Galway is the second largest county in Ireland and the largest in the province of Connacht, both in area and population. It is divided in two by the great expanse of Lough Corrib, the largest lake in the Republic of Ireland. To the west lies one of the county's most scenic areas, the mountains of Connemara, while to the east, its fertile plains run gently towards the Shannon basin. Its capital, Galway City, stands on the banks of the River Corrib, which flows into Galway Bay. East Galway is particularly rich in ecclesiastical and monastic ruins, while Galway City has been an important port and trading centre since medieval times, when it conducted a vigorous trade with places as far away as Italy, Spain and France. In modern times, the county has been a focus of industrial and tourist expansion and contains one of the largest Gaeltachts or Irish-speaking areas in the country. Peadar O'Dowd's interesting history traces its political, administrative, social and economic developments over the centuries.
He pays particular attention in the modern period to the importance of the county's educational and cultural infrastructures, as well as its changing life styles in the twenty-first century.