It’s easy to make memories while walking the streets of Galway, but there are some things about the western county that are unique or simply done better than anywhere else. If you’re done checking out the museums, cuisine and gorgeous city walkways, and want to add a rare jewel in the crown of your travels, here are some of the rarified options to get stuck into in the City of Tribes.
You mean you didn’t think of jumping into the freezing waters of Galway Bay for fun? You’ve obviously not stumbled across the enticing site of the diving platforms in Salthill, where locals leap (sometimes in choppy, dangerous-looking conditions) into the waves below, occasionally stopping to chill out on the raft nearby. Be brave, as it is cold, but it’s also a Galway right of passage.
The strangely beautiful wreck of this steam crawler has sat upon the rocks of Inis Oirr since the 1960s, its rusting hull firmly embedded on Finnis Rock. After islanders had saved the 11 crew members from a nasty fate in the choppy Atlantic, the story goes that they proceeded to drink the village dry. The ship, since stripped of its cargo, is now a popular, rusty (if slightly ill-advised) play spot for local kids.
Rarely has an event taken over a city in quite the way that Galway Race Week dominates here. The main draw, on paper, is the humongous horse racing festival and its week-long series of races that comes around every July/August, and if you’re into the sport, Ireland is a leader in this field. For everyone else, the packed-to-capacity pubs during this week (and the buzz that the festival brings to Galway’s streets) mark the city at its absolute best, though you’ll need to book a hotel very early.
The Galway Oyster Festival is a fantastic, city-wide tribute to the west of Ireland’s favourite foodie output, but its competitive highlight is somewhat quirky. Think you’re good at cracking open edible molluscs? People come from around the world every September to try to prove that they shuck better than anyone else, attacking bowls of bivalves at pace in front of the festival’s baying audience.
You may or may not be familiar with these sports, all of which are staples in Ireland. If you’re not familiar with them, each – the former two of which are almost exclusive to Ireland – is a manic 15-a-side ball game, for which locals go nuts. Rugby is more international, but frantic and physical, with Connacht (Galway’s provincial team, based in the local Galway Sportsgrounds) one of the more entertaining, attacking clubs. If you only catch one, however, go for the brutal, pacey world of hurling, which is like lacrosse’s bitter, oversized older brother.
The local’s jokey alternative name for the gorgeous area of grass next to the Spanish Arch, and overlooking the Corrib, Buckfast Plaza is Galway’s al fresco nightlife spot and takes its name from the popular drink known as Buckfast, often consumed in the outdoor area (albeit illegally). Buckfast is a syrupy, caffeine-infused tonic wine made by monks in the south-west of England, oddly favoured in this part of the world, and a potent social lubricant.
In the far west of the county lies the spot where two young pilots, William Alcock and Arthur Brown, put down their plane after the first successful transatlantic flight. Following their successful crossing, they thought the local bog was a field and plonked down unceremoniously near Clifden, where the achievement is now marked with a strange white egg-like structure placed on top of a few rocks down an unnamed, potholed road.
A domineering ancient fort built most likely for ceremonial purposes, Dún Aonghasa is arguably the most dramatic site in Ireland, overlooking a 100-metre (328-foot) drop over a cliff’s edge and made up of thick, concentric walls. It dates back more than 3,000 years and is a favourite spot for local artists and poets on the island of Inis Mor.
A rare summer event but one that really brings Galway to life. One of the country’s best live music venues, Roisin Dubh hosts indie, pop and dance acts as well as comedy, or you can just drop in for a beer or two. Every so often, though, the pub throws its doors open to occupy Dominick Street in its entirety, the clientele spilling out in headphones to dance and drink to music passersby can’t hear. It’s a surreal, but awesome, experience.
Father Ted is a cult comedy about Irish priests living in rural isolation on a tiny island, where they’re able to enjoy their rather weird lives without bringing too much shame on the church. It’s arguably Ireland’s most famous comic output, and once a year, hundreds of enthusiasts gather on the Aran Islands to re-enact the best scenes, strolling around in full costume shouting catch phrases and reproducing the weirder moments. It’s wonderfully daft.
Irish is still the official language of Ireland, which means (amongst other things) that in legal disputes, the wording of the law in the ancient language takes precedence over the English version of the text. Areas called ‘Gaeltacht’ protect the language in its natural setting, and within them, you will be expected to at least try to communicate in Irish. Connemara is the country’s largest Gaeltacht area, and spots such as Spleodar will teach you a few words.