Ref NoLA1
TitleGalway Corporation
DescriptionThe records of Galway Corporation from its foundation in 1485 to 1818. It consists of a statute book (Liber A) giving the names of members of the Corporation and statutes passed (1485 to 1710). Also the minute books of meetings of the Corporation from 1679, giving the dates of meetings, attendance, and business transacted. Also some loose legal material relating to a court case before the House of Lords dealing with the election of Valentine Blake as MP for Galway in 1814.
Extent20 items
Administrative HistoryLittle in known about the early development of Galway as a town, although it clearly begun to develop sometime in the later thirteenth century. It is thought that Walter, son of Richard de Burgo granted the town burgage status as work had begun on the town walls by 1272. (P Walsh, 'The Topography of Medieval and Early Modern Galway City', in G Moran (ed), Galway: History and Society, 52; H G Richardson's review of M D O'Sullivan's work in IHS 4 (1944-5), 362; Hardiman's History, 49-50; Thomas. Walled Towns of Ireland). In 1361 the town received a grant for five years 'in aid of enclosing the said town'. In November 1395 Richard II granted a new murage charter to the town of Galway 'to be enclosed with a stone wall, as of the parts adjacent, and in aid of paving the said town'. As with most towns in late medieval Ireland, the walls of Galway served to protect against raids, as well as providing a physical reminder of the free status of the citizens of the town from neighbouring lords.

While the town may have struggled somewhat in the fourteenth century, there is no doubt that the town begun to expand rapidly in the fifteenth century. It achieved administrative autonomy with the grant of a royal charter in 1484. "The granting of a charter in 1484, allowing the burgesses power to elect yearly a mayor and two bailiffs gave them, in effect, autonomous control over their affairs, and, in the following year, with the establishment of St. Nicholas as a collegiate church subject to the local corporation, the town may be said to have achieved both administrative and ecclesiastical independence" (P Walsh, 'The Topography of Medieval and Early Modern Galway City', 56). Earlier grants than the 1484 charter paved the way for the merchants of Galway to gain independence from their Clanrichard neighbours. In 1396, along with the earlier grants of murage and pavage, they achieved independence in their administrative and judicial dealings by acquiring the same rights as Drogheda from Richard II for £6.13.4. A clause within this grant allowed the Burkes to maintain control of the city, a right attempted by the Clanricard Burkes throughout the fifteenth century. This was taken away in 1464 and in 1484 the royal charter was the capstone of over a century of attempted administrative and judicial independence on the part of the townspeople (G Mac Niocaill, 'Medieval Galway: Its Origins and Charter', in D O Cearbaill (ed), Galway: Town and Gown 1484-1984, (Dublin, 1984), 1-9).

One of the ways for this administrative and judicial independence to be shown was through the keeping and maintenance of the council books for the corporation of Galway. The Town Records of Galway, the minute books of the Corporation, attained serious importance in the early nineteenth century, as the records of other corporations also did. There were a number of reasons for this, but primarily because the corporations came under political pressure to justify their existence, and one way to claim their independence was to proclaim their rights as being held "out of mind". One can draw attention to the actions of the corporation of Youghal in maintaining their records in a locked chest throughout the nineteenth century in the face of political upheaval with the Dukes of Devonshire, as well as a reforming government. It is no coincidence that the Annals of Youghal, published in the nineteenth century by Samuel Hayman - a bailiff of the corporation and son of a mayor of the town - appeared when it did. A similar situation existed in Galway, in 1814 Valentine Blake of Menlough Castle brought a petition before the House of Lords, contesting the accusation of the MP for Harwick that he has MP of a piece of barren land for which he had a large body of fictitious forty shilling holders ("Draft of petition of Valintine Blake before the House of Lords", Nov 1814, A3, James Hardiman Library Archives). One of the ways to establish corporate autonomy was through antiquarianism, and a similar impulse can be discerned in James Hardiman. "Finally, the author begs leave here to repeat, what he once before expressed at a most respectable meeting in Galway, "that he had voluntarily undertaken the task, without any other view than a hope that it might tend to the honor, and perhaps to the benefit of their native town; and that, if his work should not possess sufficient merit to support itself, and ought to fall into oblivion; but if otherwise he entertained no doubt of its favourable reception by a discerning public" (J Hardiman, A History of the Town and County of the Town of Galway, (Dublin, 1820), ix-x).

Hardiman benefited from his role as a sub-commissioner in the Commission for the regulation of the Public Records of Ireland, commenting that the role 'at once determined and enabled him to investigate with greater accuracy the history and antiquities of this respectable town, and the leisure hours that could be spared from other more immediate and necessary pursuits have been devoted to the purpose".As a participant in the first great archival adventure in modern Irish history at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Hardiman had access to primary material at a hitherto unprecedented level. It is here, among the wealth of archival and manuscript materials that the minute books make their first appearance. "The town records of Galway, (including the venerable volume which contains the early acts of the corporation, and which the present possessor values at several hundred pounds,) with the most authentic annals of the Irish language, and many private manuscripts of an interesting nature, have likewise been procured…" It appears that Hardiman had access to the material in bound volumes. He refers to the corporation records as council books. Material from the 18th century corporation books is referred to under a number of titles including "Original Mss", "Annals" and "Council Mss".

It is interesting to note that the first corporation book, Liber A, was in private hands at the time that Hardiman wrote the history of Galway. He thanks Charles Blake of Merlin Park for allowing him to consult the book. It is difficult to know where the other books were kept, perhaps by the corporation. It is interesting to note that Charles Blake came from a family that had large estates in Galway and Mayo, and that this branch could trace themselves back to a John Blake, who was recorder for the town from 1642 to 1654 before being superseded by the Cromwellian settlers . It is possible that Liber A was kept in the family down to the nineteenth century, or acquired by the family at some stage because of the association of John Blake with the corporation. While the possessor of Liber A is known at the time, it is difficult to know where the other volumes were kept. In 1814 Richard Burke, Acting Town Clerk for the Corporation since 1797, was called before a committee of the House of Commons in relation to a petition of Valentine Blake of Menlo. He produced two corporation books in his evidence, which suggests that the other books were in the possession of the corporation at the time.(J Rabbitte, "Galway Corporation Ms C", JGAHS, 11 (1918), 81).

It is difficult to ascertain the exact details surrounding the accession of the corporation books into the UCG Library. W F Trench asserts that Liber A came into the Library possibly under the aegis of James Hardiman, the first librarian. He also states that the College purchased the other volumes at a much later date (W F Trench & T D Dawson, "On the Corporation Books of Galway", JGAHS, 1 (1900-1), 133). In the same journal some years later, Martin Blake states that a number of books came in through the offices of James Hardiman, contradicting Trench's assertion (M J Blake, "Galway Corporation Book B", JGAHS, 5 (1907-8), 89). In reality, nobody appears to be certain how the corporation books arrived into the possession of the library; there is nothing to be gleaned from surviving College records from the time. All that can be said with certainty is that they were in the possession of the College Library by the 1880s.

From the 1880s to around 1906 a great deal of work was done in terms of preserving and making accessible the corporation books in an appropriate manner. This process is illuminating in showing the attitudes of people towards primary source material at the time. The work consisted on printing transcripts of the books to make them available to readers on the one hand, and rebinding the pages in guard books to preserve them on the other.

The earliest effort to calendar came with the publication of Liber A by J T Gilbert in 1885 (Historical Manuscript Commission, Tenth Report, App. Part V, 380-520). The book, or the pages of the book, appear to have been sent to Mr. Gilbert in Dublin, and were then returned to Galway. The book was reconstructed after it left J T Gilbert's hands. The original binding was discarded, and the pages of the book were pasted into a guard book. A few points are noticeable about the book. Although the date for the earliest entry is 1485, the first 73 pages of the book appear to have been copied from an earlier source. The handwriting is the same for these pages, and it is in secretary hand, indicating that this copying occurred around 1569. It is interesting to note this date as it may have been in response to the increasing interest that the Dublin government was taking in the area at the time. Since their grant of independence from the Clanricard Burkes in 1484 the town had functioned as an autonomous corporation, and the record of the actions of the corporation would have reinforced this autonomy.

Attention then turned to Liber B and Liber C at the turn of the century, with Wilbraham Trench and Martin Blake involved in the transcription of the material. As well as the corporation books, the James Hardiman Library Archives holds a collection of material relating to the transcription of these books ("Material relating to the transcription of Galway Corporation Minute Books", A3, James Hardiman Library Archives). In 1900 Trench and Lawson had promised that their next instalment would be on Liber B, (W F Trench & T D Lawson, op. cit., 136)but it was to take five years before it was to appear in print. Trench and Lawson's article had appeared in the first issue of the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society. At the inaugural meeting of the society on 21st March 1900 in the Railway Hotel, W F Trench himself had proposed the first motion, setting out the objectives of the new society. " That a society be now formed for the study and investigation of the History, Antiquity and Folklore of the Town and County of Galway and their surroundings" ("Minute Book of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society", 21 Mar 1900, P13, James Hardiman Library Archives). The work was of transcription of Liber B was undertaken by Trench, but it is clear that he faced a number of problems. The transcript appeared in print in 1906. "Owing to various, then unforeseen but, unavoidable circumstances, the fulfilment of that promise has been delayed until now. The editor of our journal has recently sent me a careful transcript of the contents of Book B, and entrusted me with the task of preparing it for publication and of writing an introduction to it" (M J Blake, op. cit., 65).

Blake points out in his article that the manuscript volume came to Queens College Galway in "an imperfect and decayed condition" It appears to have been in old leather binding which was not the original binding. Trench's notes to Blake give a little more detail on this assertion, and also gives us some insight into the work of the binder, stating that the order of the pages had been changed somewhat, along with the tops of some of the pages being trimmed in the earlier binding. Some of the leaves appear to have gone missing between 1823 and when they were acquired by QCG ("Instructions from W F Trench to M Blake" [1905], A3, James Hardiman Library Archives). It appears that Martin Blake did some transcription as among the instructions are notes from Trench on how to transcribe from the council books, and - as will be referred to below - there is reference to Prof. Trench having had the book transcribed rather than doing the work himself. However, the manuscript draft in the James Hardiman Library Archives is in Trench's hand, and was the corrected copy for publication. It also appears that Trench did up a copy of the names of "masters" omitted from Gilbert's printed copy which Blake passed onto the Librarian. "It may be useful for the Librarian to keep or get it typed as supplement for Gilbert's copy" ("Names of Masters in Book A", [n.d.], A3, James Hardiman Library Archives.).

Trench was editor of the Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society at the time and it is clear that he was under pressure given his several commitments. The only entry relating to Liber B in the minutes of the Executive Committee of the Society reflect this, and also show the wavering commitment of the Society to continue publishing the transcripts. "Concerning the Corporation Books of Galway, the Committee agreed that Prof. Trench should print in the Journal Book B which he had had transcribed, & that the Society might then decide whether or not they would undertake to publish the remaining books" ("Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee", 20 Mar 1906, P13, James Hardiman Library Archives). At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Society on 28th October, 1907, Prof. Trench stated that he could not give the journal the time it deserved. He had tried to get M J Blake to take over the editorship but unsuccessfully, the committee appointed Mr Guy of Tuam as sub-editor, ("Minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee", 28 Oct 1907, P13, James Hardiman Library Archives) and at the following meeting this was changed at the insistence of Prof. Trench with the appointment of Mr D'Alton as joint editor ("Minutes of the meeting of the Executive Committee", 20 Jan 1908, P13, James Hardiman Library Archives).

Prof. Trench's problems were certainly increased by the amount of work he had to do on the Corporation books. The approach to the transcription and calendering of Liber B was different from Liber A in a number of ways. Gilbert's transcription and publication of Liber A was carried out before the binding of the book, it is clear that the transcription and rebinding of Liber B was carried out at the same time. The College Council decreed in May 1905 that the volume be rebound, and Prof. Trench oversaw the work of the binder. Given the fact that the books after Liber B were all bound in a similar fashion it is safe to assume that Prof. Trench continued on his project of overseeing the rebinding of the material. The binding of Liber A saw the pages unbound, then pasted onto pages already bound into the new binding. The quality of the original pages was good, and, as the writing was on one side, it was pasted onto good quality paper. Transparent paper was used to repair tears and frayed edges where necessary in a manner similar to the way scotch tape is utilised today, but was used as sparingly as possible.

Liber B was done somewhat differently. This was due in no small part to the poor condition it was already in, the right hand side of the first fifty pages have been worn away by hydrolysis, and this damage extends to water staining on all the pages. Because some of the pages had writing on both sides, transparent paper was used when it came to binding them into the guard book. The paste used to adhere the manuscript pages to the transparent pages discoloured the manuscript pages, where pages were frayed or flaky the paste was used to harden up the paper, causing a similar discolouration.

The work on Liber C continued in the same vein as Liber B, a rough transcription of most of Liber C survives in the James Hardiman Library Archives, ("Draft Transcription of Liber C with amendments", A3, James Hardiman Library Archives) and it is clear that this draft transcription was done by M J Blake, probably around 1906. There are many spaces in this transcription, and these appear to have been filled in at a later date, probably by the Rev. J Rabbitte SJ, who went onto publish them in the Journal between 1918 and 1941 in fits and starts. This reflects the irregularity of the journal itself rather that the Rev. Rabbitte. Liber C, D, E, F, K and K2 were rebound in vellum in the same project of rebinding as Liber B.

Liber G, H and I were reported missing by Trench and Lawson in 1900, but a copy of Liber G reappeared in London in 1908 along with a copy of Liber D. A report from the "Freeman's Journal" shows this. "Within the last week, however, a volume of these lost manuscripts was discovered in a cellar of a London book-store by Mr James Buckley, the Chairman of the Irish Texts Society, and a gentleman much interested in the study of Irish antiquities generally" ("Freeman's Journal", 7 Dec 1908). The books were copied from the original books in the early nineteenth century. Unlike the originals they are bound in simple brown leather binding, with very simple but strong stitching. It is possible that these copies were done for James Hardiman when he was researching his history of Galway which appeared in 1820. It is also possible that these copies were made for the petition of Valentine Blake before the House of Lords in 1814. It is unclear when the volume reached the University Library, but it was probably sometime after 1913, when the book was lent to his cousin John, who worked in the Art and Industrial Division of the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street to allow Mr Westropp to have a look at them ("John Buckley to James Buckley", 5 Dec 1913, Liber G, enclosure).

Liber H remains missing, covering as it does the years 1750 to 1772, and the last missing book, Liber I, found it's way into the University Library, eventually in July 1935. The material was in loose pages in the library when Prof. Trench took them for the binder in 1905. He had them in a packet with the intention of ordering the pages but had not got the chance to do so ("Note by W Trench", July 1935, A3, James Hardiman Library Archives). Although little has been done with the pages since 1935, their survival means that there is a set of the corporation books from 1485 to 1818, with a gap from 1750 to 1772. The adventures of Liber G and Liber I show just how precarious an existence these corporation books have had, and after all their adventures, it is hoped that they will have a bit of a rest in the James Hardiman Library.
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