Tuam is a town in County Galway, 32 km north of Galway city. "Tuam" means tumulus or burial mound and there was Bronze Age settlement here, but it was from the 6th century that the town grew as an ecclesiastical centre under St Jarlath. It was effectively the capital of Ireland in the 12th century, when the High King Rory O’Connor resided here. It's this religious heritage (such as the ornamental High Cross) which is the main reason to visit. But Tuam in the 21st century discovered a new religious heritage, prompting visits by family archivists, state pathologists and reporters, who were rendered ashen-faced by what they found.
By car from Dublin follow M6 west to Athenry then M17 north, which ends outside Tuam. N17 forms the town bypass and continues north to Sligo.
Expressway Bus 52 runs four times a day from Galway to Tuam, and on to Castlebar and Ballina in Mayo.
Other buses are mostly designed for commuters, with just one run into Galway in the morning and one return trip in the evening.
Athenry is the nearest railway station: the trains between Dublin Heuston and Galway stop here, but there's no onward public transport to Tuam.
The town is compact and walkable, but to reach the outlying sights you need wheels, preferably better than the Saint's.
- 1 Teampall Jarlath on High St is where the town story begins and the journey of St Jarlath (Iarlaithe mac Loga) ended. He lived in Connacht circa 450-540 AD and may be the same Iarlaithe who was Bishop of Armagh, though that fellow died in 481 AD. One of his students, St Brendan of Clonfert, told him (circa 520) to set off in a new chariot, and wherever it broke would be the place of his resurrection. This sounds like telling a senior member of the faculty that he's actually been dead this last 40 years and even the undergraduates are beginning to notice - high time he retired. And if the chariot was sold as new, it was a dud, because Jarlath got all of 3 km from Cloonfush to Tuam before the wheelshaft broke. So here he founded a monastery, and the town grew up around it, taking a broken chariot wheel as its symbol. A ruined 13th century church now stands on this spot, similarly broken.
- 2 Chair of Tuam is the modern marker for the "wonderful castle" built in 1164 by Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair (Rory O'Connor), the last native High King of Ireland, and which is more romantically known nowadays as O'Tooles Car Park. Nothing else to see except asphalt and white lines, maybe a couple of antique traffic cones. The king retired to Cong Abbey and when he left, Tuam lost much of its importance.
- 3 St Mary’s Cathedral, 11 Abbey Trinity H54 XT57. This Church of Ireland (ie Protestant) cathedral is mostly from the 1870s, but the Romanesque chancel arch is from the short-lived 12th C first cathedral, while the Synod Hall, Library and Registry are from the 14th C second cathedral. The stalls of the Synod Hall are believed to come from a Piedmont monastery. The 20th C stain glass windows are very fine. The High Cross of Tuam was erected here on completion of the first cathedral. It was broken up when that cathedral fell, but re-assembled for display in Dublin in 1852. The RC and C-of-I cathedrals feuded over where the restored cross should be returned to. As a compromise it was set up midway in the town square, where it endured weather, pollution and thundering lorries for a century, before being cleaned and returned to St Mary's.
- 4 Tuam Cathedral (Cathedral Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary), Bishop St. Under Queen Elizabeth I, the Roman Catholics were ejected from St Mary's and their other places of worship, and forbidden to assemble for mass or build new churches. Only with the 19th C overturn of the Penal Laws could they build this, their own cathedral, completed in 1837 in Decorated Gothic style.
- 5 Palace Grounds are pleasant parkland north side of town.
- 6 Cloonfush is the place where St Jarlath is supposed to have taught, before setting out on the journey that deposited him in Tuam. The graveyard has the fragmentary remains of an abbey, and a mass is held here on his feast day, 6 June. Cloonfush is at the dead-end of a lane into a semi-circle of land bounded by the River Clare, a bog that was cut for peat. Not until the 21st C did the place get a piped water supply instead of pumping from the bog.
- 7 Cnoc Meadha or Knockma is a wooded hill 8 km southwest of Tuam with pleasant strolls and views. The turret stump on its north edge is 13th century Castle Hackett (Caisleán an Haicéadaigh). It was abandoned in the 18th C and the landowners built a new Castle Hackett 1 km north. That was torched in 1923 during the Civil War but rebuilt and is now an upmarket hotel and yoga centre.
- 8 Knockmoy Abbey is a ruined Cistercian abbey founded in 1190 by King Cathal O'Connor, who is buried here. It's in the fields midway between Tuam and Athenry.
"Victims of the Famine"
The Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home was operated by nuns in Tuam from 1925 to 1961. Unmarried pregnant women were sent here, willy-nilly, to give birth. They were kept on for a year as labour (with harsher terms for "repeat offenders"), while the babies were retained for fostering or adoption. The Council paid a subsidy for each child, though the nuns also sought payment from the mothers, even after the child had been placed elsewhere (which was often in the USA). An inspection in 1947 found many children suffering from malnutrition, and the Home's death rate was remarkably high, yet concluded that the nuns were giving good care. The Home closed in 1961 and was demolished. In 1975 boys playing on the site found a chamber full of children's skeletons: the chamber was hurriedly sealed up, prayers were said for what were deemed to be "Victims of the Famine", and all enquiry was closed down. Not until 2012 did investigations commence, prompted by ghastly discoveries at a similar "Home" in Dublin. These continue. What is already established is the mass illegal trafficking of young children from this Home for adoption, that the "chamber" was a septic tank, and that the bodies of many children - probably many hundreds - were dumped there by the nuns.
- 1 Tuam Golf Club is 2 km south of town on Athenry Rd. It's a parkland course of 6138 m (blue tees), par 72. Green fees (M-F) are €25, with Wednesday open day €15 (Apr-Oct)
- Fishing: Tuam is a 30 min drive from Lough Mask and Lough Corrib, both with excellent fresh water fishing.
- Walking: local scenic walks include Cnoc Meadha (Knockma) described above, and the river walk at Milltown, 10 km north on N17.
- Watch Gaelic football at 2 Corofin GAA. They're one of the top GAA clubs, winning the senior club championship three times in a row 2018-2020; yet such is Gaelic sports' resolutely amateur, local focus that few outside Ireland have ever heard of them. The stadium is 6 km south of Tuam off N83; you can't access from M17.
- Aldi and Lidl are edge of town along Galway Rd. Stores in town are Joyce's and Supervalu.
- Cre na Cille, High St, ☏ . Tu-Sa 17:00-21:00. Long-established restaurant continues to serve tasty and innovative food.
- Gather Restaurant, High St, ☏ . Th 17:00-22:00, F Sa 11:00-15:00, 17:00-22:00, Su 11:00-16:00, 17:00-20:00. Trad and Med cuisine.
- A slew of pubs near the main crossroads includes The Brogue, Man of Aran, Junie's and Cellar Bar.
- Corralea Court, The Square, Tuam, ☏ . Good mid-range place in town centre, live music Saturdays, sometimes noisy from street or bar. B&B double €200.
- 1 Ard Ri House Hotel, Milltown Road, Tuam H54 V267, ☏ . Decent mid-range place 1 km north of centre. B&B double €120.