Ireland's "Wild Atlantic Way" usually refers to the rugged conflux of seacoast and mountains to be found in the western counties. But in the city of Galway, "The Wild West" takes on a different connotation.
Galway, known throughout history as a trading center, has become Ireland's "fun capital" and is indeed known throughout Europe as a place to let your hair down. Perhaps it's the fact that for centuries it catered to the wine trade, making it a favorite port of call for mariners. Even the immortal Columbus was known to have made Galway one of his cherished stops. Or maybe the fact that it's a college town, drawing students from around the world, has given its bar scene such a cosmopolitan atmosphere. Or it could be that, as Ireland's "festival city," there's always a reason for a party.
Whatever the reasons, visitors find Galway one of the most enjoyable and memorable of their Irish experiences. And there's much to love:
The Pubs - With legendary pubs like The Quays, The King's Head and the "hallowed ground" of traditional Irish music, Tigh Nechtain, you're sure to find an emporium to your liking in Galway. My personal favorite is the "The Skeff" in the Skeffington Arms Hotel. This multi-storied old pub has beautifully carved wooden ceilings and balconies that reminded me of the music halls/bars of America's own "Wild West." It was a surprise of a Friday evening to see tuxedo-and-gown clad students at the bar, so I inquired if it was prom night. No, they said, this was just how they began a regular evening of pub-crawling. Obviously in Galway, pub crawling has developed into an art form.
Festivals - From the Galway Film Festival in February, The Galway Races and the Arts Festival in July, and the Galway Oyster Festival in September, there's always a season for a celebration in Galway. The Galway Oyster Festival, sponsored of course by Guinness, is an event everyone should attend at least once in their lifetime. Its high ticket prices for luncheons and banquets had received some criticism that the festival was "elitist," causing the committee to add some low-cost and no-cost public events, so regular people can join in the fun.
Dining - Irish cuisine has reached high standards since the latter part of the 20th century, and Galway has been up front in the movement. Restaurants like Aniar, the Kai Cafe and White Gables are well known for haute cuisine. And for good old-fashioned fish 'n chips, McDonagh's is world famous.
History - The Spanish Arch is a part of the old city walls, where many a cask of wine was unloaded in Galway's mercantile past. Lynch's Castle, now a bank building, is an example of a fortified house from the 16th century. It is reputed to be the birthplace of the term 'lynching' because an official of that name hung his own son for murder there. The Claddagh is the riverside area which was a fishing village from ancient times, and the birthplace of the legendary Claddagh ring.
Shopping - The main shopping thoroughfares are Shop Street and Quay Street. They are as much known for their buskers and street theatre as shopping, but there are also many worthwhile boutiques, bookstores, pubs and restaurants to keep visitors occupied.
In summary, there's plenty to do in Galway, no matter how wild, or not, you care to get. And those lovely sunsets that Bing Crosby so admired? Lets say they're a call to get the party started.
For more information on Galway, go to www.GalwayTourism.ie.
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