Galway is brilliant. And I never saw it coming.
My Dad and I booked our trip to Ireland on a whim, electing to include the country’s most historic port city in our itinerary just a day before we left the UK. What an excellent decision that turned out to be.
Although we only spent two nights, that was all it took to win us over. I’ve no doubt that the perfect weather and plethora of better-tasting Guinness and best-ever-tasting fish and chips had a lot to do with it, but just the city itself was a joy to discover.
The train station is conveniently located, in front of Eyre Square, perhaps the centre’s greenest, prettiest and trendiest area. But all roads lead to Galway Bay, the area of the city made famous by The Pogues’ reference in ‘A Fairytale of New York‘. We wander over soon after arriving to find a game of Canoe Polo taking place. On the sidelines, a bunch of young Irish lads are showing their support between swigs of buckfast– “Go on 10, go on 10, you’re the man 10!”, “You’re shite 8, you’re shite!”, “I fuckin’ love you 10!” –under the backdrop of a stunning sunset of yellow, orange, pink and blue. It’s a confusing paradox but an enjoyable one nonetheless.
The nearby Spanish Arch, a remaining piece of the extensive wall used to protect the old quays, adds a slice of history to the experience, while to its right on the wall of The Galway Museum an impressive street art sketch of a man’s face adds a touch of modernity. Another welcomed contrast.
If Galway Bay is the heart of the city, then the long, lively and entertaining Latin Quarter strip is doubtless its wide-reaching aorta. Along here you’ll find charming street performers, supremely talented musicians/bands and some of the nation’s best-known bars and eateries. That same afternoon, before arriving at Galway Bay, we stumble upon one performer, who we suspect is a massive Green Day fan given his black shirt/red tie combination, entertaining a burgeoning crowd. He juggles swords and burning sticks while balancing on a lofty and rather unstable looking unicycle– pretty impressive –but a raw element of unadulterated Irish wit makes his act far more amusing than the ordinary spectacle and sets the scene for our stay perfectly.
The heavy waft of battered fish and chips soon becomes irresistible, so we make a beeline for the famous McDonagh’s Fish Bar, where the queue is almost tailing out the front door. Undeterred, we join and wait, until at last we are rewarded with what we both agree is the best fish ‘n’ chip dinner either of us have ever had. There are two parts to the bar: a crowded, grab-a-seat-where-you-can type section right beside the queue– redolent of the classic greasy spoon diner –and a small restaurant area separated by a waist-high wall, where old paintings and fish-themed decorations reel in our curiosity. The Cod Bake and Chips is deep-fried heaven.
Back on the Latin Quarter drag bars are beginning to fill up. We don’t stray far before being tempted in by a trad band playing Irish songs to a squashed crowd. I fail to recognise a single song but the sheer talent on display is unmistakable. There are three of them, and none need their notes to read from. In fact their eyes remain closed almost the entire time, as they strum and harmonise together impeccably. The next bar– The Front Door –features another acoustic band, who play hits spanning the 60s to the present day in a much more intimate setup. We watch again, mesmerised. “Why didn’t you encourage me to learn the guitar, Dad?” I ask. “You’re left-handed son. No-one would’ve been able to teach you” he replies. “But what about McCartney, Hendrix and Kurt Cobain? Someone must have taught them!” “They taught themselves. They were geniuses” he winks. Cheers Dad.
We are so impressed with McDonagh’s and The Front Door that we actually return to both the following night. A tad unadventurous perhaps, but a guarantee of another great night, despite being midweek. Galway is rocking every night, and I will be back armed to the teeth with best mates next time. And what the heck, Dad can come too.
Have you ever been to Galway? What did you eat/drink/see/listen to?