As easy as it is to mix up the pronunciation of Houston, Texas (more like Heuston Station, Dublin) and Houston Street, New York (pronounced Howston), anybody can be forgiven for confusing this New York state town of Galway for the Town of the Tribes. The town of Galway, New York, however, has no connection to its city and county namesake in Ireland, but is so named as a result of poor record-keeping.
The town of Galway is located in Saratoga County in upstate New York and was established in 1792. The town contains a small village also named Galway, similar to how the county Galway’s largest city shares its name. The history of the town’s name travels slightly farther over the Atlantic, however, to our neighbors in Galloway, Scotland. The New York town was originally christened New Galloway after its Scottish counterpart and it is thought that this name was used as early as 1785.
Unfortunately, due to a misspelling when the town was incorporated (or a misinterpretation as can so often happen with place names), Galloway was to become Galway. Despite the name being Hibernicized with this loss of letters, the pronunciation stays true to the original, making it still sound dissimilar to the Irish version.
This Hibernicization of place names is in contrast to to the ways in which many Irish place names have been Anglicized throughout the years between the introduction of English tax systems and the land surveys that took place to map the land for these systems. Such Anglicization can be seen in Irish place names still, for example in place names beginning with “Bally” which was changed from the original Irish name “baile” (town), or in place names containing “kil” which may have been changed from either “coill” (woods) or “cill” (church).
The first settlers in Galway, New York arrived in 1774 and were of Scottish origin, with its first street aptly named Scotch Street. One of the town’s first settlers, John McClelland, hailed from Galloway and his keen eye for business soon saw him become one of the town’s most prominent members. Born in Glaston, in the shire of Galloway, Scotland, in 1754, John relocated to Galway aged 21 and established the first store in the town in 1780. His role in the mercantile business continued to see him prosper and he served three years as the first supervisor of the town before he was elected as a member of Assembly from Saratoga County in 1794.
The town was once a home to Chauncey Vibbard, the organizer of the New York Central Railroad that operated in the northeastern and midwestern United States, and to Joseph Henry, the American scientist and first Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
There are many other differences between the Irish and New York Galways. Both have proximity to water although Galway Lake, New York is man-made and originally constructed as a reservoir for the City of Amsterdam. Galway, Ireland, is also much larger with the population of the city alone standing at 75, 529 compared to Galway, New York’s population of 3,589.
If you live in or know of a city, town, or even a street with a distinctly Irish name and history, let us know in the comment section! There's so much Irish influence to be explored.
*Originally published in 2015