July 30, 2007
Our visit to Galway was split in two parts - both rather brief as they bookended our trip to Inishmore. Galway itself would be worth a visit but having spent so much time in Dublin in many ways it felt like a smaller version of Dublin that happened to be located on the water. That may sound like it is not a compliment but truly it is - we really enjoyed our brief time in Galway and if for some reason we found ourselves with the opportunity to move to Ireland the Galway area would draw us before the Dublin area would (though I must admit the Wicklow mountains might pull us that way). Hey it is fun to dream right?
As we drove into Galway we experienced a relief and a sense of peace as we drove along the coastal road and took in the beauty. The views and calm of Galway were a much needed welcome sight after what Serona considered at times an extremely stressful drive. He adjusted to the other side of the road quite well and we managed to figure out together what the local gibberish on the signs meant but one aspect he could not quite get over were the dotted yellow lines that allow cars to drive on the shoulder so others can pass (at least that is what they are used for if they are not designed for this purpose). This photo taken by me in the passenger seat was an all too common sight in our driving on this wonderful road across the countryside of Ireland going through quaint towns - the road reminded me of Rte 66 in the US. The photo is a bit deceiving as it actually appears that you have more room than you do.
So we arrive in Galway to discover we have another hour drive to get to the ferry that will take us to Inishmore. We purchased our tickets and headed off to explore Galway. We decided it was a perfect opportunity to make some gift purchases. Ironically in Galway was the only store I knew by name that I wanted to visit - Fallers Jewelers. Before you get the wrong impression, I don't like to shop, I don't love brand names and I am not a big jewelery fan in general (though Celtic jewelery does seem to be an exception to this rule for me). Why Fallers then? We really wanted to see their Claddagh rings which they have been making forever and are renowned throughout Ireland. Like the song from our wedding "My tiny piece of Ireland, my little Claddagh ring". We had decided we wanted to purchase an authentic Claddagh ring for each of our children. Not being completely idealistic we knew they would be for the future - so we don't go off the deep end when our eight year old loses a ring we bought in Ireland. We settled on purchasing them each a Claddagh for when they are teenagers - most likely to be given to them around their 16th birthday or so, but allowing them to see them now - so it would be their main gift but they can't have it for nearly a decade. We are mean parents I know :)
Fallers did have an excellent collection of jewelery and I was tempted to purchase myself something there but just kept reminding myself that being here was my gift and I had the choice between jewelery and knitting - I decided on the knitting - strange woman I am I know. The only piece I really feel in love with (besides the rings we purchased for the kids) was a history of Ireland pendant but I could not justify the cost to be sure! It was great fun to browse and make our purchases that we made here. We had to try to guess what size rings to purchase for a teenage boy and girls without having any gauge of what their build and body type will be. The saleswoman was fantastic and everyone was helping out as we tried to make our decisions. We purchased the girls each a traditional claddagh ring and found a unique one for Ciaran that we both really liked. Serona and I browsed but ultimately decided against any purchases for ourselves here.
It was here in Galway that I insisted on a very touristy photo that was not in the easiest spot to get. I wanted a picture of myself under the Claddagh sign. For it was here in this tiny part of Galway, a fishing community where the Claddagh tradition started - in a place called Claddagh. For anyone who does not know about the Claddagh ring - it is a traditional Irish wedding band (yes I have one) - the heart is in the center and it stands for love which is held in the hands of friendship and protected by the crown of trust. Women who wear them before they are married wear them with the heart pointing away from them indicating that their heart is still available. Married women (and men) wear the heart pointing in and the crown pointing out meaning their heart is spoken for and protected in trust. Serona had a wonderful Claddagh ring set custom made for me - it is a one of a kind set!
Before we started our planning for Ireland I did not realize their was actually a place called Claddagh. Even with all my knowledge about the tradition and meaning behind the ring I never knew it actually was named after a particular place in Ireland. So now with everything Claddagh meant to me and being in Ireland I really wanted this picture. Serona groaned and wanted to be REALLY SURE I wanted this photo because we needed to find a place to park, pay for parking and then walk into the corner of a busy intersection and take photos - it was much too conspicuous for him. But I insisted and he relented. Here is one of the photos we took as we stood in Claddagh after having purchased our children their own tiny bit of Ireland just up the street.
We browsed through a few other stores and took in Galway. Street performers, Irish music, restaurants, shops and it just felt friendlier and more manageable than Dublin. One oddity was this was the only place in Ireland we saw what appeared to be military officers stationed like guards with rather big guns patrolling the streets. I might have not be surprised in Dublin (we never saw anything other than police officers) but it seemed odd and out of place in Galway - or atleast unexpected to be sure. We ate at a bakery and roamed the streets enjoying the music and sites before we headed out to catch our ferry.
We stumbled upon a great knitting shop O'Maille where we spent a great deal of time chatting with Anne and Ger the owners and looking over the finely crafted work. They commission the wool, know personally the farmers, spinners and knitters and can tell who knit the sweaters by the style and pattern. In this store I truly saw some of the finest knitting I have ever seen or expect I might ever see again. There was one sweater I was terribly tempted to purchase. Made in the fine dark wool and with a beautiful and unique Aran pattern hand knit by an amazing master knitter based on the quality. But even though I appreciate all the work and beauty that went into that sweater I and especially all the labor I could not bring myself to spend over $400 on a sweater. I admired the work, enjoyed the conversation and learning a bit of the history of the store and Aran coastal knitting and getting great tips for our upcoming visit to Inishmore. I asked if they had any yarn to purchase and we started talking about knitting together. I found some wonderful dark grey Aran wool and purchased enough to one day make a beautiful Aran sweater for myself and that was my treat to myself in Ireland - along with the aran sweater I did purchase on Inishmore. I would recommend a stop into this shop if you love knitting and are ever in Galway. Anne assures me she can ship her wool to the states as well and will take phone orders - her yarn was beautiful and not overly priced for the quality. Treat yourself sometime!
As we headed out on our drive to the ferry we went through scenic places like Salthill
We drove through the town of Barna which once again we did not know actually existed. It is part of a children's song we sing to the kids "Home to Barna" and here we were in Barna! So many times we found ourselves in places we have been singing about for years. Now we stumble upon a town we did not even know was real.
We returned to Galway after our wonderful time on the Aran Islands. This time we had a goal in mind - to find good vegetarian food. We had not yet had a solid vegetarian meal (and no Guinness is NOT a meal much to Serona's disappointment) during our time in Ireland. We managed to eat well enough and cobble a variety of things together to sustain ourselves pleasantly but we had not had a single meal to write home about yet. We (okay maybe just I was) were on a mission to find something good. The ugly food monster was rearing its head in me insisting that in this wonderful city their must be some great place to eat. We walked up and down the streets reading menus and looking for any other option than yet another Aubergine!
The name, atmosphere and music of Druid Lane restaurant was a clear front runner for the possibility of good vegetarian food and it was the winner and provided us with a wonderful meal! A wine bar tucked in the streets of Galway with good wine, great vegetarian food and nice service. It felt so good to have a curry dish and a wonderful lentil dish - with the wine and atmosphere it felt wonderful and we were quite thankful. The owner was there that day and we made sure to stop and thank her for the vegetarian option mentioning how it had not been that easy for us to find good food and thankful for her filling that void for us. Passing by there a few minutes later she stopped us to let me know we left our credit card there! Be sure to stop in and enjoy a meal or glass of wine at Druid Lane if you are ever in Galway!
One thing I forgot to mention is how beautiful it is that Galway is right along the water. You can walk a few blocks and be at the sea line - walk along the coast - see the islands out in the distance - feel the cool breeze and just enjoy the benefits of both the city and the coastline. How cool is that? The drive along the coastline is beautiful and the different colored building along Galway bay and the swans all through the bay make it truly picturesque. While we did not take time to sightsee in Galway we read there were options of things to see - we just wanted to take in the atmosphere, shop and eat a bit and it worked perfectly to suit those needs for us. I would love to go back sometime and take in a few pubs in the evening I am guessing they may be more my speed then the pubs of Temple Bar in Dublin. Go to Galway and be sure to continue on to the Aran Islands - you will not be disappointed.