GALWAY CITY IN ONE DAY
Hedonistic, hip, charming - Galway is hard to resist. The city's Irish name, Gaillimh, originates from the word gaill translating as 'foreigners' or 'outsiders', resonating with a great many visitors who could not tear themselves away from here. The city, steeped in history, oozes a modern flair and offers a plethora of pleasures and frolics - colourful pubs, bohemian cafés, markets, bookshops, you name it. Renowned for its arty spirit and atmosphere, Galway is the one place in Ireland you need to visit to understand what great craic is all about.
In a way, it really should not be the case. Galway city is a place where rainfall is measured in days rather than millimetres. The winds blow more than 365 days a year. The summer is not a season but the odd week, if you are lucky. And yet here we are, at the National Epicentre of Craic.
I went to Co. Galway for a weekend, spending one day wandering around town with my local friend Caroline who showed me her favourites spots, then going on a full-day bus tour of Connemara (read about it in this post).
> SATURDAY MARKET
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday morning/afternoon, start exploring The Latin Quarter from St. Nicholas' Church. Here, you will find the market that is an essential part of the historic fabric of Galway. Usually in full swing by noon, it is buzzing with people who are enjoying all that is on offer: fresh produce, local crafts, as well as a good variety of food from bread and doughnuts to curries and sushi. I also spotted a stall with a sign 'Freshly Caught Fairies' (pictured on the right) full of handmade treats for the princess in your life! (here, grab a tissue to wipe that tear)
St. Nicolas of Myra, the patron of sailors and merchants, has been the patron of Galway since the 14th century. St. Nicholas' Collegiate Church, originally constructed in 1320, is the largest medieval parish church in the country still in use. It has been rebuilt and expanded over centuries. Christopher Columbus visited Galway a few times and worshipped here in 1477 (click pictures to enlarge).
Galway's nickname 'The City of Tribes' (Cathair na dTreabh) is a reference to medieval times, when it was ruled by 14 prosperous merchant families. The fourteen tribal flags on Eyre Square correspond to the names of Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D'Arcy, Deane, Ffont, Ffrench, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martyn, Morris, and Skerritt. Whereas the families were of mixed origins - Norman, Hiberno-Norman, French, Gaelic-Irish, Welsh and English - they profited from Galway’s role as a major seaport and trade with France and Spain (and later with the New World) and considered themselves very different from the surrounding native population. For example, they passed laws to have only English spoken and used in written documents thus preventing any intermingling with the native Irish.
Reportedly Ireland's favourite (and Caroline wholeheartedly agrees) independent bookshop, Charlie Byrne’s houses some 100,000 new and second-hand books including vintage paperbacks that line the shelves from floor to ceiling in its warren of small rooms. Not only does the shop cover every subject imaginable, it also hosts readings, events and launches and runs a book club that meets monthly. In a time where everything is digised and when you can downland a book at an instant, Charlie Byrne's draw is in its relaxed atmosphere, impressive collection, personalised customer service, and their passionate knowledgeable staff of book lovers.
> While we are at it: Watch the Irish-British series Black Books about an eccentric and dysfunctional bookshop owner starring Dylan Moran to get a taste of the local sense of humour (you're in for a treat, trust me!).
The Secret Garden is a local mecca for tea lovers (and as we are Ireland, that refers to a good part of the population). The cafe's layout features a cosy lounge area where you can sit with cushions and enjoy your cuppa in a relaxing atmosphere. Decorated with handmade furniture and local artwork, the shop has more than 100 types of tea from around the world on offer so you will never be short of options. If coffee is more your thing, they also offer top quality cappuccino and latte. If you are up to try something different, there is also traditional shisha (hookah) smoking with a large selection of flavours to smoke from. Throughout the day, the cafe hosts workshops, club activities, launches, and art exhibitions. At night, come here for live music and DJ’s playing ambient and chill out sets, board game nights, and even film screenings.
By the way, Galway has been named European Capital of Culture for 2020. This means that for a period of one year, the city and its citizens will get to showcase everything they have to offer in Ireland and across Europe in a series of events of all kind. As of now, the programme is still in the making.
Situated on Nuns’ Island, Galway Cathedral (The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas) is one of the most impressive buildings in the city. Construction began in 1958 on the site of the old city jail and was completed in 1965 which makes it the last great stone Cathedral to be built in Europe. Its architecture draws on many influences: the octagonal dome and pillars reflect Renaissance, the rose windows and mosaics go in line with the tradition of Christian art. The building is a testament to the natural resources of the area as it is entirely made of Galway limestone.
Ard Bia at Nimmos (pictured on the right) is a cafe, restaurant and wine bar located right by the Spanish Arch. This well-praised locale charming serves Irish, New Zealand and Middle Eastern dishes, and appears to be very popular among Galwegians and visitors like. Tourists are more likely to come here because of the two remaining arches on the Ceann an Bhalla ('The head of the wall'), which were part of the extension of the city wall to allow access from the town to the new quays. Back in the day, the location was the location of regular fish markets where the fishermen provided the city with seafood as recently as the end of the 1800s.
When you cross the Wolfe Tone Bridge over the river Corrib, you will be in Claddagh (An Cladach in Irish, meaning "the stony shore"), once an old fishing village. In fact, it is one of the oldest former fishing villages as written records indicate its existence since the arrival of Christianity in the 5th century. Claddagh was a separate community, very different to the Anglo-Norman city of Galway, and with its own king,. The people of Claddagh spoke Irish, followed their own rules and traditions, and their life revolved around the sea. Unfortunately, hardly any physical evidence of such rich history remains. The fishermen’s cottages were knocked down in the 1930s in favour of council houses, but fishermen continue to live in this area keeping the old traditions alive. If you go to Nimmo's Pier, you will be likely to meet people fishing there.
Today, the Claddagh is famous worldwide for the namesake ring, popular as a friendship and wedding ring. The traditional design shows two clasped hands holding a crowned heart symbolising love, loyalty, and friendship.
> SALTHILL PROMENADE
About an hour before the sunset, your best bet is to go to the sea. The 5km promenade begins in Claddagh and leads to the seaside suburb of Salthill. Walking or running along the seaside is a favourite pastime for residents and visitors alike, and don't forget to 'kick the wall', as local tradition dictates (you can see my friend Caroline, a Galwegian, proudly fulfilling her civic duty in the picture in the middle).
> MCDONAGH'S, BEST CHIPPER IN GALWAY
In case you've read my previous posts on Ireland, you might be aware that I am currently on a quest to find the greatest fish & chips of all times. So when I mentioned this to my friend, she immediately took me to McDonagh's, a culinary institution that’s widely regarded as possibly the best chipper in the whole country. From the get-go, I knew this was no ordinary place. The hearty nautical decor, framed old newspapers and photos set you in the mood right away. The food did not disappoint either: these were the best chips I have tried in Ireland this far, plus the salmon was really fresh and delicious. Do yourself a favour and check this place out.
> HAVE A DRINK
Located on the east side of Eyre Square, O’Connell’s looks like an average bar on the outside. Inside, it is a series of rooms recreating an old Irish house, with a big beer garden outside in the back. If there wouldn't be a pub you could easily imagine being in someone's house. The interior is truly impressive, full of intricate details such as tiled floors, antique lighting, stained glass windows, solid wooden seating, authentic stoves from the mid-1900s. Drinks-wise, this pub has it all - it boasts a selection of over a hundred Irish whiskeys and seventy gins, plus thirty different beers on tap.
You simply cannot leave Galway without experience a traditional music session! The Crane Bar is a gem of a local haunt that stages célidh almost every day. Upstairs is cosy venue also known as 'The Listeners Club', seating 70 in an intimate ambience. Concerts here range from singer-songwriters to traditional to roots music. Downstairs is the 'local', one of the few remaining authentic traditional Irish pubs.
Here is a short clip I recorded when we were there. Performing are Michael Chang and Bill Wright joined by another nine musicians.
>> How to get to Galway: Shannon Airport, the third largest airport in Ireland, is situated 87 km from Galway. It operates routes both within Europe (primarily to the UK) and to the United States. Alternatively, you can fly into Dublin or Cork and travel to Galway by train or by bus.
Have you been to Galway? Share in the comments below!
Happy travels x