The Kings Head pub rear door entrance, Galway, Ireland

Going green in Galway

The closest I had been was a Transatlantic Birdseye view from 37000 feet. Now, with boots on the ground it was time to soak it up at close range.

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Coached
Through the window the cityscape turned suburbia then into tree littered green pastures. The first of many castles stood silhouetted atop a green ridge on the horizon. The count hold that there are over 30 000 castles and ruins dotting the Emerald isle, so lots more to see.

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High hopes
Leaving the highway behind an hour later it was time for a closer encounter in one of the prettiest towns in Ireland. Adare on the river Maigue sports the restored river front 12th century ruins of Desmond Castle. The solid stone bridge over the river into town gave nothing away to the heritage of the supposed anglicizing of the two Gaelic words Áth Dara meaning Ford (not the car brand) and Oak perhaps referring to the material of the bridge which once crossed the shallow river. Much younger is the super luxury resort and golf course at Adare Manor soon to reopen after an extensive renovation and expansion. The owner J.P. McManus a very wealthy Irishman have his sights set on hosting the Golf Ryder cup in 2026. Ignoring the greens of his eighteen the bus instead pulled in for a pit-stop at the nineteenth by the well-stocked Adare Heritage Center. Next door the early 13th century Trinitarian Abbey called for a few shots, returning just in time to trade a few Euros for a scoop of Guinness ice cream a must test even in this off ice cream season with the ambient hovering around 15 C (60 F). Admittedly this was not the most flavorful ice cream I ever tasted but well worth a try. When in….


VR360 - The Brehon Hotel
The coach dropped me at The Brehon in Killarney for a few days stay. Then on to the Wild Atlantic Way.

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Galway
First stop a casual lunch at The Kitchen by the old bastion walls. Belly full it was time to meet the museum hooker. Seamen had for generations ridden these hard working hookers along the shores of Galway Bay. Every family had one with black bottoms either big, half or smaller size the guide explained as we admired the sturdy center piece of the museum. The oak vessels were likely named after the Dutch word for hook and line fishing, but had additional uses including shipping sheep, carry peat or limestone or as ferry’s across the bay. The sails originally made from crude calico cotton were weatherproofed through “barking” (soaked with a tree bark solution) or covered with a tar and butter mix giving them their distinct rust red color. After usage of the boats peaked in the mid-19th century they almost disappeared hundred years later. However, a renewed interest in recent years have given them new wind and even a regatta, not to forget that they appear on the city seal.

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The top floor of the museum offered a view across the shortest and fastest flowing in Ireland, River Corrib. There in Claddagh (once a separate village) on the other side of the river a bride in white appeared on the steps of a church. Perhaps she was wearing a Claddagh ring on her left ring finger with the heart pointing towards her body, signifying she was married.

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Passing through the Spanish arch revealed the first of the distinct fortified tower houses in town. They rose after the Norman invasion in 1230 when fourteen merchant families began to established control of the city. The twelve Norman (English) and two Anglicized families grew their might and even put a sign at ta city gate proclaiming "neither O’ nor Mac shall strutte nor swagger through the streets of Galway" [without permission]. In the drizzle I kept my gaze down and had it not been pointed out to me I would have missed the stacked stone façade above today’s occupant, Costas Coffee.

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The pedestrian Quai Street is lined with stores peddling souvenirs, wool wares, more coffee houses and restaurants catering to Galwegians and tourists alike. On a corner a street sign “Druid Lane”, not to go unexplored. Turning right off Quai I soon stood looking at the foundations of the 13th century “Hall of the Red Earl”. In its hey-day before the 14 tribes conquered the town it was the defacto city hall where taxes were collected, justice served and banquets hosted. Once the fourteen families completely took over it fell into ruin and disappeared underground. It was rediscovered in 1997 during expansion works of nearby office buildings and has since become one of the most popular attractions in town free for anyone to visit.

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Back at the end of Quai Street two properties stood out. On the left the cozy Tigh Neachtain pub offering up traditional Irish music, food and 130 sorts of whiskey. Across the street Thomas Dillon jewelers claims to be the original maker of the Claddagh ring which others dispute. At the heart of the matter, the ring itself consisting of two hands clasping a heart topped with a crown. The story goes that a female wearer signal her relationship status by how she wears it. On her right hand with the point of the heart outwards she is single, on the left she’s engaged or if the heart points towards her wrist already married. If it only was that simple. Versions of the ring is sold by every jeweler in town.

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Turning left at the pub brings me up Cross Street Upper onto Lombard street to arrive at a large grey stone church. Finished in 1321 St Nicolas is dedicated to the same of Myra, patron saint of children with a seasonal job as Santa Claus. In addition he is also the protector of seafarers hence Christopher Columbus stopped by in 1477 to pray here, perhaps for calm waters. It was also here another kind of storm blew in 2002 when the first and thus only public blessing for a same-sex couple took place. The result was a scolded reverend and a stop to the practice.

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The iron fence surrounding the church is in a spot replaced by the Lynch Memorial Window under which a skull & crossbones is carved into the stone. Tales tell the story that in 1493 it was here James Lynch FitzStephen mayor of Galway hanged his own son after the younger confessed to a murder. The urban myth that this was the first “lynching” is untrue as the word instead likely refers to “Lynch’s law” and dates from the American Civil War.

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Talk about tales amongst the low houses of Bowling Green stand one with a small plaque. Behind a blue painted door lies a museum dedicated to Laura Barnacle. Who? Little did I know that she was the wife of James Joyce and also gave inspiration to several of his writings. Currently the house is owned by two elderly ladies who placed a note in the window saying “Open randomly….please check window for next opening time…”. Last opening time was listed as four days ago….

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Down the narrow Church Lane brought me back to Shop Street in the pedestrian heart of the city. There music lured as a band tried to play in the increasing rain. When the audience left to take shelter so did the musicians to avoid electrocution from their amplifiers. The rain kept me going into a side street seeking shelter. As none was found I stopped admiring the simple but wise words “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken” – Oscar Wilde. With those ingenious words he lightened my mood and I prodded on. As I reached one of the tallest tower houses in town, this belonging to the wealthiest of the fourteen families, the Lynches and therefore befitting that now the ground floor housed a bank.

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Cool head

After a bit of dry out, the evening was rounded off at “The Kings Head” pub a bit further down High Street once the residence of Mayor Thomas Lynch Fitz-Ambrose. The history behind the pub’s name begins in England. Oliver Cromwell had deposed Charles I and had forced his execution in London. The city’s executioner refused to behead the king. Instead Cromwell loyalist Col. Peter Stubbers was picked and it is believed he carried out the execution on 30 January 1649. However as the man swinging the axe wore a hood as disguise on the day it is not certain. Fast forward to 1653 when Stubbers is again called upon, this time to lay a siege on Galway. Eventually the Galwayians surrender and Stubbers throws the Mayor out of his house on 15 High Street ending the rule of the fourteen tribes. It is in this 800 year old history infused house I indulge in a delicious sea food dinner in the company of an amber “Galway Hooker”.

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This visit was arranged by Failte Ireland. Transport by Kerry Coaches, accomodation by Connacht Hotel, lunch by The Kitchen and dinner at by The Kings Head. Experiences and pictures by WonderingViking.

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