St Nicholas Collegiate Church Galway

The Organ

A brief history

References to an organ in the church stretch back as far as 1561, when Nicholas Lynch fitz Stephen, mayor of Galway for the second time, had an organ made and placed in a newly built tower in the Lynch (south) Transept.

There is no extant information about the nature of that organ nor its use. In July 1726, Galway Corporation bought an organ from Mr Symon Kirwan, in consultation with Mr Thomas Staunton, and paid “not exceeding £130 for said organ, for fixing the same in the said church, and for keeping the same in repair for three years”. The organ was placed in a loft over the north transept, where it stayed for 100 years. It appears likely that there was no organ, nor organist, between 1826 and 1846; parishioners of the time later recalled the singing being led by two ladies playing the harp.

In 1845 a new organ was built by the firm of Walker & Sons. The Galway Vindicator (a local paper of the time) stated that “the instrument for sweetness and power of tone exceeds any other in the province”. It was erected in South Transept on top of the tomb of James Lynch, where it stayed for 30 years before being moved to the current position on the North side of the chancel. In 1881 it was suggested that a new organ was needed, and a committee was formed to collect subscriptions.

The current organ

In 1912, a new organ was ordered from Norman & Beard of Norwich for the sum of £908, half of which was the gift of Mr Andrew Carnegie. A small amount of pipework was incorporated from the old Walker instrument.

This instrument (specifications given below) has had many repairs and overhauls (with major work carried out in 1945, 1957-9, 1963, 1977-8 and 1982), during which most of the original tubular pneumatic actions were discarded in favour of electro-pneumatic replacements.

Great Organ Swell Organ Choir Organ (encl) Pedal Organ
Open Diapason, large 8 Lieblich Bordun* 16 Viol d’Orchestre 8 Harmonic Bass 32
Open Diapason, small* 8 Open Diapason* 8 Stopped Diapason* 8 Open Diapason* 16
Hohl Flöte 8 Rohr Flöte 8 Dulciana* 8 Bordun 16
Principal* 4 Viola da Gamba 8 Lieblich Flöte 4 Octave (ext) 8
Claribel Flute 4 Voix Celeste 8 Clarinet* 8 Choir to Pedal
Fifteenth 2 Gemshorn 4 Sub Octave Great to Pedal
Tromba 8 Cornopean 8 Swell to Choir Swell to Pedal
Choir to Great Hautboy 8    
Swell to Great Vox Humana 8    
Swell Octave to Great Tremulant    
  Octave  

* uses pipes from the 1845 Walker organ

Future plans

Despite considerable expenditure over the years, the organ’s reliability has deteriorated to the point where the instrument is in danger of soon becoming unplayable. The Select Vestry of the church has commissioned several reports from professional consultants, the general consensus of which is that the problems accruing from years of substandard maintenance and the use of poor quality replacement parts, together with the organ’s general usuitability for modern liturgical needs (particularly its poor siting), can only be satisfactorily answered with a new instrument. In 2008 the Select Vestry established the St Nicholas Organ Project to research and present a proposal for a completely new organ sited and designed to be of maximum efficacy in the church’s revitalised worship. This proposal is currently in preparation.