Galway, a fine little city and the unprecedented hospitality we found
To be honest, we were losing faith in Ireland. Northern Ireland was outstanding with the Giant’s Causeway and Belfast, the scenery and the conviviality of the folks we met who permanently resided there. Once we transitioned to Dublin in Ireland, for us, uneducated in European history we were learning just how different a country it is from Northern Ireland, the UK. We got a quick primer in how the North separated, and actually, it doesn’t sound all that different from things past and present in the United States. I guess struggles are the same the world round, they just have different accents. Anyway, Dublin. Our first impression was that there must be a garbage collection strike like we encountered in Naples. Trash was everywhere. Not just cigarette butts, of which there were an alarming number, but chip bags, bottles, cans, grocery bags, whole bags of fast food detritus…all just blowing around on EVERY street. It didn’t matter what part of the city we went to, it was the same. And it was not because of a lack of empty trash cans available…they were everywhere. Anyway, it was a big city that the citizens didn’t take care of and we couldn’t wait to leave.
We had a lovely 90 minute train ride to Galway, I think the ticket price was under $20 to go clear over to the other side of the country. Upon arriving we immediately noticed that the trash was better under control, unless the seagulls had gained access to a can, but that is inevitable. The city center is very compact, in historic buildings and most of the ground floor had been devoted to lovely shops, restaurants, hotel lobbies, and the quintessential pubs that make Galway a destination city for Irish and travelers from around the world. The pubs are in fact, fantastic. Most are in centuries old buildings, serve a Guinness that will bring tears to your eyes and have a convivial atmosphere that dares you to have a care in the world. There are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet. But what the city is most known for, and deservedly so, is music. Non stop, packed venues everywhere, free live music in most of the best pubs. We had come in search of traditional Irish music, a specialty of the town, but any kind of band could be found if you wandered the crowded, charming pedestrian only streets long enough.
The host at our bed and breakfast recommended a couple of places that were known for their trad music, as they call the authentic Irish music. The first was Tig Cioli, a local institution that delivered in spades. Dan has been sampling Guinness at pubs all over the UK and Ireland and declared theirs the clear winner in quality, far surpassing that which we had at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin even. I was greeted by a mischievous, older Irishman who had clearly kissed the Blarney Stone a few times and would not release me for a good 20 minutes of ridiculous flattery and flirtation. We drew a crowd with his antics and were laughing so hard we were crying. Once extricated from that situation we made our way deeper into the pub and settled in to wait for the band. They straggled in, wearing street clothes, carrying old instrument cases, ordering tea or Guinness from the bartender and kicking some revelers out of a table in the corner so they could squeeze in and proceed to destroy some strings and horsehair. To say that their fingers could fly was an understatement, and they looked as relaxed as if they were watching a movie at home. Fantastic. The pub was so crowded there was nowhere to stand and most of us were fast friends before they began playing so the mood was joyful. I can see why Galway is such a draw, and I won’t soon forget the energy and high that we all felt participating in that session. Maybe this is what they should do at peace summits or G8 meetings. Who knows what could be achieved?
A couple nights later we were ready to stay up a little later and go to The Crane, another pub well known for its trad sessions. The first floor was quiet and at first we thought we might have missed it. I happened to see the staircase and decided to check the upstairs. That is where it was all going on! At the top of the stairs all forward movement stopped and we could feel the heat from so many bodies crammed into the space. We slithered forward and found another band, holding the audience in the palm of their hand. They alternated between rousing traditional songs that were familiar to the locals so they sang along with great gusto, to lovely quiet ballads that would tear your heart out and rousing instrumentals that had even the likes of us stomping our feet in good Irish rhythm.
How were we able to enjoy Galway like such pros? It all boiled down to the fantastic experience we had at our Bed and Breakfast, booked somewhat blindly a couple weeks before we arrived. From the moment Dan initiated contact by calling to ask a question, the service and hospitality was unsurpassed. We spent five nights at The Aaron House Bed and Breakfast, just up the hill from city center. Our host Seamus and his mother Ena took us in like family that don’t fight with you. They are absolute hospitality pros having come from a long line of inn and pub owners. Instead of it making them business like and impersonal it has made them warm and wonderful. There was nothing they could not figure out for us and they had an encyclopedic knowledge of the best food, music and relaxing spots in town. They made everything about running the 17 (?) room house seem effortless. Coffee and tea, with delightful conversation was always available downstairs and lively conversation was to be had each morning as guests compared what they had done the day before and what the plans were for the upcoming day. All to the credit of the ambience created by Seamus and Ena. We were genuinely sorry to take our leave of them at the end of our stay and I am sure we will keep in touch. They even posed with us patiently in the middle of morning rush! Thank you everyone, and Goodbye Galway!