Journals from Across the Pond: 2 Days in Galway, Ireland (Day 1)
With only a couple days left it was time to make our way to the West Coast of Ireland. Our first destination: The Cliffs of Moher. (Or for The Princess Bride movie fans, the Cliffs of Insanity.)
The cliffs are truly epic and mystical, and Ireland’s most visited site—it’s easy to see why people come from all over to experience their magic. Everywhere you look it’s gorgeous and photogenic, and we were eager for the views and photo ops. The day was sunny and hot; we spent it wandering cliffside paths, sitting with our feet over the edge, and taking pictures by O’Brien’s Tower. It was all astonishing, to say the least.
I described this part of the day in my travel journal later:
“They are everything they appear to be and more. Breathtaking, stunning, majestic—all those descriptions are accurate and true, and yet somehow they fall short. Something about sitting on the edge of the world makes you feel whole again.”
After plenty of time looking out over the sea, it was time for a special treat—getting to see them from below. We boarded a little ferry boat, and the boat cut through the water, zipping alongside the cliffs. It was incredible to approach the cliffs, to see them looming above in various shades of browns, grays, and covered here and there in mystical green. We sailed on water that shimmered a true turquoise, and even got to see a close up of where hundreds of birds nest on the rocks. It was really windy, but I hardly noticed; if anything it was like music—the soundtrack of the cliffs.
In the nearby village of Doolin we grabbed some lunch at a quaint tavern called Gus O’Connor’s Pub. I had their seafood chowder, which was served with two small, triangular, chicken sandwiches. The sandwiches, which had chicken pieces, tomato, and lettuce on a simple white bread, were okay, but the chowder was amazing—filling and full of classic flavor. I also tried my first Smithwick’s Red Ale, and was delighted with it (I’m happy to say you can find it here in the states!)
After that our guide had another sort of surprise for us; apparently a friend of hers works at a chocolate shop in Doolin that’s an outlet of Wilde Irish Chocolates. Since we had been singing our way through our travels, she had us sing a few songs for her friend in exchange for some delicious chocolate! (I think my favorite was one with seaweed in it.)
When our time there was done we headed up the Wild Atlantic Way toward Galway. We stopped along the way at a very rocky plot of land called the Burren, which is supposedly the inspiration behind Mordor in Lord of the Rings. There’s a lot of gray rock jutting and dipping here and there, with tufts of grass poking up where it can, and it was very interesting to see.
We finally made it to Galway, the hometown of our delightful guide, late in the afternoon, and to me its charm was immediate. Here we checked in to our nice and cozy hostel on a corner not far from the main hub of town. Our guide then walked us around, giving her summary of the town, past and present. We went past Eyre Square, around to William Street, and eventually down the well known High and Quay Streets.
We stopped on the corner of the Spanish Parade and Father Griffin Road, where there’s a grassy area overlooking the River Corrib, before heading back the way we came to go to Murphy’s Ice Cream. The Irish are known for their dairy products, and the renowned Murphy’s ice-cream is no exception. Having already tried their creamy Irish coffee flavor (some of us went to the Murphy’s in Dublin, though I can’t remember exactly when), I decided to go for some lighter flavors, and got a scoop of raspberry sorbet with a scoop of their Dingle Gin flavor.
We had the evening to ourselves, and I think all of us stayed in the High Street area; at the road fork of High Street and Mainguard Street, a very unique five piece band was jamming for a gathering crowd—one of the pieces being an Irish dancer who's tap shoes on a board created a distinctive rhythm to the music. There was also a guitarist, an accordion player, and two people playing cajónes.
We watched them for a bit, then popped into the famous King’s Head Pub (a historic pub dating back to 1649, and named, I believe, for King Charles I.) It was crowded, so we crammed around some small tables and enjoyed the live music. I didn’t have any of the food, but I did have a couple beers, starting with the a craft beer locally brewed just for King’s Head called The King’s Head Blood Red Ale—I highly recommend it. After that I had a Murphy’s (which is a good Irish Stout, and not to be confused with the ice-cream), which quickly became one of my favorites.
While I and another friend were nursing our beers we met a couple local guys who were absolutely ready to chat with tourists; we talked with them about our trip, the geography of the U.S., and eventually I asked about Irish phrases. One of them actually did know some Irish; he was so energetic and eager about it that when I mentioned I had my trusty notebook with me, he asked for it and started writing a bunch of Irish phrases in them for us (with the English translations.)
Our two local friends came with us as a smaller group of went on to another bar; we hung out and talked outside on the crowded street before going in for a little while. After a shot of Jameson (as much as I like Jameson) I was mortified to find I wasn't feeling well after that, so we cut our night a bit short—bless my friends for taking such good care of me.
I was surprised to find our energetic new friend had stuck around to see us off; he even wrote me an Irish feel-better message in my notebook, and walked with us back to our hostel.
We sadly didn’t get to see our new friends again, but that evening, despite drinking a little too much, was still a wonderful experience; Galway was just the sort of town where we could meet some locals and enjoy a night on the town with them. Their friendliness added to the charm of the town and how we experienced the town—in a lot of ways, that’s what travel is about, so to me that was proof how key locals can be to your enjoyment of a place.
Too soon our time together was coming to an end; aware of that, we were determined to squeeze every last drop of enjoyment from each precious moment.