Dublin had already changed my mind about Ireland with its rousing history and rebellious spirit, but Galway’s people and landscapes are what really made me fall in love with Ireland. Galway is artsy, bohemian, and filled with students, who are a large reason why the music scene here is one of the best in the country.
One of the first things we did was stumble into a free walking tour — the only walking tour that has ever made me tear up! Besides taking us on a fascinating walk through Galway and teaching us about its history (full of invaders) and cultural traditions, our guide — aware that the majority of tourists are Irish-Americans — spent a minute to affectionately acknowledge them. “We genuinely welcome you back. Your ancestors had to leave Ireland for a better life, and they succeeded. Because they succeeded, you are able to come back here today, and we are so, so proud of you.” What a welcome! I had never wanted to be Irish so badly!
During the tour, she brought us to a church that didn’t look like much, so when she told us that it was her favorite church in the world, I was intrigued. In 2002, the first public blessing for a same-sex couple in an Irish church occurred here. This Protestant church also allowed Catholics to worship here when their own church was being refurbished — a shocking gesture when you consider the history of Ireland. This church is regularly used by the Romanian & Russian Orthodox Churches, as well as a Syrian church. In a world full of division and hatred — especially between religions — this church exemplifies a type of humanity I wish I could see more of. Ireland may be known as a Catholic country, but the Irish people we met both in Dublin and Galway were all incredibly progressive.
Galway is compact, with brightly painted pubs and seafood restaurants filling the main roads. A salmon-stuffed river runs through the city, and a long waterfront promenade leads to Galway Bay. That was where I first encountered real Irish grass. I just could not get over this grass. We should be banning all sprinklers because this blindingly-green grass nourished naturally from the sky and sea (using seaweed fertilizer!) should be the only grass allowed around the world. Love songs should be written about it. I am not a nature person, but this landscape had me in awe. I’ve never seen anything like it. It made me want to put up with the nonstop rain.
That night, I had the first oysters I’ve ever liked. Apparently the oysters are reason enough to visit Galway, which hosts an international oyster festival every year. Oysters from Galway Bay are huge, flat, and known as some of the best-flavored in the world. Although we only had two days in Galway, we ate oysters three times because I was so amazed by how good they were.
The next morning we began our all-day tour with Galway Tour Company. When I saw the huge tour bus, I had flashbacks of Iceland, but fortunately summertime in Ireland is a lot more pleasant than wintertime in Iceland. Our tour guide did not make me tear up but he was hilarious and knew exactly how to make the drive entertaining: silly jokes and frequent rest stops. We stopped by a castle, a cemetery, and a charming town in which we filled up on delicious seafood chowder and homemade fudge, before finally arriving at the Cliffs of Moher.
The Cliffs of Moher rise 702 feet nearly vertically above the Atlantic Ocean. Legend has it that there is a lost city called Kilstiffen beneath the Cliffs, but the shoreline was pummeled by an evil witch who lived there and fell in love with a hero of Irish mythology. He did not return her affection, so she pummeled the shoreline, giving the cliffs their distinctive shoreline. We spent about three hours here and I could’ve spent longer. Sure, we’ve seen coastlines before (I’m from Hawaii, after all), but there’s something particularly magical about the Cliffs of Moher — perhaps it’s the crisp air (the cleanest air in the world!), the perfect Irish grass everywhere, or the finicky weather (if it’s raining anywhere in the country, it’s on the western coasts of Ireland, so the fact that the skies eventually cleared up and didn’t rain a drop on us made it feel all the more special). They like to say that on a clear day, you can see the Statue of Liberty, reminding the Irish of their diaspora in America.
When we returned to Galway that evening, we had about eight hours until our early morning bus ride to the airport. We spent that time strolling along the river, stuffing ourselves with oysters and Murphy’s ice cream (yes, there is a Murphy’s in Galway — thank goodness!), wasting time at bookstores, and having Anthony’s favorite meal of our entire trip at John Keogh’s.
When it was time to leave Ireland and hop over to France, I felt like a slightly different person. Our five days in Ireland had changed me in so many ways. I eat oysters now. I am fond of Irish accents, which until this trip I found unappealing. I am a grass snob. Most importantly, however, I have a new appreciation for the people of this stunning country.
Tips for future travelers:
It’s astounding how convenient the bus system is in Ireland. Galway is on the other side of the country, but a comfortable Citylink bus took us straight from the Galway station to the airport in Dublin in just an hour and 20 minutes.
We stayed at a charming bed & breakfast called Petra House, just a few minutes from the Latin Quarter. I always love breakfasts at B&Bs, but Petra House took it to another level. When we sat down in the breakfast room, we were given an entire menu to choose from. I chose a bangers and rashers, Anthony chose potato waffles, and then we shared porridge topped with Baileys liqueur. Each dish came with an Irish bread basket with fresh butter, coffee, and orange juice.
Our free walking tour with Tribes was probably the best walking tour we’ve ever been on. Because it was free, guides work harder since their salary depends on tips. It was the perfect way to begin our time in Galway.