The transformation of Galway: an urban history of a port town 1600-1700
Galway’s wealth and position as a major Irish trading port at the beginning of the seventeenth century stemmed from a mixture of geography and politics. Its staunch support of the Crown, since its foundation in the early thirteenth century, enabled it to secure a range of special privileges. This situation allowed it to evolve as a settlement akin to a ‘city state’, exempt in the main from much of the fiscal duties imposed on commerce and trade within the English mercantile system. This special relationship began to fall apart as the Reformation and Protestant interests began to impact on what was an almost exclusively Catholic community, with power residing in the hands of a monopolistic clique of powerful and wealthy merchant families. Until the Gaelic uprising of 1641, there was little visible evidence of a conflict of interest between Catholics and Protestants in terms of their political affiliations, and even during the early stages of the formation of the Confederacy, the Galway community was reluctant to join forces with the other Old English communities. However, the siege and subsequent surrender of Galway to the Cromwellian forces in 1652, resulted in the town being left in a state of stagnation by the time of the Restoration of Charles II in1660. During the closing decades of the seventeenth century, Galway’s trading activity dwindled as the town struggled to regain its former markets. For a brief period in the late 1680s, Catholics regained control of Galway’s municipal affairs. They subsequently supported James II in the Williamite Wars, only to lose control once more following the surrender of the town to General Ginckle on 21 July 1691. To date, no published work has closely researched the significant transformations, from 1600-1700, in Galway’s economy, morphology, politics and society. This study seeks to address this lacuna by assembling and interpreting a vast range of historical evidence, so as to produce an original, integrated, meticulous and far-reaching narrative and analysis that reconstructs the urban history of seventeenth-century Galway. As well as making extensive use of the primary and secondary historical sources relating to aspects of Galway’s urban history, this study is also informed by recent scholarship on the seventeenth-century colonial policies that England adopted in its conquest of Ireland, particularly those which contributed to the outbreak of the Confederate Wars, the subsequent Cromwellian settlement of Ireland and the economic changes brought about by the Cattle Acts and the Navigation Acts after the Restoration. As a whole, this study relies not only on the perspective of the historian, but upon interdisciplinary perspectives drawn from cognate disciplines such as geography and archaeology.
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