Every week we shine a light on a different object from our collections that you may not have seen before. This week we have the Galway sword and mace, which are among the finest examples of municipal corporation insignia in Ireland, and have an eventful history. Originally swords and maces were used as weapons, but they came to be used as symbols of authority and jurisdiction – in Galway these symbols of the Crown, were used by Galway Corporation for many years during official duties by mayors and dignitaries.
Photos: © Galway City Museum
Made after 1610 by local silversmiths, a sword was first mentioned in a charter granted to the town by King James I, which gave the mayor authority to have a sword held before him, and also provided for the appointment of a sword bearer to carry it. The blade is from a fighting sword of German manufacture and is older than the hilt; being adapted for use as a ceremonial sword. The hilt is silver, with incised decoration, and bears the marks of Galway silversmiths. The scabbard is wooden, covered with velvet material with four silver mounts commemorating various mayors and their dates of office, including; John Morgan, 1660; Peter Stubbers, 1655 (although an attempt was later made to erase the name of this notorious Cromwellian soldier, who commanded troops in Galway after the surrender of Galway in 1652); John Shaw, 1755; Pat Blake, 1756 and the last mayor Edmond Blake 1831-1841. A royal monogram ‘WM’ represents the English joint monarchs William (1650-170) and Mary (1662-1694). The accompanying silver mace was made in 1709 in Dublin. Comprised of a long shaft with a crowned bowl, it is decorated with the insignia of England (rose), France (fleur-de-lis) Scotland (thistle) and Ireland (harp). It also bears the arms of Galway and the family crest of the donor, Edward Eyre.
Galway Corporation was dissolved in 1841 and the sword and mace were presented to the last mayor, Edmond Blake as payment (Galway Corporation was not re-established until 1937). They remained in the Blake family until the 1930s when they were sold firstly to a Dublin art dealer and subsequently to US newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst for £5,000 at auction, whereupon they were transported to his residence in California. Prior to his death in 1951, Hearst agreed to return the sword and mace to Galway and in 1960 Mrs. Hearst presented the Galway sword and mace to Frank Aitken, Minister for External Affairs at a ceremony in New York City. The following year, the sword and mace were handed over to James Redington, Mayor of Galway, by the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass at a ceremony at UCG (now NUI, Galway) – see Youtube link to the British Pathé footage of the ceremony below. The Connacht Tribune reported that crowds lined the streets to watch the procession, as the sword and mace were brought to St Nicholas’ Pro-Cathedral to be blessed by Rev. Browne.
While the sword and mace remained in use by Galway City Council for some years after they were returned to Galway, they are now held at Galway City Museum.
References and Further Reading
Hayes-McCoy G. A. 1960 The Galway Sword and Mace, Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society, Vol. 2