The first Dominican foundation in Connacht was Athenry (1241). From there the friars came to Galway in 1488. It is rather surprising that they took so long to make a foundation in Galway. The 14thcentury had seen quite a spate of new Dominican houses (no fewer than seven in Connacht alone) before the Dominicans came to Galway.
Almost all had native Irish, rather than Norman, founders; and many were the product of a reform or ‘observant’ movement within the Order, which perhaps explains why they were small houses in particularly remote places such as Tombeola on the western edge of Connemara. The priory in Galway was probably the last Dominican foundation in Ireland before Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries.
TWhen they arrived in Galway, the Dominicans got possession of an old abandoned chapel of ‘the Blessed virgin outside the walls’, otherwise called ‘St Mary on the Hill’, occupied by the Premonstratensian Canons of Tuam from 1235. In later times it came to be called ‘the West Convent’, or ‘St Mary’s outside the gates.’ On the whole, Dominicans in Ireland preferred to live outside the gates of walled towns. They could find a cheaper site, more space, freedom from tolls, and come and go as they wished. The patronage of the wealthy Lynch family, extended thirty years earlier to the visiting friars of Athenry, was maintained in the new foundation.
Most Irish Dominican houses, particularly in Leinster and Munster, were effectively suppressed under Henry VIII about 1540 and did not really recover until the 1620s. Ulster and Connacht, being largely beyond English control, were not affected by the campaign of suppression until the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558 – 1603). The Corporation of Galway acquired a lease of the Dominican ‘friar-house’ in 1570, but there is no reason to believe that St Mary’s church was put to other uses or demolished.
Between 1590 and 1610, because of increasing persecution under Elizabeth and James I, Dominican activity in Galway was reduced, but it did not completely die. The number of Dominicans in Ireland had dropped to about forty, practically all of whom were in Connacht or west Ulster. What saved the situation was a new policy, adopted about 1610, of sending young recruits to receive the habit and pursue their studies in priories on the Continent. In the course of time, and against considerable opposition, the Irish Dominicans obtained three foreign colleges of their own: Louvain (c. 1623), Lisbon (c. 1635), and Rome (1677). Whenever possible, these recruits made their novitiate in Ireland first and were ordained after profession. By this stratagem, they might say Mass and support themselves on stipends wherever they might go.