Travelogue Ireland 7: Galway

GALWAY

22-23 November 2017

Thanks to our intentness to work in a seafood lunch at the seaside town of Doolin, we ended up seeing what’s dubbed (in its own brochure) as “the most visited natural attraction in Ireland”. I’d somehow thought that the Cliffs of Moher were further north up the coast than we were going so they hadn’t even featured in our planning but, nope, there they were. Perfectly positioned, right next to Doolin!

It was only an 80km stretch from Limerick but with single lane country roads, it took us over an hour to get there.

The entrance ticket to the Cliffs of Moher allows access to the whole complex, combining a self-guided (outdoor) tour with an (indoor) exhibition component. We couldn’t have had worse weather for our visit, being bitterly cold and raining, so we tried the inside bit first.

The Visitor Centre’s claim to fame is its eco-friendliness, tucked into the side of the hill like a cave with a grass roof so as not to spoil the landscape and view, and using geo-thermal energy, waste water treatment and sensor lighting. The visual displays bring the Cliffs to life through audio visual exhibits and 2 short movies, one of which gives you birds eye view of the cliffs.

Venturing outside, we used the free downloadable audio guide to walk ourselves through the South platform and then the North and see the Cliffs that had been waiting 320 million years for us to get there.

It was far from ideal weather for viewing. The brochures spoke of how you could see this, that and the other “on a clear day” but we were lucky to even be able to see the series of jutting cliffs because it was so misty! To give context, the Cliffs are 200 odd metres high and range for about 8km over the Atlantic Ocean. They, at least, are really hard to miss – and are quite astounding in their magnitude and composition – clear day or not! But we didn’t see the puffins, the Falcons or the views of 5 counties that might have been seen under different circumstances.

We were chilled to the bone and now even more motivated to get to Doolin for lunch.

It’s a weird thing about travelling that you’ll stumble repeatedly over something you ‘have to do’ when you’re looking for something else entirely… And then when you try and retrace the referred have-to-do, it seems like all trace of the articles you’d originally read have been been removed from the internet! This was the case with Doolin. I couldn’t seem to find the article that had stuck this nugget of a town into our plan.

Fortunately, it’s a 1-horse town so we drove through it all the way to the dock at the end and then back again, and settled on the place that looked most welcoming, Gus O’Connor’s pub on Fisher Street.

Great choice. Fire on the go, so roasty-toasty inside; big smiles from the barman and waitress. A table right by the fireplace, just waiting for us… We had the most delicious seafood chowder and Atlantic salmon with Parmesan mash and all was right with the world.

Really smug at our great decision – and commending ourselves on our commitment to the authentic Wild Atlantic Way experience – we hit the road once again, headed for Galway.

We were again staying in a hostel, again in a private suite. This hostel, the Bunk Boutique, seemed quite upmarket with an equal split of dorm rooms and suites. Our room seemed brand-spanking new with its laminate floor, modern finishes and crisp white linens.

The hotel was conveniently located right next door to the Tourist Office, where we picked up a map and the lady on duty advised us that the daily walking tour at 11.30 am would be worth our time if we could see our way clear to leaving Galway a little later than we’d planned to. With no clear plans for our last day besides getting to the airport on time (no particular rush with a 9pm flight), this seemed as good a plan as any – and with it being by far the coldest day we’d experienced in Ireland (cold enough to add another full layer of clothing!) the thought of keeping the evening’s plans minimal and indoors was of great appeal.

She also recommended that we have dinner at McDonagh’s fish and chip shop, which we’d shortlisted anyway, and which was on the other side of town (being a Medieval town, this meant a 15 minute walk at most) so gave us a goal to get there and back over the course of the evening.

Galway is a charming little city.

We crossed Eyre Square, that has been the centre of town for centuries and now was playing host to a Christmas market with scores of little wooden huts selling sweet treats, gift ideas and winter woollies. The middle had a festive display with Gingerbread house, reindeer and candy canes, and little stage that was hosting local musicians keeping everyone entertained while they shipped on Gluwein and munched on their take-away.

The other side of the Square deposited us at the top of the shopping streets; atill the original Medieval pedestrian walkways with authentic facades and visible family crest headstones above shop entrances. Buskers’ music filled the air and the Christmas decorations strung overhead provided a warm glow. There was lots of activity, but the kind of busy that added energy not crowdedness.

We stopped off at a pub at the top of the street – one of the oldest in Galway, known for its ‘craic’ (good times) – to recount our day and applaud our good fortunes and great experiences, biding time for the famous fish feast that awaited us.

A product of our own anticipation, it became quite an early dinner! And was every bit the hype we’d read about. We opted for the battered cod and salmon, which arrived with a mountain of chips and mushy peas. A visible award-winner!

Doing the usual pub search both on our walk through town and on the internet over dinner, we decided to spend the evening (our last in Ireland, sob!) at Sally Long’s, the only hard rock pub in Galway.

Quite different from all the strictly traditional pubs we’d been in over the course of the week, Sally’s had a Harley in the entrance, a Last Supper mural of musical legends, a pool table and was blasting AC/DC when we arrived. It was good for a change of pace.

Our last morning had to start the right way: FULL Irish breakfast. We got exactly that at a fantastic little restaurant called Riordan’s, which gave ALL the trimmings (mushroom, baked beans, fried potatoes etc) as well as the sausage, bacon, black and white pudding. Excellent fuel for the walking tour and to combat the icy day.

It was a far better call to defer the walking tour as although it was cold, it was clear blue skies and no rain.

We met our guide, Jerry, who walked us through the town we’d already become quite familiar with, but filled in the gaps on the who, what and how we’d gotten to the Galway we were in.

Besides the usual tales of pillage and plunder, Vikings and Cromwell, Jerry spent quite a bit of time telling us about how life changing John F Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963 had been. Obviously of Irish descent and leader of the free world, his visit went beyond ‘welcomed’ and all the way to hero worship and squares and roads were renamed after him, statues and commemorative busts erected and portraits and plaques placed alongside the Pope in the churches!

Another interesting sight and anecdote was Lynch’s Window, where the local Magistrate, James Lynch, lived up to his reputation for unbending justice when he notoriously hanged his own son who had killed a merchant. This is where the term ‘lynching’ is derived from.

Jerry concluded his tour at the Spanish Arch, so named for the Spanish merchant sailors who came ashore there to peddle their wares. This was also the site where the Claddagh women would sell the fish their husbands had caught. The Claddagh lived across the river in rows of white thatched huts and only crossed for trade. They are the people from whom the traditional Claddagh rings stem. You’d recognise the design if you saw it; the band forming 2 hands on the top side that are clasping a heart with a crown on it.

Done with the tour, we jumped in the car and headed for the airport. We had plenty of time since it was a 200 odd km drive and we had over 4 hours to cover the ground.

We needed to stop to refuel so coincided it with a visit to the Fields of Athenry, made famous by the Irish ballad of the same name… With a killer version by The Dropkick Murphys!

We arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our flight. A bit early, in fact, as check-in wasn’t even open yet. We made the best use of the time and got in a last Guinness for the road. Unbelievably even with the usual airport inflated prices, the pint was still cheaper than the tourist trap Temple Bar!

Sláinte Ireland. Thanks for all the good times. Hope to see you again soon!