The Irish city of Galway has many enchanting properties, and although I hardly spent a full day there, it was enough to make me decide that I’ll definitely be back one day; hopefully sooner than later. While I might not be able to list everything there is that you can see and do in Galway after my brief stint, I sure can share some of the reasons that might make you want to visit – and stay longer than I did! Here they are:
The longest promenade and a wall for venting
The Salthill Promenade in Galway is Ireland’s longest seaside promenade. It has beaches and bits with glistening pebbles and even a diving pier, as you can see in the picture above. Judging from said picture, it also attracts some hard-core sea lovers who will go for a swim all throughout the year. I, on the other hand, needed a hot chocolate (or something stronger) just watching them.
Luckily, an opportunity arose to warm me up (and let me release my frustration for not getting my hot chocolate): on the promenade, there’s a wall just for kicking. And you kinda have to kick it, because it’s a local tradition and because it’s for good luck. In a world where you always have to kiss or touch everything for good luck, kicking a wall makes for a refreshing change!
So that’s where the Ring comes from!
I’m sure you are familiar with the design of the ring in the picture below – I got one like this from my best friend back in high school, as a friend-ship ring. Well, it might have been a little less fancy, maybe. You know. But in Galway, you’ll find these everywhere – whole shops dedicated to making them, in fact. Because… this ring comes from here!
It’s called a Claddagh ring, after a village just outside of Galway, and symbolizes friendship (the hands), love (the heart), and loyalty (the crown). The design is as old as the 17th century, and you can wear the ring in different ways to indicate your relationship status. Yes, that’s what life was like before Facebook, people. But you just made it work, you know? You just did.
Galway is also a good city to go on a shopping spree, since we’re talking about rings in shops. In that regard Galway sports something that sounds bizarre but is actually pretty cool: the Eyre Square Shopping Centre is built around the old city walls. The historic value of the walls is slightly lessened by that, I guess, but I’m sure the walls appreciate being dry and proper and in a cosy environment after all the centuries with the sieges and stuff. I would.
History lessons in a pub
It seems the inhabitants of Galway realised that you up your chances of people visiting historic sites when you combine them with an attractive optional reason to come. Which is not only true for the Eyre Square Shopping Centre and the city walls, but also for “The King’s Head Pub” , which is located in a building that is around 800 years old. It is a really, really cool pub, effortlessly combining a modern decor with the traditional style.
Here you can enjoy a nice pint and “have a craic” (which translates to having a good time if you’re not familiar with the Irish expression), while contemplating the fact that you’re in the house that once belonged to the Mayor of Galway, only some 360 years ago, who was forced to give it up when the English came and took over.
I did notice that most of the stories in Ireland do not end well, but are rather dramatic. Fear not, though: the only drama you could get involved in is that you have positioned your butt on the wooden throne in the first room and are not willing to give up your seat to anyone else.
The King’s Head’s owner, Paul Greglish, is most dedicated to his pub and not only works together with and seeks advice from historians and archaeologists, but has even created a YouTube channel where he showcases a few clips from and about his pub.
I would have liked Galway one way or the other, but we got treated to a tour sampled by a guy who knows his town inside out and further still: Neil from from the “Gore of Galway”. He introduced us to some of the sights you will also be able to find in the guide-books, like St. Nicholas Church, where Christopher Columbus himself came to pray to, or Lynch’s castle, and told us a lot of stories surrounding these places, some of which were true, and some, uhm, maybe a little less.
But Neil also got us into a few other places! At one point he lead us into an inconspicuous backyard, and knocked on a door that did not necessarily look like guests were expected. We were taken into a workshop full of instruments in all stages of perfection, where musical instrument maker Paul Doyle unleashes his magic together with some employees.
Paul comes from a family of instrument makers, with the business having been founded back in 1890 by violin maker Frank Doyle Senior. I personally find it always very special when you get a ‘real’ view of how crafts are made, and when you are able to meet the people who make them.
We also went into a very fancy looking hotel – just walked right into the lobby- and Neil explained that this was the Hardiman Hotel, where many, many famous people have stayed since it opened in 1852: royalty, politicians, sport stars, writers, and, the only names I can ever remember, actors. Fred Astaire, John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Jack Nicholson, to name a few.
The hotel is right at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Park, which is also know as Eyre Square. It’s where John F. Kennedy held a speech during his visit of Galway in 1963, and I think Neil has the whole thing memorized!
If you want to discover places you would not necessarily find by yourself or feel comfortable walking into, or if you want to hear all the spooky stories just waiting to be told at every cornerstone in Galway, or if you just want a really good city tour with a highly motivated guide who loves his town, than Neil is your man. He was so sad that we only had little time and kept saying that there was so much more to see! Highly recommended.
Really good Irish coffee
I was going to say “The best Irish coffee”, but since I haven’t really exactly drunk gazillions (I’ve had a few, though!), it just remains the best Irish coffee I personally had. Nevertheless, I’ll tell you where I had it: in the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa. If you are staying there and can drink it as a night cap, even better!
And thus these were a few impressions I got while visiting Galway. And even though it constantly drizzled while we were there, I quickly understood why people get a dreamy expression on their face when talking about this city: it’s gorgeous, it’s vibrant, it is arty, but it also puts a bit of well-measured roughness from the sea at Galway Bay into the mix. So I shall end this post with the wise words of the terminator: “I’ll be back!”. Maybe see you there? In any way: thanks for reading and safe travels!
This experience was part of my post-conference trip of TBEX 2013 in Dublin, so thanks to TBEX and everyone who collaborated to create this amazing little journey!