A Short History of Tuam
The City of Tuam is located about 35 km north of Galway. It lies in an extensive flat plain with just 3 hills of any note in the area; Knockdoe, Knockroe, and Knockma. Knockma, 6 miles south of Tuam and is the home of Finnvara, the King of the fairy host and the burial place of Queen Maedhb, the great Warrior Queen of Connacht.
Tuam is built on the River Nanny just about a mile from where this tributary enters the River Clare at the Weir Rd. Bridge. Much of the land in the area is boggy.
Tuaim dá Gualann, the original name of Tuam, is an ancient settlement. The name means “the burial mound of the two shoulders”. The burial mound was probably located where Supervalu Supermarket is now situated. The two shoulders are said to be the two hills of Tullinadaly and Shop St., which slope down a ford on the River Nanny.
The earliest stories of Tuam feature St Jarlath, whose chariot wheel broke here while he was travelling from his monastery at Cloonfush. St. Brendan, the great navigator, a disciple of St. Jarlath, had foretold that Jarlath would die wherever his chariot wheel broke. Jarlath took this as a sign and set up a monastery here.
Tuam was indeed a great monastic centre of the early Christian period.
In 1049, Aedh O’ Connor, King of Connacht, moved to Tuam. He built a castle here and established it as his principal stronghold.
Aedh was succeeded by his son, Turlough Mór O Connor (1088 – 1156). who was ruler of Connacht and High King of Ireland. So in theory, Tuam was, as the seat of the High King, the capital of Ireland for a time. Without doubt, it became capital of Connacht. In 1111 it was named as one of the 5 Episcopal sees of Ireland.
During Turlough’s reign Tuam became a thriving medieval religious town. At least two High Crosses and maybe 4 or 5 were ordered by Turlough. A beautiful ornamental gold cross was also made to hold a relic of the true cross.
This was later moved to the Abbey at Cong and is known as the Cross of Cong and is in the National Museum.
Turlough was constantly at war with the south and east of Ireland in an effort to strengthen his position as High King.
His son Rory, the last native High King of Ireland, succeeded Turlough. He built a “wonderful castle” in Tuam. It was probably the first stone castle built in Ireland. This castle was located in the vicinity of Supervalu and across Shop St. In 1988 a rounded turret was uncovered during building work and is now displayed in the car park of the supermarket.
At the time of the Norman invasion, Tuam was a thriving medieval city with five monasteries, a cathedral, High Crosses, a wonderful castle and a hospital. The arrival of the Normans brought an end to the power of the O’Connors and Rory stepped down as High King.
In 1244 fire destroyed most of the town including its churches and monasteries. The people never managed to restore it to its original splendour.
During the Reformation, Tuam suffered hugely because of its importance as a church centre. We are told that “The city of Tuam was at one time large and populous, but now it is in ruins, unfortified and almost uninhabited.” Another account dated to 1561 says that the “local gentry used the very
Cathedral itself as a fortress, and that there were by now only twenty or thirty houses in the town!” There was even a proposal in the early years of the 17th century to transfer the Cathedral and the Archbishop to Galway. Thankfully, this never happened.
The 17th Century
Over the next two centuries Tuam slowly grew as a market town for the area. In 1613 it was made a Borough with the right to elect two MP’s to the Dublin Parliament. The Market Square and the streets around it were built during this time.
Not only did Tuam grow as a market town it also became an industrial centre. Most of the industry was located around the Nanny – two mills, a
brewery, two tanneries and a nail factory and others. But most of the buildings away from the Square were still miserable mud cabins. It was “not lighted, flagged or watched” and the burgesses spent much time squabbling amongst themselves.
The 19th Century
By the late eighteenth century Tuam was a prosperous provincial market town and many fine buildings were built. Apart from the Bishop’s Palace and Demesne on Bishop St., other important buildings in the town included the Bishop Street Bridge, the Market House in Town Square, and several other fine residences e.g. Waterslade.
The early 19th century was a time of great change around the town. In 1827 a new Catholic Cathedral was started and completed 9 years later.
A workhouse was built on the Dublin Road in the 1830’s. After the Famine years, which had a devastating impact on the town, the Burgesses were replaced with a Town Commission. The Commissioners were responsible for building footpaths and flag ways, constructing a new Town Hall in 1857 and installing gas lighting in the town centre in 1861. By 1860 the railway had arrived in Tuam. The station was located at Vicar St.
As well as bringing some new prosperity to the town it also caused many local factories to close. A lot of these factories were not able to compete with cheaper goods that could now be easily brought in from Dublin. Blakes Brewery (located at Murphy’s Furniture Stores beside the river), the Curragh Match Factory, a candle factory and a local bank as well as many craft industries were all forced to close.
In the 1830’s Tuam had about 6,000 inhabitants. Mostly, they lived in mud cabins, which stretched out from the town as far as Newtownmorris, up the Tullinadaly Hill and at least a mile out the Galway and Athenry roads. The population fell to 5,000 in 1851, as a result of the Famine and emigration. And it continued to decline. By 1911, the population fell to about 3,000.
It has slowly recovered since then. By 1971, the population had reached 4,900 and is now in the region of 8,000 in the greater Tuam area. At the beginning of the 20th century many of the mud and thatched cottages in the town were replaced with local government houses.
By the early part of the twentieth century Tuam was a thriving provincial town with big fairs and markets. At the same time though most factories had closed down.A report in 1920 says that “Tuam’s industry comprises a saw mill and a corn mill”. On 24th November 1933, Eamonn De Valera turned the sod for the Sugar Factory at Ballygaddy. This was to be the most important industry in Tuam until the late 1980’s. It provided employment for hundreds of people and provided a new source of income to farmers in the region.
Following its closure in 1987 the town went into a short-term decline. But the 1990’s and the early years of the new millennium have seen a huge change in the town’s fortunes. New industries opened up like Connacht Electronics, Transition Optics, Logstrup and Pulse as well as many others. Housing has increased enormously, many new estates have been built all over the town like, Palace Fields, The Meadows, Lysadyra, Woodfield and the Birches as well as many more.
There are new apartments, new shops, a multi-story car park and a new hotel all being built at the moment. People are moving to Tuam from Galway and all around because it is a thriving new town.