The town of Galway was founded in the early 13th century by Anglo-Norman conquerors on lands they had captured from the native Irish. The building of a defensive wall to secure the newly established town from the outside Gaelic world was begun in 1270 under Walter de Burgo – son of the town’s founder, Richard. Over time the walls came to enclose the town of Galway which comprised an area of about 11 hectares. The section of wall of which is contained in the Eyre Square Shopping Centre includes Shoemaker’s Tower and Penrice’s Tower. Shoemaker’s Tower obviously housed such a business, while the Penrice’s were a notable family in medieval Galway.
The citizens of Galway were charged a tax known as ‘murage’ to pay for the building and maintenance of the walls. During periods when the town was on alert of attack, extra defences were added along their lines. This threat became a reality when ‘Red’ Hugh O’Donnell from Donegal led an attack on the town as part of native Irish rebellion against English occupation in Ireland in 1597. Much to the relief of the townspeople, however, the robust walls prevented his army from making it into the town.
By 1643, the people of Galway were demanding a greater degree of control over their own affairs, and, as such, managed to expel the crown forces from the town. Expecting a wave of revenge, the citizens added further fortifications along the walls. The revenge eventually came in the form of an invading Cromwellian army in 1651. This army realised the futility of attacking the sturdy town walls and instead laid siege to the town. In one of Galway’s most infamous events, the townspeople were eventually forced into submission after the 9 month long siege.
Apart from the section of the walls in the Eyre Square Shopping Centre another obvious segment is Galway’s famous Spanish Arch. The arch is actually a 16th century extension to the medieval city walls and was formerly known in Irish as Ceann an Bhalla or The Head of the Wall. It was originally built as a bastion to guard against foreign attack from the sea. It is only in recent times the arch was cut through and was named in honour of the many Spanish galleons which off-loaded their wares at the medieval harbour. A good section of the original line of town wall can be seen to the rear of the arch.