100 years in Galway

Eimear Feeney explores the magic of the West in the traditional landscape of Galway city

Summer is over (tragically), and Autumn is rising from the ashes. Everyone loves the autumnal aesthetic that brings warm and luscious coffee, turtlenecks, scented candles, books, and falling crimson leaves to mind. Within this cosy setting, we return to our educational institutes, awaiting another exhilarating year of society events, pre and post-lecture pints and the adrenaline rush of beating a deadline by a second. Unfortunately, as we begin a new term, we may face some regrets. Confronted with a brutal College schedule, you will inevitably put your head in between your hands and whimper: “Why didn’t I take that weekend off from work to travel? Well, your hopes are not lost. Why not take a weekend trip to a glorious destination in Ireland?  Accompanied by some good weather,  Galway in Ireland can be a beautiful place to travel and an easy way to escape college stress and anxiety.

“This isn’t a paid sponsorship with Galway Tourism. We just wish we were in Galway.” 

As young Trinity students, College entrances us into the nucleus of Dublin. Still, when the toxic fumes of traffic and the annoyance derived from Dublin Bus and Luas become too overwhelming, there is an attractive city to the West filled with history and Irish culture. Walk down Galway’s narrow, cobbled streets and immerse yourself in the city’s chill and relaxing atmosphere.  Investigate some of the traditional Irish pubs and the electrifying nightlife that accompanies the city. Joyous aspects of authentic Irish culture lie within the city’s veins, ready to be discovered. (This isn’t a paid sponsorship with Galway Tourism. We just wish we were in Galway). 

A Medieval City 

Medieval Galway was a prosperous port town and, with time, has transformed into today’s contemporary city. Galway City was founded in the 13th century by The Red Earl and 3rd Earl of Connacht, Richard de Burgh. The success and prosperity of the city can be attributed to fourteen families which ruled Galway for centuries after de Burgh. These families were known as the tribes of Galway; consequently, Galway became known as the city of Tribes. These tribes effectively ruled the city from the 15th to 17th centuries. Their names were (for the history enthusiasts that may care) Athy, Blake, Bodkin, Browne, Darcy, Ffont, Ffrench, Joyce, Kirwan, Lynch, Martin, Morriss and Skerrett. The tribes were expelled from the seat of power in Galway during the Cromwellian occupation of Ireland. Their legacy has been immortalised within Eyre Square, with their insignias marked on flags aligning the park. 

Touches of mediaeval Galway live amongst the modern-day vibrancy. A remarkable example of mediaeval noble architecture and a tourist attraction is Lynch’s castle, with its sharp Gothic style and ornate facades. During the Anglo-Norman conquest (12th-14th century), a wall was built to protect Galway inhabitants, later featuring the imperative Spanish Arch. The monument was built in 1584 onto the original 12th-century fortification. It was constructed to shelter soldiers as they surveyed the area and manned cannons. Christened originally as Ceann an Bhalla (“the head of the wall”), the Spanish Arch was later renamed to eternalise Galway’s merchant trade with Spain. Previously, the Galway City Museum resided in the Spanish Arch. Recently, it moved out of the historical monument, and the museum is free to wander. The Spanish Arch (nicknamed “Sparch”) is a place to socialise, day-drink and bask in the sunlight at the bank of the river Corrib. 

The History of the Claddagh Ring 

The Claddagh ring is an example of traditional Irish jewellery collecting notoriety nationally and internationally. Most people you know own or, if not, have lost a Claddagh ring. This exquisite ring design is prominently the reason for the amount of tourists travelling to Galway, as the original location of the Claddagh design. The name originates with a remote fishing village called the Claddagh, situated on the edge of Galway City. The wall built around the village separated Claddagh and Galway City, meaning that the Claddagh were able to preserve their customs and heritage. The village had their own King of the Claddagh, and the ring was initially a wedding ring for the Queen of the Claddagh. The peasantry later adopted the ring, which now conveys love and friendship. The phrase “Let love and friendship reign” explains the motif. Dillons in Galway are listed as the original makers of the Claddagh ring since the year 1750.

“The positives of this event are the craic, entertainment and justified hangovers; the negatives are that your purse becomes magically lighter when you leave.”

Riveting cultural events

Every July, the Galway Film Fleadh, a six-day international festival, is hosted in Galway. The festival was founded in 1989 to launch a platform for Irish filmmakers. Galway International Festival is hosted between July 17-30 and displays various artistic and cultural events.  Examples include traditional Irish music performances, theatre, music, educational talks, and visual art. The Galway Races is one of the most significant racing festivals in the country,  scheduled from July Monday 29 to August Sunday 4 2024. The positives of this event are the craic, entertainment and justified hangovers; the negatives are that your purse becomes magically lighter when you leave. The Galway Christmas markets are held from November 10 to December 22. The atmosphere is wholesome and festive as people shop to buy presents and enjoy the Christmas spirit a bit too early. Galway’s Eyre Squares glistens and shines into the night with amusements like the Carousel and a Ferris Wheel. The Bier Keller at the markets serves drinks between 5 pm and 10 pm, and you can buy delicious mulled wine, beers or cocktails. This event is a lovely opportunity for students to embrace Galway City in the heat of the Christmas season!

Some food or drink?

Here are some recommendations if you want to partake in the boisterous nightlife of Galway City or are seeking a friendly place for food. Looking for some delicious cocktails? An Púcán and An Tigín are the places to go! A traditional Irish pub, modernised to fit the younger generations, An Pugán has a delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, with a spectacular floral-themed beer garden. For a vintage, cosy bar aesthetic, head to An Tigín in Woodquay to try their signature cocktails. The local newspaper, the Galway Beo, states that An Tigín delivers the best Guinness pints in Galway! Honorary mentions include Murty Rabbits, just off Eyre Square. This pub was established in 1872, dating back to the San Francisco Gold Rush. In Taylor’s Bar and Barr an Chaladh in Galway, you are guaranteed to find some live acoustic music or trad music. If you are not in the mood for some pub grub, Quay Street Kitchen serves enjoyable Irish and European cuisine. In addition, visit Papa Rich for appetising Chinese food with substantial portions and Cava Bodega for gorgeous tapas!

“Trade in Dublin city’s dreadful air quality for the fresh, bitter sea-salt air of Salthill.”

Natural Galway 

Of course, you cannot visit the West of Ireland without witnessing the natural landscape or the Wild Atlantic Way. On a balmy day with the location so close to the city, Galway’s seaside resort, Salthill, offers students the chance to relax on the beach and swim to cure their academic stress—trade in Dublin city’s dreadful air quality for the fresh, bitter sea-salt air of Salthill. Many pubs exist in the seaside town, including O’Reilly’s Pub, which has a stunning rooftop bar and hosts trad sessions every Sunday. Connemara National Park hosts a wide variety of things to do for nature enthusiasts. Whether you are an experienced hiker or an enthusiastic hobbyist, you can climb the famous Connemara mountain range, the Twelve Bens Mountains. Their information centre supplies information on the flora and fauna of the area and is entirely wheelchair accessible. 

As we settle into the new college year, don’t let the college work dissuade you from a mini vacation. Bring it with you! You could go on a weekend or even Reading Week. Incorporate your work into the weekend away. Finish your readings in the middle of Eyre Square Park, lying in the lazy sunlight. Listen to the tranquil and soothing sound of the waves at Salthill while you finally read the rest of your course handbook. Go to a cafe in Galway City (my favourite is Esquires Coffee) to answer the inevitable barrage of emails. Whether you travel to Galway this semester or decide to put it on next Summer’s to-do list, I highly recommend that everyone experiences the artistic, historical and cultural gem of Galway.