Galway City - a stroll around
We spend a day in Galway City, enjoying the relaxed ambience, having a Guinness or two, and wishing Scotland could be like this.
How we Scots went to Galway and felt right at home.
There we were, the Scottish tourism experts, the McMavens of our homeland, pitched up on a foreign shore. Well, not quite. After all, in Ireland they speak the same language and drive on the same side of the road as Scotland.
Salthill by Galway City is down by the sea. It shares the same sort of relationship that Portobello has with Edinburgh. We found the comparison somehow reassuring.
So we stared out of the panoramic window of our apartment, facing south across Galway Bay to the horizon and the grey ribs of The Burren. (More on this down the page.)
Below us, a gentle tide of mostly young Galwegians ebbed and flowed on the promenade. Actually, no, they neither ebbed nor flowed. That’s too casual. Instead, they purposefully walked, arms a-swinging, or jogged or ran or strode out with their dogs. Some of them even swam.
There were more fast-moving, fit-looking folk than you’d see if you overlooked, say, Aberdeen’s beach boulevard. This was beginning to look like a young people’s country already…
The night before, on arrival, we’d gone off to eat competent food at Oslo’s just along the road. And some of us went to O’Connor’s Famous Pub just a little further on the R864. (It’s a famous pub because that’s what it says outside.)
O’Connor’s poses the question: what do you call an Irish-themed pub when it’s in Ireland? Answer: a pub.
This one has had many famous visitors - though neither Art Garfunkel, Nancy Cartwright or even Ed Sheeran (‘Galway Girl’) were in the night we visited.
All those quirky artefacts hanging low from the ceiling in an authentic way can give you a headache, especially if you’re tall, so after a quick look round I left the others and went off to ‘See the Sun go down on Galway Bay.’
That, of course is from the song ‘Galway Bay’, as sung by my father long ago, though he never visited and got it from Bing Crosby, probably.
Strolling around Galway City
Right, it’s morning now. From Salthill to the centre of Galway is a pleasant 30 minute walk. Soon, from the Wolfe Tone Bridge, we saw the landmark Spanish Arch across the river. Testament to the long history of this port-city, this surviving chunk of 16th-century old town wall was itself a remodelling of a section of even earlier Norman Wall.
Basically, it looks like a wall with a hole in it so there’s not a huge lot you can really do with it, apart from admire it. However, the extensive Galway City Museum is just beyond. (Eh? Oh, maybe visit later…let’s see how the day goes…)
The nearby quay is where the young folk (unofficially - no, wait - illegally) sit with, uhmm, refreshing bottles of various kinds to while away the sunshiny day. It’s a pastime locally called ‘Sparching’. Check the river-bed for proof or, at least, empties. Ah, local colour, I knew it was all around.
Then it was up Quay Street and it didn’t remind me of Scotland at all - more like a gentler, less desperate and more chilled version of the Shambles in York, in England. Here you can discover the romantic tale of the Ring of Claddagh. I thought it was a geographical feature but it’s actually about a, uhmm, ring.
The ring has always been made with symbols - a heart, two hands and a crown and is linked to a variety of romantic old tales mostly about a Claddagh silver smith who escaped from pirates and returned to his loved one and…I seriously paraphrase here but, well, you have to admire the icon’s sheer staying power over the centuries.
Next, to the St Nicholas Galway Food and Craft Market where a sign sign advertises ‘Freshly Caught Fairies’. (They’re an ingredient in cakes, I believe…) Oh, other scrumptious fresh things were there too, such as honey, fish, bread, and crafty things like soap.
This in turn reminded us it’s morning coffee time. Nearby McCambridges of Galway is everything a busy, friendly deli/cafe/restaurant could be. It’s been sourcing fine foods for almost a century and pronouncing scones to rhyme with ‘bones’ for the same length of time.
Most of us Scots pronounce this delectable coffee accompaniment to rhyme with ‘lawns’, so we had to ask why... and our waiting person was quite prepared to get into a long linguistic discussion over the topic. (See, I told you everyone was friendly.) Then, after the scawn, we were gawn.
Next, there is street music and beyond are the waving banners of the Tribes of Galway in Eyre Square.
The name ‘tribes’ was originally a derogatory reference by the English to the 14 merchant families who had controlled Galway.
The English government who, in their usual interfering, self-righteous, expansionist, anglo-centric way - oh, sorry, don’t start me off - took over when Cromwell’s forces conquered Ireland, besieging Galway in 1651-2.
The Tribes of Galway as a name was adopted as a badge of identity by the locals afterwards. The flags still fly proudly today.
Lots more to explore in the vicinity of Eyre Square, a pleasant and open plaza with some fine pubs nearby.
Our guide led us west though and after a few minutes and a few quiet side streets there was suddenly a river with waving reeds. Wait, weren’t we supposed to be in a city? The River Corrib flows for 6 km / <4 miles from the large Loch Corrib, so it’s pretty short.
I suppose that, back home, it’s like the River Morar flowing down for only a kilometre or so from Loch Morar to the famous Silver Sands of Morar in the West Highlands.
Here, on the Corrib, a patient angler flicks his fly rod. Passers-by spectate from the bridge. Nearby, a man stands at a bus stop with a large harp in a case. This is definitely not Scotland.
Is it lunch-time already? Must be all that strolling. Wait, there’s a booth, spotted from the street, in Seven Bridgestreet in Galway’s Latin quarter. That’ll do nicely. Guinness? Why, thankyou...
Hmm, hake fish cakes with an innovation - they’re crammed with real fish, not just potato and a fishy fragment or two. They taste of the sea. Best ever. I told ‘em to tell the chef.
That was the most endearing feature of Galway City. I’m beginning to think you’d get friendly service and really competent food, no matter where you fell into...
Sure, we could have visited the museum or the cathedral...that’s what you’re supposed to do as a tourist. But it’s sunny and the ambience is so pleasant. Let’s window-shop and stroll some more. This is very relaxing.
And so we wandered back to Salthill. But wait, it really is sunny - let’s find a beach nearby. Well, that’s easy, though we took the car a few miles west. (You can rent a car easily in Galway.)
It’s all helping us weigh up the pros and cons of Scotland and Ireland.