water during a great part of the year. Loughs Mask and Corrib are connected by a salmon ladder, and contain large trout. Galway, with the Screab Waters, draining into Camus Bay, a branch of Kilkieran Bay, with Recess and the Ballynahinch waters, are the best fishing centres. On account of its scenic beauty, both coastal and inland, together with its facilities for sport, county Galway is frequented by summer visitors. Though for long the remoter parts were difficult of access, as in the case of Donegal, Mayo, Clare and the western counties generally, the Galway and Clifden railway assisted private enterprise to open up the country. The western mountains, broken by deep landlocked and island-sheltered bays, as well as by the innumerable small loughs of the Connemara districts, afford scenes varying from gentle slopes occasionally well wooded along the water's edge to wild, bare moorlands among the heights, while the summits are usually bold and rocky cones. Several small fishing villages have acquired the dignity of watering-places from the erection of hotels, which have also been planted in previously untenanted situations of high scenic attractions; among these may be mentioned Leenane at the head of Killary harbour, Renvyle House at its entrance, Letterfrack on Ballynakill Bay, Streamstown and Clifden, and Cashel on Bertraghboy Bay. Inland are Recess, near Lough Derryclare, and Ballynahinch, on the lough of that name, both on the railway, at the foot of the Twelve Pins.

Geology. - The east of this county lies in the Carboniferous Limestone plain, with domes of Old Red Sandstone rising near Dunmore and Mount Bellew. As Galway town is neared, the grey rock appears freely on the surface, and Lough Corrib spreads itself over almost level land. Its west branches, however, run up into "Dalradian" hills, which rise abruptly on the threshold of Connemara. A broad mass of ice-worn gneiss and granite lies between Lough Corrib and Galway Bay, cut off so sharply at the sea as to suggest the presence of an east-and-west line of fracture. The Twelve Bens owe their supremacy to the quartzites, which are here well bedded and associated with limestone and mica-schist. Silurian conglomerates and sandstones, with andesitic lavas, overlie the Dalradians, with marked unconformity, south of Leenane and round Lough Nafooey. The surfaces of the hard rocks admirably record the action of ice throughout the county. There is black Carboniferous marble at Menlough near Galway; and the well-known "Connemara Marble" is a banded serpentinous crystalline limestone in the Dalradians at Recess, Ballynahinch and Streamstown. Compact red granite is worked at Shantallow, and the region west of Galway contains many handsome porphyritic red varieties.

Climate and Industries. - The climate is mild and healthy but variable, and violent winds from the west are not uncommon. Frost or snow seldom remains long on the western coast, and cattle of every description continue unhoused during the winter. The eastern part of the county produces the best wheat. Oats are frequently sown after potatoes in moorish soils less adapted for wheat. The flat shores of the bays afford large supplies of seaweed for manure. Limestone, gravel and marl are to be had in most other parts. When a sufficient quantity of manure for potatoes cannot be had, the usual practice is to pare and burn the surface. In many places on the seashore fine early potatoes are raised in deep sea-sand manured with seaweed, and the crop is succeeded by barley. Those parts of the eastern district less fitted for grain are employed in pasturage. Heathy sheep-walks occupy a very large tract between Monivea and Galway. An extensive range from Athenry, stretching to Galway Bay at Kinvarra, is also chiefly occupied by sheep. Over half the total acreage of the county is pasture-land, and cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry are extensively reared. The proportion of tillage to pasturage is roughly as one to four; and owing to the nature of the country fully one-third of the total area is quite barren.

Manufactures are not carried on beyond the demand caused by the domestic consumption of the people. Coarse friezes, flannels and blankets are made in all parts and sold largely in Galway and Loughrea. Connemara has been long celebrated for its hand-knit woollen stockings. Coarse linen, of a narrow breadth, called bandle linen, is also made for home consumption. There is a linen-weaving factory at Oughterard. The manufacture of kelp, formerly a great source of profit on the western shores, is still carried on to some extent. Feathers and sea-fowls' eggs are brought in great quantities from the islands of Aran, the produce of the puffins and other sea-fowl that frequent the cliffs. Fishing affords occupation to many of the inhabitants, the industry having as its centres the ports of Galway and Clifden.

The Midland Great Western main line enters the county at Ballinasloe, and runs by Athenry to Galway, with an extension to Oughterard (Lough Corrib) and Clifden. The Great Southern & Western line from Sligo to Limerick traverses the county from N. to S., by way of Tuam, Athenry and Gort.

Population and Administration. - The population of county Galway (211,227 in 1891; 192,549 in 1901) decreased by more than half in the last seventy years of the 19th century, and the decrease continues, as emigration is heavy. About 97% of the population are Roman Catholics, and a somewhat less percentage are rural. The Erse tongue is maintained by many in this remote county. The chief towns are Galway (pop. 13,426), Tuam (3012), Ballinasloe (4904) and Loughrea (2815), with the smaller towns of Portumna, Gort, Clifden, Athenry, Headford, Oughterard and Eyrecourt. The county is divided into four parliamentary divisions (returning one member each); north, south, east and Connemara, while the town of Galway returns one member. There are eighteen baronies. Assizes are held at Galway, quarter-sessions at Galway, Ballinasloe, Clifden, Gort, Loughrea, Oughterard, Portumna and Tuam. The county comprises parts of the Protestant dioceses of Tuam and of Killaloe; and of the Roman Catholic dioceses of Elphin, Galway, Clonfert and Killaloe.

History. - The history of county Galway is exceedingly obscure, and nearly every one of its striking physical features carries its legend with it. For centuries local septs struggled together for mastery undeterred by outside influence. The wreck of part of the Spanish Armada on this coast in 1588 left survivors whose influence is still to be traced. The formation of Galway into a county was effected about 1579 by Sir Henry Sydney, lord deputy of Ireland. In the county at Aughrim (q.v.) the decisive battle of the English Revolution was fought in 1691. Among the antiquities are several round towers. The only perfect one is at Kilmacduagh, a very fine example 112 ft. high, leaning considerably out of the perpendicular. Raths or encampments are numerous and several cromlechs are to be seen in good preservation. The ruins of monastic buildings are also numerous. That of Knockmoy, about 6 m. from Tuam, said to have been founded in 1180 by Cathal O'Connor, was adorned with rude fresco paintings, still discernible, which were considered valuable as being the best authentic representations existing of ancient Irish costumes. Ancient castles and square towers of the Anglo-Norman settlers are frequently met with; some have been kept in repair, but the greater number are in ruins. The castle of Tuam, built in 1161 by Roderick O'Connor, king of Ireland, at the period of the English invasion, is said to have been the first building of this description of stone and mortar in Ireland. The remains of a round castle, a form of building very uncommon in the military architecture of the country, are to be seen between Gort and Kilmacduagh. The extraordinary cyclopean and monastic ruins on the Aran Islands (q.v.) must be mentioned; and the town of Galway, Athenry, and the neighbourhood of Ballinasloe all show interesting remains. The small church of Clonfert, in the south of the county, with a fine Romanesque doorway, is a cathedral, the diocese of which was united with Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Killaloe in 1833.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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