Galway City Museum
Fáilte chuig Músaem Cathrach na Gaillimhe


The Collections at Galway City Museum

Galway City Museum is a repository for objects of cultural heritage related to the city of Galway and its people, past and present. The collection currently comprises approximately 1,000 objects, most of which have been kindly donated by the people of Galway over the past 30 years. Part of the collection is on display and you will see it as you navigate through the museum. Those objects not on display comprise our reserve collection and are kept in our stores.

How we use and manage our Collections

All aspects of museum work originate from the collections. This includes exhibitions, education/outreach programmes and publications. The collections therefore must be managed correctly. As such, we have staff dedicated to the management of acquisitions, care of the collections and the documentation of objects so that the Museum is able to account, locate and provide information about them, not only to other museum staff but also to researchers and the general public.

How to donate an object to Galway City Museum

We are continuing to develop and expand our collections at Galway City Museum and are always interested to hear about any objects you have and which you may be willing to donate. All objects accepted into the collections are acquired in accordance with our Collections Policy (available on request at Galway City Museum). In essence, the Collections Policy stipulates that the Museum acquires objects which are associated with, or help to illustrate the history and heritage of Galway City and its people. This includes objects manufactured, used, owned or found by people in Galway City.

We must point out that not all objects accepted into the collections will be placed on display immediately. Objects not on display become part of the reserve collection at Galway City Museum, and may be used in future exhibitions.

National Museum of Ireland Designation

In February 2010 Galway City Museum received designated status under the National Cultural Institutions Act, 1997, joining the other eleven local authority museums already designated. This means that Galway City Museum is now legally entitled to retain archaeological objects for and on behalf of the State. All archaeological objects found with no known owner are State property and must be reported to either the National Museum of Ireland or to a designated museum. As a designated museum we are also available to provide advice on any queries related to archaeological heritage.

Contact Details

For further information on the Collections or if you have an object you would like to donate, please contact Helen Bermingham, Documentation Officer at (091) 532460 or email

Download our Collections and De-accessioning Policies:

  1. PDF Collections Policy
  2. PDF De-accessioning Policy



Some Objects in our Permanent Collections

Rosary Beads

Rosaries evolved from Paternosters, which were in use from at least the 12th century. By the late 15th and early 16th century the rosary had become relatively standardised and its spread was on the increase with rosary confraternities springing up all over Europe. Saints like St. Dominic preached the rosary and helped its spread and it was promoted heavily during the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Early sets of beads were often strung on a string or cord which was tied together at one end. Such early Paternosters gradually evolved into the more regulated rosary, the beads became divided into decades with large and small beads respectively, being used for the Paters and the Ave Maria prayers. The cross bearing the image of the crucified Christ was then placed where the knot and tassel of the early Paternosters had been.

Rosaries may be made from almost any workable natural or manmade material. Precious metals, silver and gold were used for the beads as was glass, amber, coral, shell, ivory, bone, wood, precious stone, rock crystal, fruit stones and seeds. Fish bones and dried berries were sometimes used as well as iron and lead. Crosses tended to be of wood, bone and various metals or a combination of several materials. Generally the beads of Irish rosaries were strung either on cord or on cord with tassels of silk, twine or cloth. Some were strung on horse hair of thin leather thongs. Later rosaries were most frequently strung on copper alloy – usually copper or brass wire. It is common for crosses to be lost and replaced, for beads to be replaced, or additions to be made for a variety of reasons. Generally crosses and medals are a feature of post medieval rosaries. Some earlier Paternosters had varying numbers of beads and some had thumb rings, but Irish 17th and 18th century rosaries often have tubular silver crosses made from thin sheets of silver which has been beaten flat, rolled to form tubes, and soldered along a seam. The corpus is usually separately made of stamped or cast silver and is soldered onto the cross shaft where a plaque bearing the Virgin and Child occurs. A vexillium or plaque, bearing the initials INRI, is almost invariably attached near the top of the cross shaft. This is a separate piece of sheet silver with the initials engraved on it. In the late 18th and early 19th century some rosary beads occasionally had a composite type of cross, usually of copper alloy, copper or brass with wooden crosses set in a rebates in the metal framework. Such crosses have thin pieces of wood, usually dark brown or black timber inset in them. The wood is sometimes painted or lacquered and can also be of oak, ebony or of some cheaper wood which has been coloured to resemble a dark wood. To this wood a corpus of cast metal is usually attached with small nails. The corpus is either of cast metal or stamped sheet metal, often copper-alloy (copper or brass). In some instances this type of cross had additional stamped plaques nailed on to it. Plaques with skulls and cross bones of metal and a vexellium with the letters INRI are often separately attached. A crown of thorns may sometimes be found on the reverse side of the cross.

These two pairs of rosary beads are typical of the type used in Ireland throughout the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, one made from fruit stones and the second with a combination of silver beads and fruit stones. Note the second rosary which has a heart-shaped ‘spacer’ between the beads representing the preliminary prayers and the decades proper. The spacer is made from a reused Spanish coin (an 8 Reales piece) of 18th century date.

Article courtesy of Jim Higgins, Galway City Heritage Officer

Our Latest Acquisitions

Dominican Textiles

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A collection of embroidered textiles has reently been donated to Galway City Museum by the Dominican Sisters, Taylors Hill, Galway. The Dominican Sisters established an Order in Galway in 1644. This collection of textiles dating from the 17th to 20th centuries is one of the best textile collections in the country - it includes altar frontals, chausables, chalice covers and lectern veils. One of the earliest pieces is a chalice veil made by Sr Bridget Kirwan (whose brother fought at the Battle of Aughrim) and dated to 1683. The veil was most likely made in Spain and brought back to ireland in 1686 by Srs Mary Lynch and Julian Nolan - the sisters had fled to Spain during the Cromwellian occupation of Galway. Other exceptional pieces include an altar frontal made by Sr Margaret Joyce in 1726 which was used at the Slate Nunnery, Kirwan's Lane, now Busker Browne's.

Sister RoseSr Rose O'Neill, Dominican Sisters Taylor's Hill with one of the altar frontals donated to Galway City Museum. Sr Rose had cared for the textiles for many years before they were donated
Chalice veilChalice veil made by Bridget Kirwan, 1683

Killanin/Ford Collection

Galway City Museum was delighted to accept a collection of material which belonged to Lord Killanin and his friend, the movie director John Ford. Killanin was instrumental in Ford filiming the Hollywood classic, 'The Quiet Man' in the west of Ireland. The collection includes Killanins set of smoking pipes, typewriter, camera and a briefcase. The Ford collection includes a cap,  a cinemascope viewer and a pair of cufflinks which were given as a gift to Ford by the former President of the USA, Richard Nixon. We also have his director's chair from the movie The Quiet Man on loan and it is on display on our first floor. The Museum is grateful to John Morris and his family for their generous donation.

Siobhan McKenna Collection

A collection of costumes and props which were used by Siobhan McKenna throughout her theatre career from plays including Juno and the Paycock, Deirdre of Sorrows, The Plough and the Stars and Finnegans Wake.

Siobhan's archival collection is currently with the James Hardiman Library, National University of Ireland, Galway. The Museum is grateful to the late Bryan MacGrath for the donation of the collection to Galway City Museum.

Welby Mark VI Revolver

Welby Mark VI Revolver

A recent donation to the Collections is this Welbey Mark VI revolver. This type of revolver was standard British Army issue during World War 1 (1914-1918). This particular revolver was captured c. 1920 by Irish Volunteers from British soldiers during a social event at Taylor's Hill, Galway. It is currently on display in our second floor gallery.

China Jug (Ewer)

China Jug (Ewer)

This small china souvenir jug/ewer which depicts the Galway City Coat of Arms was manufactured by Arcadian China, Stoke on Trent, England. The factory was in operation between 1904 and 1924. The ewer is currently part of our reserve collection.