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Tuam is a town in Ireland and the second-largest settlement in County Galway. It is west of the midlands of Ireland, about 35 km (22 mi) north of Galway city. Humans have lived in the area since the Bronze Age while the historic period dates from the sixth century. The town became increasingly important in the 11th and 12th centuries in political and religious aspects of Ireland. The market-based layout of the town and square indicates the importance of commerce.
The red Latin cross of the Coat of arms is representative of Tuam's importance as an ecclesiastical centre. The double green flaunches at the sides, represent the two hills or shoulders of Tuam's ancient name, Tuaim Dhá Ghualainn. The two crowns recall the High Kings, Tairrdelbach and Ruaidrí, who were based in Tuam. The broken chariot wheel is a reference to the foundation of the monastic town when St Jarlath's chariot wheel broke. The motto of the town, Tuath Thuama go Buan, translates as "Long Live the People of Tuam
The record of human settlement in Tuam dates back to the Bronze Age when an area adjacent to Shop Street was used as a burial ground. The name Tuam is a cognate with the Latin term tumulus (burial mound). The town's ancient name was Tuaim Dá Ghualann, i.e. the burial mound of two shoulders. The name probably refers to the high ground on either side of the River Nanny, overlooking a probable fording point over the River Nanny (or Corchra). In 1875, a Bronze Age burial urn was discovered in the area by workmen, dating from c.1500 B.C.
Records date from the early sixth century and states that a monk called Jarlath who was a member of a religious community at Cloonfush some 6 km (4 mi) west of Tuam and adjacent to the religious settlement at Kilbannon. According to the Life of Brendan of Clonfert, Brendan eventually told Jarlath "Not here at all shall be thy resurrection". When Jarlath asked where this may be, Brendan responded: "Have a new chariot made for thou art old; and go thy way in it, and wherever the two hind shafts of the chariot will break, there will be thy resurrection, and that of many others with thee". Jarlath's wheel broke at Tuam and he established a monastery there, known as the School of Tuam. As was typical with early settlements in Ireland, religious sites became established first and towns grew around them. Likewise, Tuam grew up around the monastery and has kept the broken chariot wheel as its heraldic symbol.
In 1049, Aedh O'Connor defeated Amalgaid ua Flaithbertaigh, King of Iar Connacht, making the O'Connors provincial kings of Connacht. He then built a castle at Tuam and made it his principal stronghold. This event was directly responsible for the subsequent rise in the importance of the town. Its position dominated the Iar Connacht heartland of Maigh Seóla.
In the twelfth century, the town became the centre of Provincial power during the fifty-year reign of Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (r. 1106–1156). He also brought Tuam its most prominent status as seat of the High King of Ireland which he achieved by force of arms during his long career.
About 1140 Tairrdelach founded an Augustinian priory in Tuam with possession over three church sites in Ciarraige Airne, east County Mayo. At the Synod of Kells in 1152, the centre of government also became the ecclesiastical centre, as Tuam was elevated to an Archbishopric, with Áed Ua hOissín as the first Archbishop.
Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair, as High King of Ireland from 1128–1156, was a great patron of the Irish Church and it was due to his patronage that Tuam became the home of some masterpieces of 12th century Celtic art, including the Cross of Cong. Tairrdelbach was succeeded by his son Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, the last native High King of Ireland. In 1164, Ruaidrí had a "wonderful castle" erected, with a large courtyard defended by lofty and massive walls and a deep moat into which the adjacent river was diverted through. This was the first Irish built stone castle.
A small part of the castle still stands. Following the destruction of the first Cathedral in 1184, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair left Tuam and retired to Cong Abbey, where he entrusted the Church valuables from the Cathedral at Tuam into the care of the abbot. This left Tuam as a small settlement and it wasn't until the early 17th century that it began to grow in importance again.
Throughout history, Tuam has been an important commercial centre with fairs and markets being an important part of commerce in the region. One of its fairs dates to 1252 when Letters Patent were granted to Archbishop MacFlynn by Henry III of England. Other fairs were authorised by Charters granted by James VI and I and George III of the United Kingdom.
The Annals of the Four Masters record that in 1488 "A whirlwind attacked a number of persons, as they were cutting turf on the bog of Tuaim-Mona, which killed one of them, and swelled the faces of the rest; and four others were killed by the same wind in Machaire-Chonnacht."