Supplement to the Cork Examiner, 18th November, 1899
The finest scenery in Ireland is on the northwest coasts of Connemara, Mayo and Donegal. There are no grander headlands in Europe than these broken, precipitous highland masses towering above the Atlantic.
Galway is the gateway leading into this picturesque region with its invigorating climate. A magnificent seawall leads to it from Loop Head, at the mouth of the Shannon, with the glorious cliffs of Moher midway. Galway Bay is the outlet for a chain of lakes with which the highlands of Connemara are riddled; and the coast is mountainous, with a succession of many-coloured precipices and countless islands all the way from Clifden to Achill Head, where the Croaghaun cliffs are nearly 2,200 feet above the sea and thence along Mayo to Slieve League and the rock-bound highlands of Donegal. In picturesque colouring, grandeur, primeval wildness and elemental power there are few coasts that bear comparison with the north-western outstretch of Ireland.
Galway town is quaint and beautiful, and its charm of local colour comes from a strain of Spanish blood. For centuries it was a port commanding a large trade with Spain, and its merchants and sailors were constantly visiting and there were frequent marriages. While it was not Spanish in origin and attracted few settlers from the South, its architecture, gardens, manners and life were coloured by its associations with the more tropical country. The course of modern improvement has not been so rapid as to obliterate these traces of Spanish taste. While the town is not laid out with the regularity of a chess board, there is a central square or garden where the women are on parade on Sunday afternoon, and many of them have olive skins and coal black eyes and hair. They have the same love of colour which fascinate Spanish women, and are brighter and gayer in dress than the Irish girls of Limerick, Dublin or Cork.
The houses are also painted or kalsomined in pink, blue, yellow and white, so that there is a garish display of colour even in a quiet street like Prospect Hill leading into green meadows. Neglected as the old houses with their central courts and wide entries and stairways have been, Galway still contains many of the distinctive features of a Spanish town.
The Lynch mansion even in its present state of dilapidation goes far to support the composite reputation of this Irish Spanish port. This stronghold of a powerful family has degenerated into a chandler’s shop, but the medallions on the side, the decorated doorways and windows, and the grotesque heads near the cornice attest its foreigh character; and the Lynch stone on the crumbling wall behind St. Nicholas’s Church perpetuates the grim sense of justice of its most famous tenant. James Lynch Fitzstephen, wine merchant and Mayor, was in Spain about the time America was discovered and invited the son of one of his friends to return with him to Galway for a visit. The guest flirted with the Irish girls, and was finally stabbed one night in the streets by a jealous rival. The murderer was the Mayor’s only son, who confessed his crime in an agony of remorse. The father, encouraged by this violation of hospitality, condemned his guilty son to death, and with his own hand conducted the execution, either from his own castle or opposite the church. The Lynch stone commemorates this act of stern, unbending justice, and with skull and bones rudely sculptured enforces the quaint inscription;
“Remember Deathe Vaniti and al is but Vaniti.”