Galway church visited by Columbus and used as stables by Cromwell’s troops celebrates 700 years

Collegiate Church of St Nicholas in city centre was completed in 1320

The Collegiate Church of St Nicholas in Galway city centre is marking its 700th birthday by ringing its bells for seven minutes at 7pm every evening this week. The largest medieval parish church in Ireland in continuous use as a place of worship, it was completed in 1320 and dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of children and now better known as Santa Claus.

On its outside are two mermaids, a dragon, an ape and a lion with a series of stone gargoyles at its roof edge, some of them carved into horses heads, a manticora (beetle), human heads and another lion. The oldest 'inhabitant' of the church is Adam Bures, known as 'the Crusader', whose grave marker dates from the 13th century.

Visitors to St Nicholas' over the centuries are said to have included Christopher Columbus, believed to have prayed there on a visit to Galway in 1477, and, somewhat less welcome - Cromwellian troops who used the church as a stables for their horses after the siege of Galway in 1652. They are blamed for the headless state of most of the carved figures inside the church.

St Nicholas’ Schola Cantorum, founded in 2012, is a modern reimagining of the ancient college of singers there, established here in 1486. Its newly formed campanology school has been very busy over the past year bringing the sound of the bells to Galway city for a very popular ringing-in of the new year on December 31st last.


The bells also rang out at 12pm every Friday during the recent lockdown in Galway due to the Covid-19 pandemic in honour of frontline workers and all navigating these difficult times.

Rector at St Nicholas's, Rev Lynda Peilow, said "we are working hard also to ensure that St Nicholas' will be around for another 700 years, and awaiting the completion of a conservation management plan."

She reminded people too that “the church is in great need of financial support at present; this year has been challenging as we have had to close our doors to visitors and were not able to hold our fundraisers.”

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times