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A Guide to the City of Tribes (Irish Times)

(05 Jul 2008)
When to go
Galway is a great place to go any time, for this city never sleeps. The arts season is already in full swing, with the Cúirt International Festival of Literature planning next year's annual April schedule, and the Galway Sessions, involving 180 musicians playing 80 sessions in a variety of venues, proving to be a very successful mid-June fixture.

Galway Film Fleadh (091-751655091-751655, www.galwayfilmfleadh.com) runs its six-day international festival from July 8th to 13th, immediately followed by the fortnight-long Galway Arts Festival ( www.galwayartsfestival.com) from July 14th to 27th, which is in turn immediately followed by the Galway Races (091-753870091-753870, www.galwayraces.com), from July 28th to August 3rd.

Barely will the city have drawn a breath when Kinvara prepares for Cruinniú na mBád, a gathering of Galway hookers across the bay, from August 15th to 18th. That will be followed by oyster festivals and the Lady Gregory Autumn Gathering at Coole Park from September 26th to 28th.

The Baboró children's arts festival (091-562667091-562667, www.baboro.ie) takes place in mid-October, followed by the Tulca season of visual arts (091-471250091-471250, www.tulca.ie), and the Galway Science and Technology Festival - both of which brighten up those short November evenings.

What to see

Most visitors don't forget that first glimpse of Galway Bay or the Aran islands on a clear day, and they might even find themselves humming a few bars of the song penned by Fermanagh-born Dr Arthur Colohan, who, it is said, wrote Galway Bayin 1927 while grieving the death of a brother who drowned in its waters. First broadcast on Radio Éireann, it was recorded by Bing Crosby and immortalised in The Quiet Man.

All within easy walking distance are Lynch's Window, of 16th-19th century vintage, the Spanish Arch, constructed in 1584 as an extension to the city's medieval wall, and the swans in the Claddagh basin, with some historical background provided by the Galway City Museum, which is also retirement home for the statue of writer Pádraic Ó Conaire. Try a walking tour with registered town crier Liam Silke (091-588897091-588897), or Galway Tours (091-561386091-561386).

The river Corrib and the city's canals and waterways are one of the city's best-kept secrets. Mike Lynch will take you on a two-hour amble (086-3826425086-3826425).
For a taste of the city's maritime origins, the Galway Atlantaquaria in Salthill (091-585100091-585100, www.nationalaquarium.ie) is imperative. There's far more than fish here - there are marine workshops for children almost all year around, and one of the new exhibits is a 5,500-year-old Neolithic dug-out canoe found recently on a beach in Barna.

The tiny one-up, one-down home of Nora Barnacle, James Joyce's lover and eventual wife, is loyally maintained by the Gallagher sisters at Bowling Green, where Bloomsday is celebrated every year with readings by visitors from their favourite passages of Joyce.

Where to party

All generations are catered for in a range of pubs - the most popular being Tigh Neachtain on Cross Street and the Quays on Quay Street - with music sessions in many, including two sessions seven nights a week in the Crane Bar on William Street West, and regular music in the Róisín Dubh on Upper Dominick Street, Cuba at the top of Eyre Square and others.

Buskers Browne's bar on Cross Street is the best for a friendly Cheers-type experience. The Living Room on Bridge Street is Galway's best hip bar, with retro decor and cocktails at about €8 a pop.

Galway has nightclubs aplenty, which are very popular with students. For a quieter night out, try a session of Celtic tales with Rab Swannock Fulton and Clare Murphy, 8-10pm on a Wednesday night in the Cottage Bar in Lower Salthill until August 27th.

Where to visit
Check out Brigit's Garden in Roscahill (091-550905091-550905, www.galwaygarden.com) on the N59 between Moycullen and Oughterard, where the four gardens developed by Jenny Beale are inspired by the Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lúghnasa. There is a children's discovery trail, a ring fort and the State's largest calendar sundial, plus an outdoor sculpture show, live traditional and classical music on Sunday afternoons, a summer solstice fire festival on June 21st, and an elves and fairies day on August 24th.

You can visit Coole Park, the one-time home of Lady Gregory, at any time of year. Its 14th autumn gathering takes place from September 26th to 28th this year, and information is available from Mary Troy Fennell at 091-521144091-521144.

The coastal road west to Spiddal village in the Gaeltacht, with several fine beaches at close hand and Spiddal's An Ceardlann, the craft village where you can shop as Gaeilge (www.ceardlann.com). There's a choice of contemporary ceramic art and pottery by Rob D'eath in his Sliding Rock workshop; Máire Ní Thaidhgh's tapestries, scarves and throws; the Leather Shop; An Siopa Ceoil for musical instruments; and a new coffee shop and restaurant, Builín Blasta, open seven days a week.

Day trips to Connemara, or outside Co Galway to the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare and to the Aran islands are provided for almost all year round, with details of ferry, air and coach transport and car or bicycle hire given at the tourist office on Forster Street, just off Eyre Square (091-537700091-537700).

What to buy

Galway market on Saturdays and Sundays by St Nicholas's Collegiate Church has become an institution, one that owes its roots to county farmers selling produce and live turkeys and hens in the city. Watch out for the "king", Michael Lynskey, at his fruit and vegetable stall.

You might well find books you would never find elsewhere in Charlie Byrne's Bookshop on Middle Street (091-561766091-561766).

Claddagh rings can be bought at several jewellers on Quay Street and Shop Street.
Buy art at the Kenny Gallery on High Street, Norman Villa Gallery in Lower Salthill, Galway Arts Centre on Dominick Street, or the Bold Gallery on Merchant's Road.

What's special
Swimming in the Atlantic from Blackrock, or at Ladies Beach, now immortalised by a plaque bearing Seamus Heaney's poem; kicking the wall at the end of Salthill Promenade; Rusheen Bay, a sanctuary for wading birds and young windsurfers, but under pressure from a city developer; placing a bet at the Galway Races; Macnas drummers rehearsing before the annual arts festival (this year's parade, Apocolopolis is on the night of July 20th.

Where to stay
The G Hotel at Wellpark (091-865200091-865200, www.theghotel.ie) with its interior designed by award-winning east Galway hatmaker Philip Treacy, has to be one of the most successful marketing ploys - but why not try the Radisson SAS overlooking Loughatalia, famous for its breakfasts (091-538300091-538300, www.radissonhotelgalway.com). The Ardilaun Hotel on Taylor's Hill is still popular for all family occasions and boasts an impressive leisure centre. (091-521433091-521433, www.theardilaunhotel.ie). The House Hotel on Spanish Parade off Merchant's Road, with its soft-furnished reception, makes you feel like home (091-568166091-568166, www.thehousehotel.ie). Galway has guest houses aplenty, with particularly good value in Salthill and beyond the Promenade at Blackrock as you drive towards Knocknacarra Cross.

If you're on a budget, try Sleepzone, Bóthar na mBan (091-566999091-566999), which has won many awards.

Where to eat
Sheridan's on the Docks, 24 New Docks Road, has a simple, select menu and wine bar overlooking the tidal harbour (091-564698091-564698). McDonagh's fish and chip shop on Quay Street has the best chips and chowder on the western seaboard (091-565809091-565809). Also worth a visit is Martine's Wine Bar on the other side of the street (091-565662091-565662). Try Ard Bia at Nimmo's Restaurant, by the Spanish Arch, if you can get a table (091-561114091-561114). The Spud House, at 37 Newcastle Road, near the university campus does, everything from bangers and mash to a potato dish named after the late Galway-born writer Walter Macken (091-524122091-524122).

What's not so hot
The traffic, which beats Dublin for congestion on a comparative scale. A nightmare for cyclists, visiting or otherwise. Best come by boat.

© 2008 The Irish Times
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