Galway, Ireland – The Beating Heart of Irish Culture

By on April 28, 2015

Most travelers make the novice mistake of mistakenly identifying a country’s largest or capital city as the center of national cultural production.  In many instances this supposition proves correct, but in certain circumstances this oversight may result in the oversight of a cultural gem (Examples include New York City compared to Washington D.C., or Barcelona to Madrid).  Many travelers to Ireland, particularly those eager to embark on a grand European adventure, visit only Dublin and continue onward to the Continent thinking they have seen Ireland.  These travelers make the grave omission of Galway, one of the last bastions of Olde Irish culture.

A picturesque small town nestled into the Western coast, Galway is the image your mind conjures up when imagining Irish town.  Beautiful, rolling green hills give way to rivers that eventually join with the cold waters of the northern Atlantic Ocean, the watery habitat in which the fish on which Galway’s traditional cuisine earns its fame.  Walking down the quaint main streets of the town, you come across many small towns replete with traditional Irish folk music.  Musicians typically play old, time-honored classics to the middle-aged and older clientele, encouraging participation in the well-known song and dance.  Some of the pub-goers belt out in emotional connection to the music, some nurse their beloved Guinness quietly in the corner, and some attempt to engage the twenty year old tourists who stand out in age, dress, and demeanor from everyone else.  Interestingly, many of the random conversations bemoaned the recent crackdown of the Irish government on drinking and driving, which in their minds was killing the time-honored custom of the pub as a central institution of Irish social life.
Galway, Ireland
Somewhat surprisingly, Irish Gaelic is heard more frequently than English on the streets of Galway.  While both Irish Gaelic and English are official languages of the country and are present on all signage throughout the country, the vast majority of Gaelic speakers are congregated on Ireland’s western coast, farther from the internationalization of Dublin and, more historically, the clutches of the British crown.  The sound of Irish Gaelic on the streets, coupled with a historic pub scene and replete with live traditional music makes Galway a formidable must-see on any journey to Ireland.

Note: As a side note and piece of advice to any future travelers to Galway, we stayed at the Barnacles hostel, which I highly recommend.  The location, on the equivalent of Galway’s Main Street, is unbeatable and the lodging is in what feels like an aged castle.  Staying here really enhanced my Galway experience.

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