The Lynch Memorial Window is a stone facade that adorns the side of St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, facing Market Street in Galway City. It features a Gothic doorway, a large window, a skull and crossbones, and an inscription that reads:

“This memorial of the stern and unbending justice of the chief magistrate of this city, James Lynch FitzStephen, elected mayor AD 1493, who condemned and executed his own guilty son, Walter, on this spot, has been restored to its ancient site.”

According to local tradition, the Lynch Memorial Window commemorates a tragic event that took place in 1493, when James Lynch FitzStephen was the mayor and magistrate of Galway. He was a wealthy merchant and a member of one of the fourteen tribes that ruled the city. His son, Walter Lynch, was also a merchant who traded with Spain. He had fallen in love with a beautiful Spanish woman named Agnes, who had come to Galway with her father, Gomez, a rich merchant sailor.

However, Walter had a rival for Agnes’ affections: another Spanish sailor named Pedro. Pedro was jealous of Walter and tried to woo Agnes away from him. One night, he invited Walter to his ship for a friendly drink. But it was a trap: Pedro stabbed Walter in the chest and threw him overboard. Walter managed to survive and swim ashore. He was furious and sought revenge. He tracked down Pedro at his lodgings and killed him with his dagger. He then fled to his father’s house and confessed his crime.

James Lynch was shocked and dismayed by his son’s actions. He knew he had to uphold the law and bring him to justice. He arrested Walter and put him on trial. Walter pleaded guilty and was sentenced to death by hanging. However, no one was willing to carry out the execution. Walter was popular among the people of Galway, who sympathized with his plight. They also feared the wrath of the Spanish merchants, who had a strong influence in the city.

James Lynch was determined to do his duty as a judge and a father. He decided to hang his son himself, from the window of his own house on Lombard Street (now Market Street). He tied a rope around Walter’s neck and pushed him out of the window. As Walter hung from the window, he cried out for mercy and forgiveness. Agnes heard his voice and ran to the scene. She saw Walter hanging from the window and James Lynch standing behind it. She begged James to spare Walter’s life, but he refused. He told her that he had to do what was right for the city and for God.

Agnes was heartbroken and cursed James Lynch for his cruelty. She said that he would never find peace or happiness again. She then ran away and disappeared. James Lynch was overcome with grief and remorse. He closed the window and retired into seclusion. He never spoke or appeared in public again. He died soon after, lonely and miserable.

The Lynch Memorial Window was erected in 1844 by Lord Kilmaine as a tribute to James Lynch’s stern justice. It incorporated elements from the original Lynch house, including the window from which Walter was hanged.

The legend of the Lynch hanging is one of the most famous stories of Galway City. It has been retold in books, plays, songs, and films. It has also given rise to the term “lynching”, meaning to execute someone without a fair trial. However, there is no historical evidence that James Lynch FitzStephen had a son named Walter who killed a Spanish sailor and was hanged by his father from a window.

The first written account of the story appeared in 1807, in a novel by Reverend Edward Mangin called George The Third: A Novel In Three Volumes. Mangin wrote: “Which would not have appeared had it not been written”. This suggests that he invented or embellished the story for literary purposes.

In 1820, James Hardiman published his History Of The Town And County Of The Town Of Galway, in which he repeated and expanded Mangin’s story. He added more details, such as the names of the characters, the location of the window, and the inscription on the memorial. Hardiman claimed that he had based his account on oral tradition and ancient documents. However, he did not provide any sources or references to support his claims. He also admitted that he had “improved” some parts of the story to make it more interesting. Hardiman’s version of the story became widely accepted as the truth. It was further popularized by Lady Gregory, who wrote a play called The Rising Of The Moon in 1907, based on the legend.

However, modern historians have cast doubt on the authenticity and accuracy of Hardiman’s account. They have pointed out several inconsistencies and contradictions in his story, such as:

– The date of the event: Hardiman said it happened in 1493, but James Lynch FitzStephen was not mayor until 1494.
– The location of the window: Hardiman said it was on Lombard Street, but James Lynch FitzStephen’s house was on Shop Street.
– The motive of the murder: Hardiman said it was a love triangle, but there is no evidence that Walter Lynch had a Spanish girlfriend or that he traded with Spain.
– The origin of the term “lynching”: Hardiman said it came from the Lynch hanging, but there are earlier references to the word in English and Irish sources, with different meanings and origins.

Some historians have suggested that Hardiman may have confused or conflated different stories or events that involved the Lynch family or other Galway families. For example, there is a record of a John Lynch who killed a man named Blake in 1568 and was hanged by his father from a window. There is also a record of a Patrick Lynch who killed a man named Bodkin in 1641 and was hanged by his brother from a window.

Other historians have argued that Hardiman may have deliberately fabricated or distorted the story to suit his own agenda. Hardiman was a nationalist and a Catholic who wanted to portray Galway as a heroic and independent city that resisted English domination. He may have used the story of the Lynch hanging as a symbol of Galway’s loyalty to its own laws and traditions, even at the cost of personal sacrifice.

Whether fact or fiction, the story of the Lynch hanging has become an integral part of Galway’s history and identity. The Lynch Memorial Window remains one of the most visited and photographed attractions in the city. It attracts those who are curious about its meaning and origin.

The window also serves as a reminder of the complex and sometimes tragic relationship between justice and mercy, between law and love, between father and son.


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Lynch Memorial Window



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