St Nicholas Collegiate Church Galway

A Brief History

Choral worship in St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church has its origins in the college of singing clerks established to serve the medieval establishment. The church was constituted as fully independent collegiate establishment in the late fifteenth century, and a college house built for the warden and vicars choral.

Whilst little is known about the exact make up of the College, it is clear that at least some of the daily canonical hours were sung, for (according to documentation of meetings between the city Corporation and the warden and vicars) it was agreed that the “wardayn and the reste of his brethren shall dayly saye or singe, as tyme requirith, in the qyere the tydes or houres, as tercio, sexto and nono” (the mid-morning, noonday and afternoon offices). In addition to the plainsong that would have been the principal element of these services, polyphony must also have begun to feature in the musical diet, for the Warden was instructed to train four choir boys as choristers and provide board for them: “that foure boies for the augmentacion of Godes Devine Service shalbe assistinge and helpinge to singe dayly at the quere ….the vicars and Colladge allwayes gyvinge the said childrin meat and drinke contynuallye”.

The College survived the vicissitudes of the Reformation, and was reconstituted by Edward VI in 1551 as the “Royal College of Galway”, with warden plus eight resident vicars choral. Not much is known about the subsequent history of the college, and by 1820, according to Hardiman’s History of Galway, there were only two resident vicars, paid £75 per annum, along with an unspecified number of choristers (presumably boys) paid £9 per annum. The College building still existed then but had been turned into tenements; it was demolished not long after, and the College itself dissolved.

Since that time, although the collegiate title has remained in use, the church has continued as a purely parochial establishment, with its pattern of worship largely based around a congregational Sunday liturgy led by a voluntary choir.