Marriage Stones - Galway Civic Trust

Marriage Stones
As we have already seen, each of the 14 Tribes of Galway had their own Coat of Arms. These Coats of
Arms were used to identify each of the families. They were usually carved into stonework on their
houses or places of worship, such as St. Nicholas’ Church. They were a sign of how successful a
family was. Galway is extremely fortunate in having the finest collection of medieval sculpture in
Ireland, and in walking around Galway, and particularly in the city centre, which was the medieval
heart of the city, we are constantly reminded of the rich heritage in stone which we have inherited.
If any type of sculpture could be said to typify Galway, then it is the heraldic fireplace. The Term
“marriage stone” has been applied to some Galwegian heraldic sculpture, sometimes inappropriately.
Not all keystones or lintels from fireplaces which show coats of arms can be said to celebrate a
marriage. But in many cases when two wealthy merchant families were joined in marriage a marriage
stone was usually carved for the couple. This was to symbolise the joining of the two families. The
man’s coat of arms would appear on the left hand-side while the woman’s would appear on the right
hand side. These type of stones usually formed the keystone of the fireplace, as can be clearly seen
from the examples below. They would also have a date inscribed on the stone – this date usually, but
not always, referred to the year of the marriage. In some cases the date could also represent the year of
construction of the building, or the year in which an extension to the building was built. Sometimes a
fireplace bears the arms of only one person. More commonly there are two coats of arms which are
often impaled in a single shield, although they sometimes occur on separate shields.
There are many examples of stone carvings of family coats of arms on many structures in Galway.
Why not try to find as many as you can?
Class Activity:
Below there are some drawings of marriage stones. Can you identify the families involved
from their coats of arms? Look closely at the previous section on the Tribes of Galway to see
which coat of arms refers to which family.
Why not become a detective, and follow the Galway Treasure Trail on the next page?