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Did You Know … ?
- The Connemara pony is considered Ireland’s only native breed of horse.
- The two pilots who were first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic (1919) crash landed at nearby Clifden.
- Marconi exchanged the first transatlantic radio messages (1907) from a transmitter near Galway City.
- Galway County has Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region.
- Ireland’s famous “fishermen’s sweaters” originated in the Aran Islands.
Galway is the Irish Republic’s third-largest city. It is the administrative center for the eponymous county, which boasts a dramatic Atlantic coastline, islands, mountains and lakes, courtesy of Mother Nature, and a rich collection of archaeological sites, castles and ecclesiastical sites, courtesy of the Irish and their predecessors who have lived in the area for millennia.
The city, often called the bilingual capital of Ireland, has a stronger connection to Celtic ways than other Irish cities. It is known for its traditional music, song and dance, which inform some of its annual festivals: Fleadh Imboilg celebrating the start of spring, the Cuirt International Festival of Literature, the Galway Early Music Festival and the Galway Sessions traditional Irish music festival.
The Irish language appears on bilingual signage, and Galway is home to An Taibhdhearc, the National Irish Language Theatre, but the real Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas are in places like scenic Connemara to the west of Galway City and include the Aran Islands, accessible by ferry.
Visitors come to the city to enjoy the Celtic customs, by attending a hurling competition or hearing the music, for example, but they come for other traditions, too, like the fun of socializing in pubs, eating fresh local food products — such as the oysters — or shopping for Aran sweaters and other locally made goods.
Sightseers take in the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, which dates from the 14th century, and the city’s medieval center; they also look in at the city museum and a lively Saturday market.
Galway, prettily set on Galway Bay, hosts a very popular Oyster Festival, and visitors may do some fishing themselves, on rivers or out on the ocean. Other activities in the city or beyond include golfing, boat tours, walking, cycling and climbing in the rugged mountains of Connemara. In addition, the Irish-speaking Aran Islands lure the active traveler for cycling or riding ponies.
For the less active, a scenic drive to charming older villages beyond Galway City or a ferry trip to the Aran Islands for peaceful strolls in a tranquil space fit the bill.
Things to do for Venturers
- Take a ferry to one or more of the Aran islands. On Aran, the largest, roam at will on a bicycle, or see the island on horseback.
- Attend hurling competitions or a Gaelic football match in the city’s Pearse Stadium.
- Even if you don’t understand a word of it, attend a performance at An Taibhdhearc, the National Irish Language Theatre. If the Irish language interests you, also visit Gaeltacht areas such as Connemara to hear and learn more of the language.
- Run a half, full or ultra marathon in the spring Connemarathon, with scenic Connemara as the backdrop. Then, spend some time in this Gaeltacht region’s main town, Clifden, to get a better feel for Irish culture, heritage and traditions.
- In or near Galway City, charter a boat for deep-sea fishing off the coast of western Ireland.
- Take a walk in Connemara. One walk, through Errisbeg and Roundstone Bog, is described as the area’s “finest hill and bog walk.” On other walks, you will be climbing one or two mountains.
Things to do for Centrics
- Have a pint or two at Tigh Neachtain, a traditional pub that has changed little in more than 100 years of operation.
- If this suits your taste, literally, attend the Galway Oyster Festival in September.
- Join a walking tour of Galway.
- Go to the races, the horse races, that is. Attend the Galway Races Summer Festival, a weeklong event in late July. A short Autumn Festival and an October Bank Holiday provide further opportunities to place your bets.
- Trace your ancestry in local church records.
- Schedule your visit so you can attend the Galway Sessions, a festival celebrating traditional Irish music; local pubs provide the venues.
Things to do for Authentics
- Play golf. Ireland claims 30% of the world’s links courses and says all of them are accessible to visitors.
- The Saturday Market sits between the aptly named Shop and Market streets. Buy gifts and books here as well as gourmet food.
- Take a guided tour at the Galway Irish Crystal Heritage Centre to learn something of the crystal maker’s craft and its place in Galway’s history. Then, select crystal to take or ship home.
- Take a sightseeing trip along the River Corrib, from Woodquay in the heart of the city, for a unique angle on the scenery, castles and monuments.
- Buy an Aran sweater, and wear it home.
- Give yourself a self-guided viewing of St. Nicholas church, which dates from 1320 and is one of the best-preserved of Ireland’s medieval town churches. Galway brags that it also is Ireland’s largest medieval parish church in continuous use as a house of worship.
For more information, consult Tourism Ireland at www.ireland.com