By Emma Collard
On December 28th, 2019 I took the long 6.5-hour flight over from Toronto, Canada to visit one of the most raved about destinations in Ireland; Galway. I was aware of the historic aspect of County Galway but was more interested in the culture, music, locals, food, etc. Galway has a population of 79,934 people and hosts 13 music festivals, has 475 pubs and hundreds of restaurants I had my work cut out for me to experience all I could.
My journey began when my boyfriend and I decided to make the move back to Ireland and to stay in Galway. Him being a Monaghan native and myself from Canada, it was a new and exciting experience for both of us to get to know Galway and all it has to offer.
My first impressions of Galway
Our first couple nights in Galway we settled into our home and met up with friends at local bars in Eyre Square. Eyre Square is the central hub of Galway showcasing cobblestone roads for cars and pedestrians, buskers lining the sides of the streets, traditional Irish music echoing from the various 475 pubs and plenty of food options to fit every local and tourist taste. At first, this was intimidating as we were new and not familiar with the layout or where the best place to go was which gave us the challenge to find our favourite.
Firstly, we went to the main pubs such as The Quays, Monroe’s and The Skeff which were all very nice. They all served different types of bar food such as pizza, burgers, chips, etc. and of course drinks.
Myself, being new to the Irish pub scene, I was adamant to try a variety of different beverages, with recommendations from the bar staff and my friends. Some recommendations I could make would be Guinness, a traditional Irish stout that cannot go amiss when in Ireland, Orchard Thieves, an apple flavoured cider, West Coast Cooler Rosé, a sweet cocktail type beverage with a Rosé wine taste, and Pink Gin mixed with Lemonade, which was my favourite.
These are just a few recommendations because there are hundreds of drinks options and combinations. A unique thing about pubs in Galway is that there is always an event happening, either live music, some type of celebration, every day of the week because of the popularity of the city and the visitors it attracts.
Some off the beaten track Galway bars
After going to the main, often busiest bars, we went to some that were “off the beaten track’’. Áras Na Gael, an only Irish speaking bar and cultural centre in the west end of the city, Salthouse, a smaller pub that only sells unique micro-brewery style drinks, Carroll’s, which has a large smoking area with a double-decker bus serving pizza during summer months, and Merlin Bar, an old school tradition spot where everyone is treated like a local.
Along with the first pubs, we visited these ones also offer an array of live music and have something happening almost every night. Each pub or restaurant we entered contributed to the overall culture of Ireland and represented it very well by serving traditional food at O’Reilly’s to playing traditional music 7 nights a week at Taaffes, An Pucán and The Quays.
Galway’s new bye-law for busking
Throughout our travels, we were always looking forward to coming across the buskers on Shop Street although, unfortunately, we learnt that Galway City Council has put new rules limiting busking and street performances. These bye-laws range from a required minimum age of 16, banning the use of amplifiers, limiting location and restricting the time they are allowed to be out. This bye-law could affect the culture of Galway and possibly Ireland as a tourist destination because tourists who have done research or seen Galway in movies/TV will have high expectations that will be let down if they do not receive the full experience.
Galway hostels offer great ways to get to know the city
Another trait of Galwegian culture is the accommodation located in the square and surrounding area. There are approximately 9+ hostels spread out around Eyre Square encompassing brands such as Snoozels, Kinglay Hostel, Galway City Hostel, SleepZone, Woodquay Hostel, etc. There are also hotels but they are more upscale and for family trips.
Each company brings its own spin of “how to see Galway” to its guests by offering events like pub crawls, wine and beer tastings, tour packages and discounts to various locations around the county. The opportunities that each hostel offers greatly contribute to cultural aspects revolving around music, food and beverage and people.
What makes Galway so unique
What makes Galway so unique is the atmosphere. If I had to compare it to another destination it would be like streets of Amsterdam where it is pedestrian access only, most of the time, and there are vintage-looking cobblestones.
There are shops of all sorts, for example, pharmacies, souvenir/ gift shops, jewellery stores, clothing and shoe stores, ice cream parlours, 1-euro stores and even a store where you can buy fake sheep! The shops being accessible to tourists, and locals, added to the culture and how the people of Galway live which gives tourists an augmented cultural experience.
For the future of Galway, it would be in their best option to promote the “less known” side of Galway, meeting locals or pubs that are off the beaten track to ensure guests get the full Ireland cultural experience. All in all, the heavily visited and often crowded tourist areas, such as the Cliffs of Moher or main street pubs, therefore it would be beneficial to lead tourists to other places that could potentially offer a richer Galwegian culture.