History of the Skeff

A Brief History

The turbulent past surrounding The Skeffington Arms Hotel

The Skeffington Arms is a small boutique hotel in Galway. It also has a large late bar that hosts weekly live music events. It has many defining features that set it apart from other hotels of a similar style and description. Firstly, the building itself is steeped in history, with its location being situated at the point of revolution for Galway City, and also, with the building itself not becoming a public area until the 19th Century. As far as current records show, the building was most likely built to serve as a stately home. It was built in the mid 17th Century which stands as a great indicator that it was of significant importance at the time of construction. During that era, The Irish Rebellion of 1641 was taking place all across the City and County of Galway.

The building is located directly to the West of the park formerly known as Eyre Square, and later re-named John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. The park itself marks central Galway City and has been a predominant feature of the rebellions and protests since the early 17th Century. First records of attempts to glamorize the square were recorded in 1631, when Ash trees were planted and the park was enclosed by a wooden fence. The park itself was originally used as a market place in the Northern part of the current square. The land, from which the name was given, Mayor Edward Eyre, formally donated the land to the city in 1710.

During 18th Century Ireland, particularly in Galway, there was steady unrest among locals, mainly because as a Catholic Port City it was treated with great suspicion by authorities. In 1801, General Meyrick, who gives his name to the Meyrick Hotel, situated at the Southern end of the park, ordered the construction of stone walls to surround the park, which itself was known as Meyrick Square for a period of time.

It was in the mid 19th Century, 1850 to be exact, that The Skeffington Arms was established as a hotel. This involved re-arranging the structural interior which had significant costs. It was again a significant period of time for what then became The Skeffington Arms Hotel. The time itself was of interest as the city of Galway was still suffering from The Great Famine, which began in 1845 and slowly came to an end in 1852. To set up a hotel in that era would have most likely raised eyebrows as records indicate mass starvation, disease and emigration during this period. It is locally said that during the famine in Ireland, ‘one million died and one million left’.

However, all was not lost regarding this modest hotel, as 1845 was the year that saw the creation of the first University in Galway, then named Queens University of Ireland and later re-named N.U.I.G. (National University of Ireland, Galway). Also, 1850 marked the year that railway lines reached Galway City. Both of these important aspects are what initially helped draw business to the City, the Square, and the modest hotel which still proudly bears the name The Skeffington Arms Hotel.

Between the mid 19th and mid 20th Century, there was very little occurance and the City itself began to develop its own personal identity. The city now has a very relaxed atmosphere among its locals and visitors alike, which shows a stark contrast to the turbulence of its past. Another notable event which The Skeffington Arms has outlasted was the great fire of 1972 which saw much of Galway City centre destroyed. Though the fire did originate and destroy the South-West corner of the square, and its buildings, the hotel was not significantly damaged. Even though it is located on the Western side, it narrowly avoided destruction.

As previously mentioned, the hotel does over-look the Square and because of this it has both seen and been involved in the transformation of Galway’s favorite park. A modern re-development of the park began in 2004 and was completed and re-opened in 2006, after a total of €9.6 million was spent on the project. This re-development, though well received upon it’s re-opening, was not without its own troubles. To complete this refurbishment and modernize the city centre, 90 mature Ash trees. Many were the original trees planted in the 1631 renovations. Though protesters organized marches, events and even a 24 hour vigil on Saturday February 1st, 2003, their plight was ignored and the demolition went ahead. Though it was unarguably a shame to see such grand and beautiful trees cut down, it did make way for a wonderfully bright and open tribute to this calm and clean city, which welcomes over 2.6 million visitors annually. These works also resulted in the square being awarded Irish Landscape Institute Design Award, 2007. Due to the deep-rooted history of The Skeffington Arms Hotel, and also its incredibly close proximity to the park, it is listed as a National landmark building and because of this, legally cannot be changed in any way. It is also listed as part of the square itself and adequately reflects that.

Currently, the hotel keeps up with the tradition of changing to suit the needs of the current clientele and has many unique features to define that. It boasts the largest bar in Galway City, with six different and diverse bars under its roof, all retaining original wood work and design from its early beginnings. It has also introduced the largest cocktail menu in the entire country, counting 365 cocktails, aptly having one for every day of the year. Locally known as The Skeff Bar, it sets itself apart from many as it is recognized as a popular meeting place for locals yet as a common destination for travelers looking for a place of both historical importance and yet well renowned for service.