The nineteenth and twentieth centuries were a mixture of prosperity and hardship in Galway. The early nineteenth-century in Galway saw the opening of the Gaol in 1810-1811 and the establishment of Persse’s Whisky Distillery in 1815 at Newcastle by Henry Stratford Persse, which was later re-located to the Nun’s Island premises in 1847. The 19th-century also saw the opening of Queens College (now the National University of Ireland, Galway) in 1849, the Midland Great Western Railway line linking Galway to Dublin in 1851, the opening of the tram from Eyre Square to Salthill in 1879 and the construction of Renmore Barracks in 1880.
In 1821, the population was 337,374 within the county, while Hardiman estimated the population of the town to be 40,000. The 1861 Census reflected the devastation of the Great Hunger, with the population at 272,714 in the county and 25,161 in the town. The population decreased again by the time of the 1901 Census with 13,426 in the town and 192,549 in the county.
While Galway hosted the Irish industrial exhibition in 1908, the first such exhibition held in Connacht, some of the local industries were already in decline. By 1908, falling whisky consumption and competition from the larger distilleries in Dublin led to the closure of the Persse Distillery with the loss of over 50 jobs.
Of note are the jars in the Collections, from the various shops and public houses around Galway town dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries. Each jar is marked with the name of the shop and in many cases, the location of the shop, such as Michael Walsh, 1 Eyre Square and Williamsgate St. The jars themselves were imported from pottery companies throughout Britain, including Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow.