Chasing cash to build a home fit for a posset pot


There is a perception abroad that only one politician ever cared enough about Galway's enthusiasm for arts and culture to acknowledge it with State funding. So much so that there was general mourning in the city when Michael D. Higgins joined the opposition benches. Yet some would say that this is to ignore the contribution of Galway Corporation.

Recently, the refurbishment of Leisureland as a concert venue drew an ecstatic response from Music for Galway, the organisation responsible for providing western audiences with a lively classical music programme. The work, which cost about £1 million, means that the swimming stadium is one of a series of artistic venues, including the Town Hall Theatre and the Black Box, provided by the local authority.

Together with the recent extension of 47 Dominick Street for the Galway Arts Centre, some £4 million has been earmarked for these venues by the corporation over the last three years. It bore just over 50 per cent of the cost of the projects, and this was matched by State funding, city manager, Mr Joe Gavin, confirms. Tomorrow the National Symphony Orchestra plays in Leisureland, marking Music for Galway's third orchestral concert in its current season.

Now, Galway Corporation has given its support to another initiative - the city excavations project, involving NUI Galway and funded by the Heritage Council. The local authority has provided facilities for a team which has been commissioned to compile and publish the results of the collective archaeological excavations undertaken since 1987. When it has completed its work in 2000, the team aims to publish a complete catalogue of the material collected, and the site work conducted, by some 25 archaeologists and a dozen specialists.

The combination of Galway's rich history and the rate at which development has taken place since the passing of the 1986 Urban Renewal Act means that there is a wealth of such material.

It is a history that can be traced back to 1232, when a small settlement gathered around the Anglo-Norman castle built in that year by Richard de Burgo. Richard's son, Walter, is credited with the development of the town proper, as it was he who began enclosing it behind walls from 1272. Perhaps he may have even drunk from the "posset pot" which is one of the excavation project's many artifacts - a mug from which "posset" or warm milk, wine and spices was imbibed.

Most of the excavation work carried out over the past 12 years in the city has concentrated on the route of the old wall.

Among the notable discoveries has been the base of Piper's Tower or Penrice's Tower, now preserved in the Eyre Square Shopping Centre. Much pottery, including medieval Saintonge ware, Staffordshire slipware and locally produced material, has been recovered, along with 17th and 18th-century wine bottles and glasses. The imported ceramics and glass reflect Galway's extensive trading links, documented by historians like Dr John de Courcy Ireland.

Inspired by Dr Elizabeth Fitzpatrick of the Department of Archaeology at NUI Galway and Mr Paul Walsh of the Archaeological Branch, Ordnance Survey of Ireland, the project is co-ordinated by manager Madeline O'Brien, with assistance from archaeologist Carol O'Regan.

Under the licensing terms of the National Monuments Act, much of the material under examination for the database will eventually go to the National Museum in Dublin - unless Galway has its own museum by then. The city museum by Spanish Arch has no storage facilities.

However there is a strong case for a local home for up to 4,000 artifacts and additional bone material, wood and charcoal.

Much depends on Galway Corporation, which has been seeking funding for such a premises. A site has already been selected, and preliminary design work was undertaken by the Office of Public Works (OPW). The local authority has applied to the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands for approval to continue the relationship with the OPW design team, and is also seeking funding. If it is secured, the posset pot might just be able to stay where it belongs after all.