Three hours’ driving from Dublin and then straight to the pubs. Well, not really. Though on a Friday night the impression you get is definitely that there’s a heap of great pubs, and that this little town could benefit by having many more
. Because they get crowded. And raucus. And musical. Even the old folks have their bandstands, their regular haunts and whatnot. The streets are paved with musos and their open instrument cases. Later, whilst having fish and chips on the shore at Salthill (think clapped-out English searesort on the make again), we were stared at so often, so directly, that we thought of opening up the old musical case and charging for the spectacle ourselves. You’d think people had never seen a Volvo-driver’s hat before. But that’s getting ahead of me. It’s a nice little old town, is Galway, with a traffic-free shopping zone, all quaintly old style and even medieval, there’s a fastflowing river with nice housing on the side for the priveledged (and endless grey reams of new housing on the outskirts of town), there’s a very odd-looking cathedral, a public square like in old Italian towns, there’s an arch which claims to be Spanish, there’s some shops and nightclubs and cafés and slappers with no clothing on… and that’s really about it. There is a ‘bohemian’ sense in the air from the aforementioned musos and the high volume of tourists, even for winter, but ultimately there’s not a lot to do without festivals or cultural events. Into the pub then. There should be more of them.
If you’ve never seen a street completely dominated by B&Bs then Galway is your town — it was like a retail avenue: so many signs. And so many pubs, all close together. Pubs. And an interesting booktitle: Flies of Ireland.
Connemara, on the other hand, despite the relative lack of pub-centralisation, is an interesting look. If the English lLakes are out of reach or the Welsh mountains seem like so many Scottish dales, then the Connemara mountains might be your thing. Layered with snow, dramatically bulbous and eminently hike-able, and interspersed with serene still lakes and well-situated little houses, the views are great. We had a great sunlit lunch in Clifden (after a devious detour by way of a very inaccurate and possibly malicious roadsign) overlooking the water, under a scorchingly bright sun, with regrettably watered-down Heineken (once you’ve been to the factory, you KNOW what it tastes like). Food was good though, and cheap.
Kylemore Abbey on the way to Galway again was an interesting sidestep — here’s an interesting photo
I stole off the web. It’s fairly mysterious-looking, nestled into the valley-foot of a mountain, in front of another scenic still lake, with a small gothic church attached (the abbey is also a nunnery by way of an Englishman’s mansion), and on the whole it looks like a Scots drama or sitcom could easily be set there. But, funnily enough, and I suppose this might be part of the architect’s trickery — the whole effect of the building disappears when you’re standing right in front of it, under its imposing grey stone. The valley looks great from it, but the house seems to become less important, somehow consumed by the mountain. I was almost in mind to do a Jerry Lee Lewis rendition of Peace in the Valley, for sheer contrariness — because it is truly a peaceful valley. The entire Connemara national park is studded with quiet, still places and therefore ideal for monasteries and meditation centres etc. Was also in mind to conceive a non-denominational worship-space again — an artistic and open building for all forms of contemplation etc. The valleys are superb and ideal. They require time and slow perception.
And then it was back to B&B Alley and into the pubs again. Well, first some food at an Indian which had lost its liquor license (why this seems such an embarrassing shame in Ireland should be obvious). And then a little stroll in the morning along the river and harbour, a desperate search for seafood and a visit to a self-cleaning toilet. I didn’t run into any famous writers’ wives, but that’s ok, we had plenty of mayo for fish and chips.