The quality of life, light and landscape weave a magical spell over visitors who come to the West of Ireland. The County of Galway is endowed with great natural beauty and the region has a living Gaelic culture, with strong Irish-speaking communities
The second largest county in Ireland, Galway is set on the west coast. Its heavily indented Atlantic coastline provides a myriad of wide bays, sheltered harbors, deep fjords and island clusters. Lough Corrib, Irelands second-largest lake, divides the county in twothe fertile farmlands, with their traditional dry stonewalls in the east, and mountainous Connemara, where the Irish culture and language thrives, in the west. At the mouth of Galway Bay lie the three Aran IslandsInishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, whose inhabitants also maintain a distinctly Gaelic culture. Towering mountain ranges such as the Twelve Bens and the Maamturks enrich the west coast of the county.
Galway originated as a crossing point on the River Corrib, giving an access to Connemara denied further north by the Lough. It was seized by the Norman family of De Burgos in the 13th century and developed as a strong Anglo-Norman colony, ruled by an oligarchy of 14 families. They maintained control despite continual attacks by the belligerent Connacht clans.
Galway was granted a charter and city status in 1484 by Richard III and was proudly loyal to the English Crown for the next two hundred years. During this time the city prospered, developing a flourishing trade with the continent, especially Spain. However, its loyalty to the monarch ensured that when Cromwellian forces arrived in 1652 the place was besieged without mercy. It was Cromwell who coined the originally derisory term the fourteen tribes of Galway. This didn’t worry the Irish, who returned the disdain by proudly adopting the name as a title.
The history of Claddagh, a fishing village that existed long before Galway was founded alongside it, is quite distinct from that of the city proper. An Irish-speaking village of thatched cottages, Claddagh was fiercely independent, having its own laws, customs and chief. Boat-building skills are still passed down through generations, though of course this work has massively declined, and the old vessels known as Galway hookers are now used more by boating enthusiasts than for fishing. It is from here that the famous Claddagh ring originates, worn by Irish people all over the world.
Galway is experiencing a real growth in artistic activity, and its at its most vibrant during The Galway Arts Festival. During the last two weeks in July, practitioners of theatre, music, poetry and the visual arts create a rich cultural jamboree. Theres plenty to detain you year round too: the king of all Galway festivals, the riotous Galway Races usually takes place during the first week in August. At the end of September, the Galway Oyster Festival completes the annual round.
With its narrow streets, old stone shop-fronts and bustling pubs, Galway city is a delight. It is the west coasts liveliest and most populous settlement, and the administrative capital of County Galway. Its university attracts a notably bohemian crowd, and its boisterous nightlife keeps them there. Galways tightly packed town center lies on both sides of the river Corrib; most of the main shopping areas are east of the river. Among the many interesting stone buildings are Lynchs Castle, a townhouse which dates in part back to the 14th century, and the Spanish Arch, all that remains of the citys old walls.
Galway is the home of the versatile Druid Theatre Company in Chapel Lane; a relatively young company, it produces 6 new plays a yearmany of them new works by Irish authors. The most exciting artistic development of recent years has been the emergence of the local street theatre troupe Macnas. This internationally acclaimed group have elevated the art of street theatre to new heights; to watch one of their flamboyant street performances is a truly exhilarating experience. The Galway Arts Center, Nuns Island, is used as a performance space for dance, theatre and music. Its also a good place to find out what’s going on in the arts locally.
A hugely successful development in Galway is the Design Concourse Ireland off Cross Street. Housed in a beautifully restored medieval town house, it stocks the best of contemporary Irish design, including jewelry, furniture and tweed from both the Republic and the North. Salthill, Galways seaside resort, is replete with amusement arcades, discos, seasonal cafs and a fairgroundas well as scores more hotels and B&Bs.