Galway is a small but rapidly growing tourism city in western Ireland. To evaluate its environmental quality, a total of 166 surface soil samples (0-10 cm depth) were collected from parks and grasslands at the density of 1 sample per 0.25 km(2) at the end of 2004. All samples were analysed using ICP-AES for the near-total concentrations of 26 chemical elements. Multivariate statistics and GIS techniques were applied to classify the elements and to identify elements influenced by human activities. Cluster analysis (CA) and principal component analysis (PCA) classified the elements into two groups: the first group predominantly derived from natural sources, the second being influenced by human activities. GIS mapping is a powerful tool in identifying the possible sources of pollutants. Relatively high concentrations of Cu, Pb and Zn were found in the city centre, old residential areas, and along major traffic routes, showing significant effects of traffic pollution. The element As is enriched in soils of the old built-up areas, which can be attributed to coal and peat combustion for home heating. Such significant spatial patterns of pollutants displayed by urban soils may imply potential health threat to residents of the contaminated areas of the city. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.