While I do have some ancestral ties to the Province of Connacht, I don’t have any direct connection to Galway. Yet the city of Galway is one of my favorite places on earth. It’s not very large – roughly 75,000 people – and there aren’t a ton of grand tourist things to do in the city itself. No Guinness tour. No Kilmainham Gaol. No wonderful walks to lovely parks. (No stable where my great-grandfather worked.)
Sure, there are things worthwhile in the environs: Connemara (Ireland’s remote, Irish-speaking, and wild(ish) west; the Aran Islands.
But mostly what’s great about Galway is its tremendous energy and vitality. It’s a college town. And a tourist town. It has terrific restaurants – a big change over the 30 years I’ve been coming there – and, not surprisingly, terrific pubs. And it all you’re looking to buy are sweaters, scarves, caps, tourist stuff, and Claddagh rings, it’s not a bad place to shop. (We had lunch one day with an Irish friend – a middle-aged woman with a demanding professional life – and she told us that she does all her clothing shopping online or in Dublin. The non-tourist oriented shopping is pretty much a department store that is mired in the 1950’s; a Brown-Thomas (which replaced the beloved Moon’s) that seems to specialize in thousand dollar handbags; and a few designer-ish places hidden away on side streets.)
Whatever Galway’s deficits, I can’t imagine a trip to Ireland without going there. So after a couple of days in Dublin, we headed west to Galway, where the plan was to meet up with my niece Molly (who had spent a semester in Galway last year) and her friend Emilie.
The loose plan was to go to the restaurants and pubs that Molly wanted to revisit – an excellent plan.
Our first night, we had some of the best pizza on earth at Dough Bros, after which we popped over to the King’s Head for a pint (or two) and a music session. Non-trad, but a reasonably good duo.
The next day, I had a good catch-up lunch with friends at the Galway Country Club in Salthill. Pretty good fish-and-chips, and a gorgeous view, even if the weather was pretty nasty. On a clear, sunny day, it must be spectacular.
After lunch, I met up with the Galway girls at Cupan Tae for afternoon tea and cake. Cupan is sweet and charming. Even though I went with my go-to (Irish Breakfast) the tea selection is wonderful, and everyone’s tea is delivered in mismatched pots and drunk from mismatched cups and saucers. Nice place to get in out of drecky weather.
Dinner that night was at the King’s Head Bistro. Very nice, but I miss the Old Malt House, an old standby that my husband I would frequent on our visits. After that, we headed out to another old standby: An Pucan, a pub that has music of some sort every evening. Sometimes their sessions are traditional. Other times a mix of pop and Irish-y sing-alongs like “Dirty Old Town,” “Black Velvet Band,” and “Galway Girl” (Steve Earle, not Ed Sheeran).
When we walked in, the first song the duo du jour played was “Horse With No Name.” As is fairly well known in my family, I am firm in my belief that “Horse With No Name” is the worst song ever written. It went downhill from there. I was considering an Irish exit, but everyone was willing to go. So we departed en masse. Destination: King’s Head, where an excellent instrumental duo was performing traditional tunes. Yay!
Our last day was given over in part to the new Galway. Lunch at Dela, a cool and trendy spot where my veggie wrap was greatly enhanced by the side of bacon my sister had ordered. And where the conversation among me, Trish, and my Irish friend Michelle largely revolved around – whether you’re in Ireland or the US – in the workplace, a woman’s voice is like a dog whistle. Only certain ears are capable of hearing it. Michelle is about 25 years younger than I am; Trish is 10 years younger. Sad that some things don’t ever seem to change.
Evening drinks at Seven, where the evening drink was something called a Gin Bramble (gin, Chambord, simple syrup, lemon, and crushed ice). That was followed by dinner at Caprice, another cool and trendy spot.
We looked in a Taaffe’s Bar, but it was too crowded so, back to King’s Head for one of the most peculiar musical performances I’ve ever witnessed.
We were hoping that the music would start at 10 p.m., and settled in at 9 with excellent seats on the second floor, overlooking the place where the performers would perform. At 9:15, the drummer and sound guy appeared. A half an hour later the keyboard guy showed up. Another half-hour or so and the guitar and bass player blew in.
All the while, the sound guy fiddled, and the musicians futzed around, occasionally disappearing.
A bit before 11, a guy showed up in what appeared to be hospital pj’s. Something that Jack Nicholson would have worn in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This turned out to be the lead singer and main guitarist.
But what was up with the pj’s?
The lead guy was jumping all over the place, setting up, occasionally babbling something into his mike that as difficult to interpret. I caught the word “Watusi”, but little else. He then reached into his kit bag and pulled out what appeared to be the sort of cap worn by Muslims. The cap was pale blue cotton, and matched the kurta pj’s.
He then screeched into the mike that his name was Hassan, followed by a crack about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. WTF? Here’s an Irish guy (name on the band’s website: Jack; the band is billed as a wedding band) dressed in Muslim garb making a bad Holocaust joke. At least that’s what I think he was doing.
A man standing near our table – he sounded Spanish – looked perplexed and asked me if the fellow as a comedian. I answered that I wasn’t sure.
Hassan/Jack then screeched some more incomprehensible garble, and then started in on – wait for it – Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Which might have been okay if everyone in the band wasn’t so over-amped that our pints were shaking off the table. This was followed by more jumping around and screaming into the mike, followed by a song. Something by ELO. Something by Clash. Hassan/Jack mentioned New Jersey and up came Bon Jovi’s “Hold On To What You’ve Got.”
I can honestly say it was as close to sheer torture as any performance I’ve ever experienced, but we hung in, curious about what would happen next.
One peculiar thing was that, for all the sound guy’s prepping and sound-checking, when anyone other than Hassan/Jack took the vocal lead, their mike was cut off.
I will observe that, unlike the other lads, who were quaffing down pints, Hassan/Jack appeared to be drinking water. So perhaps he was a Muslim convert. Just very odd that the only mention he made was a decidedly off crack about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. As I said, WTF.
I didn’t like loud music when I was young, and it certainly hasn’t aged well.
Anyway, Hassan/Jack eventually wore us down, and that was it for the Galway Girls.
The next morning, a Polish fellow who runs a limo service delivered us to Shannon for the trip home.
If it sounds like all we did in Galway was eat and drink, well, that would be close. We also shopped a bit. (I got a very nice blue-green Irish knit cardigan and a dark pink baby sweater for a recent arrival. A baby with the throw-back name of Trish.) And I got to catch up with friends.
I don’t really have a bucket list, but if I had one, spending an extended period of time in Ireland would be one it. And the extended period of time would mostly be spent in Galway, going native.