Blog 1
Spanish Arch in Galway

Spanish Arch in Galway

Structure Information

The Spanish Arch is in fact two arches in the Irish city of Galway, so the name can be a little misleading in my opinion. The Arch is on the left bank of the Corrid River, where the river meets Galway Bay. [1] It was constructed in 1594 by Wylliam Martin, who was the 34th mayor of Galway. The name of the arch was originally Ceann an Bhalla (“the head of the wall”) and it did not become known as the Spanish Arch until much later. It was called “The Head of the Wall” because it marked the start of the city walls, which were designed to protect docked ships from thefts. The city walls also included a bastion, which allowed the soldiers stationed on the walls to fire cannons from them. [4]


Figure 1: The Spanish Arch in Galway, Ireland [3]

Historical Significance

The Spanish Arch extends from the wall which was built in the 12th century during Norman times. Arches have been around since ancient times so the structure is not any innovative structural engineering design, nor was a new certain construction technique used. The wall itself does not have as much significance throughout history, but currently the area around Galway Bay is used for eating, drinking, and playing music. [3]

Cultural Significance

Soldiers lived in the town wall and manned cannons on the roof. [1]The fact that the structure is called the Spanish Arch in a small city on the Irish west coast showcases the historical links between Ireland and Spain. The reason for the name is believed to be due to the merchant trade of the region of Galway to Spain, and Spanish ships would often stop at the docks in Galway. In fact, Christopher Columbus is believed to have visited the city in 1477. There is a “Latin Quarter” of the city so the influence of Spanish culture is still apparent. However, there is not a proven link between the Spanish people in Galway and the building of the Arch. [4] Today the Spanish Arch is used as a part of the Galway City Museum, which is located next to the Arch.

Structural Art

I would not call this piece structural art according to David Billington’s requirements for structural art: efficiency, economy, and elegance. There is a well-known sculpture on the top of the Arch called Madonna of the Quays designed by the artist Claire Sheridan. [4] The area around the Arch is a part of the lively Latin Quarter of the city, so the symbolism behind the Arch reminds me of the public’s reaction to the Brooklyn Bridge, but on a much smaller scale.

Structural Analysis

The medieval city walls in Galway were constructed using stone since the stone arches were a method perfected throughout Roman times. The load on the arch would be a distributed load since the only applied load is the self-weight of the stone. If there is a person or a cannon on the city walls (as there was in medieval times), a point load would be applied to the free body diagram. However, for this case the only load is the self-weight.

Figure 2: Load Paths in Spanish Arch [5]

Figure 3: Free Body Diagram of loads on arch


Figure 4: Calculating max force in arch

In order to calculate the max forces in the arch, cut the arch at the point where it is the tallest (in the middle of the length in this case). Take the sum of the forces in the y- direction and the sum of the forces in the x-direction to obtain the max force at the pinned ends. The max force occurs at the ends of the arch.

Personal Response

I knew that the concepts behind arches have been understood for thousands of years, but it was actually pretty cool to be able to walk under an arch that has been standing around for close to 500 years. While the arch itself is not that impressive, knowing the load paths behind the arch is interesting and I think it’s fascinating that people were able to understand this in order to successfully build them. Also I was able to witness the area around the Bay being used as a social setting during a nice and sunny day in Galway.




  1. adiabre3 says

    The rustic design of the arch is quite beautiful and evocative of a strong history of battles, raids, and simpler ways. When I first saw the title Spanish arch I was very confused especially since it is located in Ireland and constructed using Roman methods. I believe this is a good example of how connected the world was back then, even though people lived far from each other, they still managed to share innovations (at their own pace), mostly through warfare and conquests.

  2. kunangst3 says

    From my many tours of Galway and its surrounding area, I learned that the Spanish Arch was the remaining piece of a wall that had surrounded the town. I agree that it is more interesting historically than structurally; I personally was not that impressed when I first saw it. In addition to Spain’s influence on trading in Galway, the Spanish are the reason for the term “Galway girl”, which is used to describe a girl with black hair and blue eyes, a result of Spanish sailors marrying Galway women. Geographically, Galway is not the closest coastal town in Ireland to Spain. Do you know why Galway was chosen as the spot for Irish trade with Spain?

    • ndzanic3 says

      I am not sure of the exact reason for the trade between Spain and the city of Galway, but both places had something interesting to trade: iron and wine from Spain, hides and fish from Galway. Also, both Ireland and Spain are predominantly Catholic countries, and a lot of Irish would go on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage in northwestern Spain. I did not know that was the reason for the term “Galway Girl”!

  3. jhartwell3 says

    I remember passing through this arch during a tour of Galway I took 3 years ago. Although I recognized the structure as old, I never thought much about just how old it was – nor did I hear about its connection to the Spanish influence of the city. I agree about its stance so far as structural art – it just isn’t, and the arch itself is not hugely significant. At the end of the day, it is a simple arch in a historically significant area, but no impressive works of engineering or structural art was achieved in its construction.