Since Ireland’s a quite vast country, you will need to specify which part you’re going to visit. If you’re up for exploring a field of marvellous wonders, the West of Ireland should be your next stop. County Galway lies in this part of Ireland. It happens to be one of the country’s most exceptional spots. The county is home to vast fields, barren and stone-walled ones, boglands, rugged coastline, and mountain ranges.
In fact, it may as well be one of Ireland’s richest counties with eye-pleasing scenery and natural wonders. As a visitor, there are a miscellaneous number of experiences waiting for you; you shouldn’t miss them out. You’ll find interesting museums to tour and amazing parks to visit.
Over and beyond, you’ll meet the friendly locals and learn tons of fascinating stuff about their history, culture, and language. See all that the county has to offer to the world.
A Brief History about Galway City
Originally, Galway city used to be a small village for fishing. The city is located near The Claddagh; the point where Galway Bay and the River Corrib meets. Thus, it was a perfect spot for fishing and that was what it had been popular for over the years. However, the nature of things was altered in 1232 when Richard De Burgo led his army into the town. He was the leader of the Anglo-Normans; they took over the land and carried on constructions around the town. They turned that small fishing village into a walled town. Although the walls are no longer there, some of them are still present near the Spanish Arch. They date back to around 1270 when they were first constructed.
In 1396, the city was no longer under the ruling of the Anglo-Normans. Richard II made an agreement with the locals and handed his powers over to fourteen merchant families. They were the most prominent families in the county and people referred to them as the fourteen tribes of Galway. Those tribes savoured their independence and enjoyed being in power. However, they still had to keep being under the rule of the British Crown.
Interesting Facts about Galway Bay. Click Here
A Successful Trading Centre
Galway became one of the most successful trading centres in Ireland, in particular, and in Europe, in general. Being on the Atlantic Ocean paved the way for the town to become a flourishing seaport for goods. They traded spices, fish, wine, and other goods, developing successful trade links all over Europe. At that time, Galway’s docks were always buzzing with the arrival and departure of ships from all around the world. Thus, the city lived in prosperity with trading for long centuries thanks to its strategic location on the coastal line.
Unfortunately, the decline had hit the town for a long period since the arrival of Cromwell. It all started in 1651, so the seaports had to move to other parts of the country. Mainly, Dublin and Waterford were the new homes to Ireland’s seaport. Besides, before the declination, Galway was having thriving trade links with Spain and Portugal, particularly. But, those countries stopped trading with Ireland during its weakening period.
More than a few years had passed until Galway was capable of flourishing once again. The town regained its prosperity and was able to enjoy it for as long as ever. Galway was an intriguing city once again and we can see this clearly in the physical development of the city. In the current days, you can enjoy the beauty of Galway and relive its history through its unique attractions.
Galway in the Modern Times
Nowadays, Galway is a modern European city that thrives on fascinating development and growth. It is more prospered than ever. The city is always busy with festivals that attract thousands of people from everywhere, especially during the months of summer. It is usually called the Galway Arts Festival and there are also numerous events, including Races and other fun activities. So, it is easy to imagine how crowded the city gets on an annual basis.
Besides, trading is at its finest for once again, making the economy skyrocket. That is especially because the town is on good terms with most, if not all, of the foreign countries. One more thing about that city is that it attracts visitors for more than just the annual summer festivals. It is popular for being the perfect destination where you can enjoy the world’s most picturesque sites.
There is more to the city that you can ever imagine. Even the streets are always buzzing with liveliness and potency with many busy cafés and colourful shops. You can enjoy watching the sunset over the county’s best spot, Galway Bay. Or, you can enjoy a stroll around the town and check the fisherman bringing the fishing village to its origin.
A Quick Glimpse at the 14 Tribes of Galway
Again, starting from the 13th century, Richard II handed his power over to the powerful merchant families of Galway. They ruled the city from the thirteenth century until the nineteenth one. More specifically, there were 14 tribes who had dominance over the social, commercial, and political affairs of the town. They also ruled much of the area that surrounded the city. Interestingly, those tribes were not all Irish.
In fact, they came from a diversity of backgrounds including English, French, Irish, Norse, Welsh, and more. During the English conquest, they were powerful in the extensive trading with Europe at that time. Thus, they were granted the power from Richard II at that time. However, those tribes avoided the natives that lived around the town back then. They detached themselves completely from them. However, there came a time when the whole town bonded together against one enemy, the British rule.
The Dark Era of Cromwell
Interestingly, Oliver Cromwell was the very first to ever call the merchant families “the Tribes of Galway.” His intentions were to insult and demean them with such naming. However, those families adopted the name for themselves with pride in an attempt to counter his offense.
When the Irish Confederate Wars started in 1641, the locals and the tribes of Galway United in a revolution. The wars lasted from 1641 and all the way to 1653. Things started to further deteriorate during the arrival of Oliver Cromwell, the notorious leader of the British military. He managed to overpower the country and conquer all forms of rebellions. In 1652, the city, unfortunately, had to surrender to the British powers. Just then, Cromwell started seizing all of the properties that belonged to the Tribes of Galway.
By the time, their power started to demolish, especially after the English parliamentarians detained the Galway Corporation. They returned to power once again with the departure of Cromwell. Again, they were able to enjoy a life of prosperity and bounce back under the reign of two kings.
In 1691, Galway underwent another rough patch during the War of the Two Kings. For once again, the tribes were facing a weakness and wane in their powers. Unfortunately, they never made it to the power ever again after their last fall down. Gradually, they shifted their power to the Protestant of the city. By the 19th century, Galway never heard from the Tribes ever again; they were gone for good.
Click Here to Learn More about the 14 Tribes of Galway.
The Most Interesting Places to Visit in Galway
Well, as we previously mentioned, this city houses the most beautiful sceneries in Ireland. It is even home to some sites where popular motion pictures were filmed. There is a wide array of tourist attractions and sites for you to explore. So, let us get started.
Have we ever mentioned the Galway Bay before? It is a significant site in the county. Besides, it surrounds much more interesting places to explore. At the southeastern side of the mouth of the Bay lie the Aran Islands. They are three islands known as the Big Island, Middle Island, and the East Island. However, their Irish names are Inis Mór Island, Inis Meáin Island, and Inis Oírr Island, respectively.
Those three islands are significant for holding historic memorials; they are also famous for their geological formation. The islands have different linguistic heritage and cultures yet the Gaelic language remains the most dominant. In fact, the islanders that are born there happen to be bilingual, Irish and English.
Athenry is a vast area of sole fields. However, it has walls and churches that belong to the medieval era and attract many visitors. The walls surround a beautiful castle that dates back to the 13th century as well. You will definitely enjoy your time there.
Ireland happens to have a plentiful of castles in almost all of its cities. Here is one of its splendid castles; Aughnanure Castle. It has been around since 1500 and was home to who was known as the ‘Fighting O’Flahertys’. Those folks resided around the castle and had power over the surrounding region for centuries. They were also the ones who resisted the Normans and defeated them.
Outside the area of the castle was an area surrounded by walls. People usually call it a bawn and its remains are still hanging around the castle. Beneath the castle, the River Drimneen courses through caverns and caves. In the past, it used to surround three sides of the castle, but it no longer does.
Gardens are usually amazing destinations to spend your time at. Brigit’s Garden is one of the fascinating Irish sites there is. It covers over 4 hectares of lands of meadows and wood. This garden is a pure representation of the Irish mythology and the heritage of the Celts. It has four different gardens within, representing the Celtic festivals of every season. Those seasons include Lughnasa as Autumn, Beltane as Summer, Imbolc as Spring, and Samhain as Winter. There is also a café on the site where you can grab a drink.
Buckfast Plaza is a perfect place for party animals and people who love to socialize. It is found in front of the popular site the Spanish Arch. The locals usually head to that place for having booze drinks during the hot days of summer. It is full of life and energy.
Connemara National Park
Connemara National Park is a marvellous place that spans mountains, woodlands, hills, and bogs. Besides, there is the Gleann Mór, meaning the Big Glen, in the core of the park. Through that glen, the River Polladirk courses. You can enjoy a brisk walk up that glen or hike around the mountains.
Dun Aengus lies about eight kilometres west of Kilronan. It has gigantic drystone walls that stand right over the ocean. Dun Aengus is a fort where defensive limestone spikes surround it. Sources claim that the fort has been around for over 2000 years. Yet, it still flawlessly stands. There is also a small centre for visitors that provide the guests with a quick hike uphill to the fort. In spite of the wonderful sightings, this place is a bit too dangerous. People are likely to slip off the cliff’s edge; however, there’s a guidance through your tour to keep you safe.
Before the existence of the Dunguaire Castle, Guaire Aidhne, the royal palace occupied the building. It was a 6th-century palace that belonged to the King of Connaught. However, when Lady Christabel Ampthill bought the palace, she made renovations and transformed it into a castle. She lived at that castle for almost two decades. You can have a tour of that castle and climb the roof for a superb scenery. The roof actually overlooks Kinvara and Galway Bay, so your eyes will definitely be pleased.
Eyre Square stands in the centre of the town where the bustling life pumps. This square date back to the 18th century, but it now looks a bit different from it was. The square is now made in honour to the American President, J. F. Kennedy. He was of an Irish Descent, but not everyone is aware of this information. On the northwest side of the square, you get into an old patrician mansion through a doorway name Browne’s Gateway. Over and beyond, there are many shops along the street that you can visit. There is also a modern shopping centre holding the name of the square.
Galway Cathedral overlooks the River Corrib. You can reach the cathedral by walking from St. Nicholas’ for only eight minutes. This mesmerizing cathedral is actually deemed to be one of Europe’s most modern grand stone cathedrals. It’s been around since the late 50’s, so it’s not as old as most of the other sites in Ireland. J.J. Robinson was the designer of the cathedral; he mixed between different cultural styles, resulting in today’s amazing cathedral.
The main architectural elements he used were the Gothic and Romanesque. Inside the cathedral, you can watch a splendid art collection and beautiful rose windows. It also houses the statue of Virgin that was made by Imogen Stuart. On your way to the cathedral, you can stop by and visit Nora Barnacle’s House. It is the smallest museum there is in Ireland; it belonged to James Joyce’s wife, Nora.
Galway City Museum
The City Museum is a modern one that reveals a long timeline of the history of the city. You can learn all about Galway from 1800 and all the way to 1950. The museum houses iconic objects that were used in the city. Those include a hooker fishing boat and a collection of currachs. The latter was actually boats that tarred canvas covered their framework.
The people of Galway have been donating items of culture and heritage value over the last three decades. This has helped to make up the interesting collection of over 1,000 objects.
Galway City Nightlife
Here is the greatest attraction all around the city; it is the Nightlife. This site targets almost everyone no matter their cultural background, age, or whatsoever. Galway is a lively city that has been popular for its live musical performance and tranquillizing ambience. It is the best spot for having the ultimate entertainment and enjoy the constantly ongoing festivals. While roaming around the city’s momentous streets, you will come across many clubs, pubs, and lounges. They’re all ready to serve you with the world’s best food and coffee, so you can further enjoy your tour.
The street markets of this county are not to miss. They have an amazing carefree spirit that has been around for long centuries. The best part about the market is that farmers selling fresh goods is not the only thing you will see. There are also stalls that sell ready-made food, crafts, and arts of different forms. Those kinds of stalls and shops usually take place on Saturdays. However, the festive ambience is on all year long and it gets better during the summer season. It is great to just wander around and appreciate Galway’s market scene.
Hall of the Red Earl
Richard de Burgo was the one who ruled the city before handing his power over to the 14 tribes. People called him the Red Earl; he was the ruler during the 13th century. During his reign, he erected a large hall that acted as his power seat. The locals used to pass by that hall in an attempt to win over the ruler. However, that hall was left in the wreckage when the 14 tribes took over the authority. Not much attention was given to the ruined hall until 1997. The Custom House of the City was expanded, revealing many artefacts like gold and clay pipes. That Custom House was an exhibition for the history of the de Burgo Family as well as the city’s.
Inchagoill is the largest island on Lough Corrib that is left a bit lonely with ancient remains. It lies on the edge of the Lough Corrib Lake; however, it is about two kilometres away. The island has a place known as Molloy’s Boats where you can rent your own boat. There is also an obelisk known as Lia Luguaedon Mac Menueh; it provides the island with a mesmerizing sighting. Lia means the stone, for it is a giant one. It has an inscription on it that sources claim it to be Latin writing. They also believe that this particular inscription happens to be the second oldest Christian one all around Europe. The oldest ones happen to be those writings present in the catacombs in Rome.
Inis Oirr is an Island where many amazing motion pictures were filmed there. It is a popular masterpiece in the world of Hollywood movies. The official name of the Island is Inis Oirthir and it means the east island. On the other hand, there’s another name that is more traditionally used and it is Inis Thiar, meaning rear island. Inis Oirr is one of the three Aran Islands that sit close to the Bay. It is also said that it is the second smallest one of all of them.
Kenny Gallery is another spot that you should visit while in Ireland. Before becoming a gallery, it was a bookshop run by a modest family during the Second World War. After a while, the family started to introduce arts and crafts into their humble shop. Now, it became a gallery for displaying extensive art, giving the opportunity for local and international artists to get exposure.
Besides being a gallery, it remained its status as a bookstore. But, now it is a huge one that houses half a million books of different genres. You can also find the bookshop online; it launched its website back in 1994. It is professed that it the second bookshop in the whole world to ever have an online platform.
Kinvara is an enjoyable site that acts as a small fishing port with a rustic nature, monastery, and a castle. There is also a traditional pub that dates back to 1865. It is called the Green Bar and it has shelves displaying hundreds of whiskey bottles.
Well, to be clear, there is no castle anymore. Sadly, the 14th-century castle that was once the finest in Ireland had turned into a bank. On the other hand, the external design of that bank remains the same. It still looks like a castle. This building belonged to the Lynch family; they were among the ruling tribes and the most powerful of them all.
This spot is quite interesting. In fact, MV Plassy an abandoned west coast that you can find in the wilds of the Aran Islands. Literally, it is a wreckage on the city’s beach, but people refer to it as a beautiful failure. You will realize that most of the professional photographers would be to discover such a unique landmark.
Patrick Pearse’s Cottage
That little hut is an amazing place to relax and spend quality time solely for yourself. In fact, Patrick Pearse spent a lot of his time at that cottage that sits on the shore of a far-flung lake. He built it himself back in 1909 and used it to write his plays and short stories. A few miles away from the cottage, you will find a centre made for the visitors who are interested in Pearse’s life. The centre shows his life in details and exhibits his writings and play.
Salthill is the best spot for swimmers and those who long for a relaxation under the sun. It consists of more than a few smaller beaches that ridges separate between. The place is open for both tourists and locals alike and it is quite safe for everyone. Besides, it is ranked as Blue Flag beach. Such ranking guarantees the safety of the area and the high standards of the quality of the environment. Thus, there is nothing to be afraid of. When the weather is all summery and energetic, this spot should be your go-to place.
Sheep and Wool Centre
Here is one more interesting museum around the county. It is dedicated to sheep and wool and you can find it sitting on Leenane’s main street. It’s actually a centre that reveals the history of sheep and wool in Ireland and the history of dyeing. The museum also houses a café on which you can enjoy your time. There is also a shop that sells hand-made goods.
The Spanish Arch is another popular site around the city. Some people believe that this site is an extension to the medieval city walls. They believe that this arch’s main objective was to protect the ships that sit nearby, unloading the imported goods. Today, that site became a spot for musicians to play music while people gather and enjoy their times.
Sky Road, Clifden
Clifden Sky Road can be found in Connemara. In fact, the Sky Road is a popular route that many have described as Ireland’s ultimate striking coastal drive. Along the edge of the coast, there’s a vertical mounting that offers a scenery over many of the surrounding islands.
St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church is just a few minutes away from Lynch’s Castle. It dates back to the 14th century and it was established in honour of Saint Nicholas of Myra. He was the patron saint of children and mariners; his modern depiction is what people call Santa Claus. On the exterior structure, you can see a plentiful of ornaments and decorations. On the other hand, the inside of the church is full of tombs and a reader’s desk on its own. Legends have it that a lot of famous people went to that church for worshipping. Christopher Columbus is said to be among those famous figures who used to worship there.
Claddagh is known to be the area that sits close to the centre of the city. It is close to that centre where the Corrib River mingles with the Galway Bay. That area used to be a village for fishing. People used to fish there as it was outside the walls of the old city. Across the river, the Spanish Arch sits nearly and it was the site of fish markets at that time.
It is no longer a fishing village. Instead, the Claddagh is one of the famous tourist attractions where people go to watch the surrounding views. However, a lot of fishermen still reside around the area in an attempt to keep the fishing tradition thriving. The name of the area is also associated with the Claddagh Ring. People from all over the world wear this ring as a symbol of faithfulness and true love.
The Corrib Princess
Cruising along a river is always fun. Gladly, this activity is an essential one for tourists that visit Galway. They go for a restful cruise along the River Corrib and lake aboard the Corrib Princess. The latter is actually a river and there are three different bridges that cross it over. Those bridges are the Claddagh Bridge, people usually call it the swing bridge. O’Brien’s is another bridge that is deemed to be the second oldest as it was established in 1342. The last bridge is the Salmon Weir Bridge; it has been around since 1818. In spring, you can watch a lot of salmon going up the river from aboard the bridge.
Thoor actually means the Tower. It is commonly known as the Norman Tower and it dates back to the 16th century. This beautifully erected tower happened to be home of William B. Yeats. He used to stay there during the days of summer and had done so from 1921 until 1929. Legends claim that this place was actually the source of his inspirations. He used to write the best of his works at that tower, becoming the famous poet he was. Over and beyond, his famous work, The Tower, is said to be inspired by his summer home. More interestingly, there is a cottage that is attached to the tower. It is open for visitors and it displays the work of Yeats as well as his life. You will learn all you need to know about the legendary poet.
Not far from Galway City at just 15 minutes away you’ll find one of the most picturesque villages. It has often been voted the prettiest villages found in Ireland. It is most famous for hosting its yearly Oyster Festival which includes live music and entertainment, dancing and a huge gala ball. The festival has been running since 1956. People from all over the world come to Clarinbridge to help celebrate the beginning of the new oyster season. It is a great time to visit the village and immerse yourself into the popular festival. Also to try the most delicious Oysters that are world-renown.
A Trip to Galway Awaits you
Galway never fails to impress, from its beautiful landscape that you think you’ll only ever find on a postcard to its deeply rooted history. There is so much to see and do in Galway, that’s why you need to spend a few days to truly appreciate what it has to offer. Whether you are looking for a lively and fun break or a quiet and relaxing one, Galway is one of those places that offers the best of both worlds.
Also, don’t forget to check out other places around Ireland that might interest you: The Magnificent of County Cork| Take a look at the Astounding Scenery of County Kerry| Kilkenny: The Splendid Reflection of the History of Ireland| All You Need to Know About County Laois| The City of Armagh| Dublin City: The World’s Natural Wonders in One City|