36 Hours in Galway

Galway might be Ireland’s most charming city: compact, walkable and filled to the brim with independent shops and restaurants that walk the fine line between cool and kitsch. Cozy, old-fashioned pubs showcase the city’s ever-growing selection of craft beers, chefs serve up west-of-Ireland ingredients in creative new ways, and almost every building housing a modern cafe or new atelier has a centuries-old story behind it. It’s not a city in which to hustle; rather, it’s one in which to enjoy a locally brewed pint, relish the excellent seafood and get your fill of views of the rushing River Corrib as it sweeps out to Galway Bay.

01

Friday

1. GO TO CHURCH, 3:30 P.M.

Kick off a Galway visit with a dip into the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas, which dates back to 1320 and is still used for Anglican services. The (possibly apocryphal) story goes that Christopher Columbus worshiped here in 1477. Check out the smashed faces of the stone angels, damaged by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in a bout of mid-17th-century vandalism, and note the lovely low Gothic arches. When services aren’t being held, the church is calm; on a recent visit, a solitary man was playing the organ to rows of empty pews.

 

2. COFFEE AND DESIGN, 4:30 P.M.

Coffeewerk+Press is at the forefront of Galway’s nascent coffee scene (Urban Grind, on William Street West, is also good). The multiconcept space opened in 2015, and its ground-floor cafe serves precisely made coffee from Denmark’s Coffee Collective (cappuccino, 3 euros, about $3.35). Up the stairs you’ll find a gallery displaying work by 40 international and local artists — you can buy postcards of their work in the cafe. A second floor hosts a design shop selling everything from colorful cups and saucers from Amsterdam-based Jansen+co to gorgeous modern tweed items by the Galway Tweed Project, which are good protection from the howling winds that come off the bay and are chic to boot.

 

3. FISH AND CHIPS, 6 P.M.

Opinions differ, passionately, as to where you’ll find the best fish and chips in Ireland, but McDonagh’s is a strong contender. Four generations have been serving fish and chips (€8.50) over the counter to customers who can sit down and dig in at the provided tables and benches. The adjoining restaurant opens at 5 p.m. and has a more formal atmosphere, plus an expanded menu of seafood, but it lacks the old-fashioned appeal of drizzling vinegar over crispy battered cod and a heaping helping of thick-cut chips and eating them with your hands.

 

4. PINTS IN A SNUG, 7:30 P.M.

Just up the street from McDonagh’s is Tigh Neachtain’s, one of the town’s best spots for happening upon a spontaneous traditional Irish music session. Crammed with snugs (small, partly closed-off sections) and warmed by open fires in the winter, this century-old pub is often standing room only, filled with people sampling one of the more than 100 whiskeys on offer. But that just adds to the cozy atmosphere engendered by the old enamel advertisements and shelves of books. The building itself was once the home of the Earl of Connemara, Richard Martin, known as Humanity Dick, one of the founders of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

02

Saturday

5. BRUNCH, THEN HISTORY, 10 A.M.

Ard Bia is a well-established local favorite, and for very good reason. The unpretentious, much lauded restaurant takes full advantage of the bounty of local produce in Galway as well as its prime location. Try to get a seat by the window, which looks right out on the River Corrib. It’s got rustic-chic appeal, with simple wooden furniture, a good wine list and a short menu of homey dishes like avocado toast with poached egg and the quintessential Irish lunch: a ham and cheese toasted sandwich (here it’s made with baked ham and Gubbeen cheese from West Cork, with tomato relish). Brunch for two, around €25. From Ard Bia, step across the alley to the Galway City Museum (both are by the Spanish Arch, a part of Galway’s medieval city walls and a local landmark). The compact museum (free) features exhibits on Galway history, including a life-size Galway hooker fishing boat suspended from the ceiling.

 

6. NUNS ISLAND, 12:30 P.M.

The delightfully named Nuns Island is an easy walk over Bridge Street and home to quiet green spaces, as well as the Galway Cathedral (free). Built on the site of Galway Jail, sold to the Bishop of Galway for £10 in 1940, the stone building was dedicated in 1965, and its 144-foot-high octagonal green dome is a signature part of the Galway skyline. Inside, Romanesque arches and stained glass make this one of the more beautiful modern cathedrals.

 

7. LOCAL BREWS, 2:30 P.M.

Galway’s craft beer game is exceptional, even in a country where Guinness has in many pubs been displaced by microbrews. Stroll back into the city center by way of the Salthouse Bar, one of the pubs owned by Galway Bay Brewery, and the perfect place to sample a midafternoon pint or two. Try the brewery’s own maritime-themed beers like the Buried at Sea chocolate milk stout, or the Of Foam and Fury double IPA (pints around €5), or let the bartender pour you a few samples of craft beers from around the world and a draft of cask ale.

 

8. ON YOUR BIKE, 3:30 P.M. P.M.

A cycle down the “prom” (promenade) out to Salthill means taking in beautiful Irish coastal scenery: beaches strewn with seaweed and rocks, a lighthouse and gloriously big sky. Rent a black-and-red bike from one of the 16 Coca-Cola Zero stations scattered around the city center (€3.50 for three hours) and cruise your way west along the curve of Galway Bay toward Salthill, making sure to look out for the Aran Islands in the distance. The town of Salthill has become trendier recently, with a number of hip pubs, but if you decide to stick around until opening hour at 7:30 p.m., head to O’Connor’s. It dates to 1875 and though it seems custom made for tourists, this cramped, antiques-crowded space is patronized by locals and serves up an excellent pint of Galway Hooker (named after the boat, not the profession).

 

9. LOAM, 6:30 P.M.

Galway’s been building a reputation for imaginative cuisine that’s hyper-focused on local ingredients, thanks in no small part to Loam. It had been open only 10 months when it picked up a Michelin star in 2015, a testament to the detail-driven creativity of its chef, Enda McEvoy. The six-course tasting menu (€60) of deceptively simple dishes changes daily (they characterize their food as “obsessively seasonal”) but is always an amalgamation of west-of-Ireland products, from Connemara air-dried lamb to West Cork cheese. A recent meal included a savory broth of squid, shiitake and beach herbs, and hay-flavored ice cream.

 

10. GRAB BAG, 9 A.M.

One of the liveliest and most eclectic of Galway’s (and Ireland’s) night-life venues, the Roísín Dubh’s stage has been graced by everyone from Two Door Cinema Club to De La Soul — and that’s in addition to the comedy nights, open mikes, silent discos (a room full of headphone-wearing dancers bopping away to music only they can hear) and D.J.s spinning everything from indie to electro-pop. There’s also a rooftop terrace with city views. The cheerful, laid-back crowd is at least partly made up of some of Galway’s many university students. Saturday nights feature live music earlier on, then D.J.s and dancing until 2 a.m.

03

Sunday

11. SHOP STREET, 10 A.M.

Do as the locals do and wander up and down the aptly named Shop Street. This, with the connecting High Street, is the liveliest part of the city, packed with shoppers even on inclement days. Stop by Lynch’s Castle, which dates back to the 14th century and displays beautiful gargoyles, stonework and coats of arms (the Lynches were one of the 14 Galway “tribes,” or merchant families, who effectively ruled the city in the early modern era). The building was restored in 1930 and is now an AIB bank. Up the street is Aunty Nellie’s Sweet Shop, where the shelves are lined with big jars of old-fashioned sweets. Pick up a handful of sherbet limes or rhubarb and custard bonbons (€1.40 for 100 grams) before strolling across the street to Cloon Keen Atelier. This boutique perfumery offers chic fragrances and candles, all made by hand in nearby Spiddal.

 

12. OYSTERS ON THE WEIR, 1 P.M.

Take a jaunt to Moran’s Oyster Cottage, an oversized, thatched-roof “cottage” that sits on the banks of the Dunkellin River and serves up succulent native oysters. A 25-minute drive southeast of the city center, this family-run restaurant serves Irish lobster, seafood chowder and legendary oysters, which are sourced from a nearby estuary and served on a bed of seaweed. Have a pre- or post-lunch drink in the tiny front bar, which doesn’t appear to have changed in a century. Lunch for two, around €60.

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Ireland’s most popular counties and what to visit

The following counties are among the most widely visited in Ireland. With their lively arts and culture attractions it’s not hard to see why.

Cliffs of Moher

COUNTY ANTRIM

Belfast City (in Irish, Beal Feirste) is the capital of Northern Ireland and is located in County Antrim, one of Ireland most visited counties. History and politics have always played a major role in the fabric of Belfast, and perhaps for that reason its citizens are among the most vivid and witty people you’ll ever meet.

Belfast

Unsurprisingly, Belfast is rich in culture, art, music, dance, sports, shopping, attractions and historical sites. City Hall, one of the main seats of power, is located on Donegall Square and dominates the area with its magnificent classical renaissance style architecture and Italian marble interior. It was completed in 1903.

The Linen Hall Library, also located on Donegall Square, was established in 1788. It houses an Irish collection of over 20,000 volumes and a Robert Burns collection. Visit and you’ll be keeping company with many noted Irish authors.

The Crown Liquor Saloon is the most famous pub in Belfast and, frankly, one of the most beautiful pubs in the world. Featuring Victorian architecture, with the outside covered in thousands of colorful tiles, the inside decor has stained and painted glass, carved oak screens and mahogany furniture. Don’t miss it.

The Botanic Gardens, the rose gardens and herbaceous borders were established in 1920 and are unmissable. Two greenhouses dominate the gardens and the Palm House has a conservatory containing tropical plants like coffee, sugar, and banana plants. The Tropical Ravine has a high walkway that provides a great viewpoint.

Overlooking the city, Belfast Castle was built in 1870 and was the former home of the Donegall family, who gave the main square in the city center its name. The castle offers a spectacular view of the city. There is also a heritage center, antique shop, and children’s play area on the premise.

 

COUNTY CLARE

County Clare in the Republic of Ireland is steeped in history, and it offers beautiful seascapes, landscapes, lakes, cliffs, caves and music. Highlights include The Burren (an ancient perfectly preserved landscape), The Cliffs of Moher (700 foot high cliffs facing the wild Atlantic), and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park (an impressive castle dating from the early Middle Ages).

Clare

The Burren is over 500 square miles of limestone located in the northwest corner of County Clare. The area is a haven for botanists and ecologists because of the unique flora and rock. The ground surface is a floor of gray rock with long parallel grooves, known as grykes. There is an amazing variety of flora with Arctic, Alpine, and Mediterranean plants growing in spring and summer. For that reason there’s also an amazing range of color in the flowers, ferns and mosses.

Alwee Caves were discovered in the 1940s. There are caverns, underground waterfalls, stalagmite and stalactite formations and remains of brown bears, which have been extinct in Ireland for thousands of years. The caves are open for guided tours.

The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most spectacular sights of The Burren. These majestic cliffs rise more than 700 feet above the windswept Atlantic Ocean and stretch five miles along the west coast of Clare. Composed of shale and sandstone, the Cliffs’ ledges make ideal roosting homes for birds. On a clear day you can see as far as the Mountains of Kerry, Connemara and the Aran Islands.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park is one of the most complete and authentic medieval castles in Ireland. This being Ireland it also has a long and bloody history.

The castle is a combination of earlier Norman castles and the later Gaelic Tower Houses furnished with a fine collection of medieval furniture, artwork and ornate carvings. A four-course Medieval Banquet and entertainment with performers in traditional costume is offered in the evenings.

 

COUNTY CORK

County Cork is the largest county in Ireland and Cork City is the second-largest city in the Republic. A unique and lively second capital, the distinctive people are as much an attraction as the place itself.
Saint Finbarr first built a monastery on the site that would later become Cork City in the year 650. The city grew along the banks of the River Lee at the point where it splits into two channels.

Cork

Cork City is essentially an island with 16 bridges. The main commercial area is located along St. Patrick Street, Grand Parade, Washington Street, Oliver Plunkett Street and Main Street. The charm and beauty of Cork City revolves around the contrasts the city offers. There are a multitude of theaters and a variety of arts. There is also a diverse range of excellent restaurants, cafes, and pubs with traditional Irish music.

The city also has many unique and quaint shops. Across the Southern Channel are some of the oldest streets in Cork, along with the campus of University College, Cork.

The nearby Blarney Castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster in 1446 and should be at the top of your must visit list. The castle is located on a thousand acres of beautiful woodland, and is partially hidden by trees, some up to a thousand years old. The castle has been witness to the triumph and turmoil of Irish chiefs and enemy armies.

Cobh, (pronounced cove) is a picturesque town located on the Great Island, one of three large islands in Cork Harbour. It was the port of departure for many Irish during the Great Hunger from 1844 to 1848 and has the distinction of being central for two of the worst maritime disasters in history. Cobh was the last berth for the Titanic and the nearest port to the Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk off the south coast of Ireland. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage while crossing the Atlantic after leaving Cobh (then Queenstown).

Nearby Kinsale is a fishing and resort town with a picture perfect harbor. The town’s narrow streets are lined with colorfully painted buildings and it is widely renowned for its art galleries and gourmet restaurants. Kinsale is also considered the Gourmet Capital of Ireland. Many of the pubs offer traditional Irish music and upscale fare.

 

COUNTY DONEGAL

With its sandy beaches, unspoiled boglands and friendly communities, County Donegal is a leading destination for many travelers. One of the county treasures is Glenveagh National Park, the only official national park anywhere in the Province of Ulster. The park is a huge nature reserve with spectacular scenery of mountains, raised boglands, lakes and woodlands. At its heart is Glenveagh Castle, a beautiful late Victorian “folly” that was originally built as a summer residence.

Donegal

Donegal’s rugged landscape lends itself to active sports like climbing, hillwalking, scuba-diving, surfing and kite-flying. Many people travel to Donegal for the superb golf links — long sandy beaches and extensive dune systems are a feature of the county, and many golf courses have been developed. Golf is a very popular sport within the county, including world class golf courses such as Ballyliffin (Glashedy), Ballyliffin (Old), both of whch are located in the Inishowen peninsula. Other courses to note are Murvagh and Rosapenna.

The Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking district) also attracts young people to County Donegal each year during the school summer holidays. The three week long summer Gaeltacht courses give young Irish people from other parts of the country a chance to learn the Irish language and traditional Irish cultural traditions that are still prevalent in parts of Donegal.

 

COUNTY DUBLIN

Dublin is the capital of the Republic of Ireland and is divided by the River Liffey. The Royal Canal and the Grand Canal provide connections between the port area and the northern and southern branches of the River Shannon.

Dublin

Dublin is a city steeped in history and boasts of having the oldest pub in Ireland, The Brazen Head, and the oldest university, Trinity College. It is a center of art and culture and the largest truly cosmopolitan city in Ireland.

O’Connell Street is the main thoroughfare and the widest street in Europe. At the south end, sits a huge monument of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish patriot. The General Post Office (GPO) is also located on O’Connell Street and was the headquarters for the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the provisional government of Ireland in the 1916 Easter Rising.

The Dublin Writers Museum is a restored 18th century mansion located at the north end of Parnell Square. The museum houses manuscripts and first editions of the works of some of Ireland’s best writers, including: Behan, Joyce, Shaw, Swift, Wilde, and Yeats. It is also home to an impressive collection of painting, photographs, and memorabilia of the various writers.

The Temple Bar Area is the cultural quarter of Dublin. This is a historical and eclectic area filled with art, theater, music, pubs, cafes, and the highest concentration of truly upscale restaurants. There’s also the Market in Meeting House Square serving organic foods, unique shops, book and music stores. It also plays host to many open-air events.

Trinity College is one of the oldest centers of learning, dating back to the 16th century. The library is home to the world renowned Book of Kells, a Latin text of the four gospels, with meticulous artwork around the borders, created in the ninth century.

The National Museum of Archaeology and History is located on Kildare Street. This branch houses artifacts from 2000 B.C. through the 20th century and includes the National Treasury with many archaeological treasures of Celtic and Medieval art, such as the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Brooch.

Christchurch Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest place of Christian worship. The Christian Norse, King Sitric, founded it in 1038. Part of the structure goes back to the 12th century. It is presently an Anglican Church.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the National Cathedral for the Anglican Church. Originally built in the 12th century, it is the burial site of Jonathan Swift, a former Dean and author of Gulliver’s Travels.

 

COUNTY GALWAY

Galway City is known as the City of Tribes after 14 merchant families who controlled and managed the city in medieval times and is situated along the River Corrib at the mouth of Galway Bay.

Galway

Today, the city is a growing and thriving university city that offers the best theater in the country. There is also a vibrant nightlife and music can be found everywhere. During the summer, Galway offers many festivals.

Connemara, known for its wild beauty, is located north of Galway City, at the western tip of the county. It is one of the most unspoiled regions of Ireland and a vibrant Gaelic-speaking area.

The Aran Islands, also a Gaelic-speaking area, are located 30 miles off the Irish coast. The islands themselves consist of three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer.

Inis Moir, meaning Big Island, is eight miles long and two miles wide, and has a population of 900. The fort of Dun Aengus is built on the edge of a sheer southern cliff with a defense forest of sharp stone spikes.

Inishmaan means Middle Island. It is three miles wide and two miles long, with fields bordered by high dry stonewalls, and marked by vast sheets of limestone rock. The island peaks at 300 feet and a series of giant terraces slope down to Galway Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The island has a Gaelic speaking population.

Inisheer is known as the Little Island. It is 27 miles from Galway and covers 1,400 acres. It has a population of about 300. This island is an outcrop of the Burren landscape, consisting of bare limestone that is used for the many cottages, stonewalls, roads, and pathways around the island. The Gaelic-speaking island is a haven for birdwatchers and those interested in flora and fauna.

 

COUNTY KERRY

The locals know County Kerry as The Kingdom, a reference to the contrasts you’ll see in its astounding scenery, which suggest Ireland in miniature. The climate in Kerry is more unique than other places in Ireland, thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and it’s actually possible to swim here year round.

Kerry

Kerry has preserved its heritage in many ways. The oak woods at Derrycunnihy and Tomies, for example, are the last of Ireland’s primeval forests. There are many small villages that are still Gaelic-speaking too, adding to the character of the county. Dingle Town is a fishing village that offers a wonderful selection of shops, restaurants and pubs with traditional music.

THE RING OF KERRY is located on the Peninsula of Iveragh. It lies between Dingle Bay and The Kenmare River. It is 110 miles of gorgeous coastal and mountain scenery, enveloping the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Caherciveen, Waterville, Sneem, Kenmare and Killarney. Each town has its own personality. The coastal drive is one of the most spectacular sites in all of Ireland.

The locals know County Kerry as The Kingdom, a reference to the contrasts you’ll see in its astounding scenery, which suggest Ireland in miniature. The climate in Kerry is more unique than other places in Ireland, thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and it’s actually possible to swim here year round.

 

COUNTY KILKENNY

Kilkenny is a county looked on enviously by other counties, and not only because of the county’s incredible track record in the ancient Irish game of hurling. Kilkenny is a county filled with enchantment and delight. From the spectacular scenery of the Nore and Barrow river valleys to the cultured beauty of Kilkenny City, the county provides the perfect setting for whatever holiday you desire.

Kilkenny

Known through history as the Marble City because of its distinctive indigenous jet-black marble, Kilkenny City offers a curious, yet undeniably attractive mix of perfectly preserved old buildings and the vibrancy of a modern city which has made festivals like the Kilkenny Cat Laughs comedy festival, an event with international recognition. St Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle are extremely important monuments and quality tours are available.

There are plenty of other things to see inside and outside the city and throughout Kilkenny’s rural hinterland. Some of Ireland’s finest craft studios are to be found in Kilkenny, from pottery to gold and silver-smithing. The experience of seeing a master craftsperson is not one to be missed.

For more physically active tourists, Kilkenny has no limit to the range of choices available. The Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course at Mount Juliet is one of the finest in the state. Arguably the best river wild trout fishing is to be found near Durrow on the River Nore.

The county has numerous ancient sites including Iron Age fortifications, inscribed stones and crosses, castles, and abbeys. The Dunmore Caves in Ballyfoyle are important both for historical and environmental reasons. The site of a massacre of the Irish by Viking raiders in 928, and according to legend, the place where The Lord of the Mice was slain Dunmore is best known these days for the wondrous sight of stalagmites of huge size dominating the chambers.

 

COUNTY MEATH

County Meath has traditionally been known as the Royal County, being the seat of the ancient Kings of Ireland at Tara. In the Boyne Valley of County Meath are some of Ireland’s most important archeological monuments, including the Megalithic Passage Tombs of Newgrange, Knowth, Dowth, Fourknocks, Loughcrew and Tara.

Meath

Newgrange is the most famous of these prehistoric monuments. It was originally built around 3,100 B.C. and accidentally discovered in the 17th century.

 

COUNTY OFFALY

The heart of the Midlands, County Offaly offers bogs, meadowlands, and undiscovered pastures. Clonmacnoise, located at Shannonbridge on the banks of the River Shannon, is one of the most famous monastic sites.

Offaly

Begun as an isolated monastery founded by St. Ciaran in 545 A.D. it is to this day an ecclesiastical site, with ruins of a cathedral, eight churches, and three high crosses.

Irish chieftains, Vikings and Anglo-Normans plundered Clonmacnoise. Cromwell’s forces devastated it beyond restoration. There are guided tours during the summer months; a video presentation at the Visitor Center, and an informative five-mile trail tour of the Blackwater.

 

COUNTY TYRONE

Located in the center of the historic province of Ulster, County Tyrone is blessed with an array of places to visit. The Ulster American Folk Park, for example, is located three miles north of Omagh.

Tyrone

The Folk Park is an open-air living history museum that explores Ulster’s links to the many famous Americans who trace their ancestry to the North of Ireland. The park is comprised of an indoor gallery with information on the causes and patterns of immigration. Outside are a variety of reconstructed buildings of 18th and 19th century Ireland.

Throughout the park are costumed guides and craftsmen that add to the authenticity. Also on site is the Centre for Emigration Studies, an extensive research library. Plan at least half a day to explore the park.

 

COUNTY WICKLOW

County Wicklow is often referred to as the Garden of Ireland, due to its breathtaking scenery and located just south of Dublin it makes for a wonderful day trip or overnight stay away from the ‘big smoke.’

Glendalough is a 6th century monastic site that was founded by St. Kevin.

Wicklow

Nestled into the heart of the Wicklow Mountains it offers a truly spectacular setting, featuring a stone tower that stands 110 feet tall. There is a visitor center and guided tours are available.

Wicklow National Park is an unspoiled natural wonder with nearly 50,000 acres of raw beauty. A drive through the Wicklow Gap from Glendalough to Hollywood is one of jaw dropping beauty.

Powerscourt is a beautiful upscale estate with some of the finest gardens in Europe.

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Hiking for ancient relics hidden by fog

From Galway 1 Hour by car

Map

When most people think of Ireland, they imagine bucolic green fields dotted with fluffy sheep, or cobblestone streets lined with signs advertising Guinness. But I was looking for a lesser-known side to the Emerald Isle. I was deep in the grey, barren mountains of the Connemara region, in County Galway, hiking through land that has remained virtually untouched for thousands of years. The only remnants of human activity are scattered relics left behind by the few others who have been devoted enough to traverse this inhospitable environment.

During the Act of Settlement in 1653, Oliver Cromwell famously ordered Irish landowners to go “to Hell or to Connacht”, one of Ireland’s ancient kingdoms. The two were synonymous in his mind because of the rocky ground conditions and mountainous landscape. Today, Connacht encompasses five counties in the western part of the country, including Galway. But while farming has destroyed most of Ireland’s forested regions, the Maumturk mountain range in Galway’s Connemara region was agriculturally useless, and it was left to grow wild.

Maumturk 1

Culture and information are fluid in this part of Ireland, which is home to the country’s highest number of native Irish language speakers. As such, climbing these mountains requires an equal amount of science (in the form of a good relief map and compass) and reliable local knowledge. My plan was to hike the 8km over the 609m-high Corcogemore (more commonly by known by its Irish name, Corcóg) into Máméan (known in Irish as Mám Éan), the pass that runs between the Inagh and Maum valleys. The Maumturks, a range of six peaks across Connemara, can also be spelled as Maamturks or even Mhám Toirc, and then sometimes colloquially referred to as “The Turks”. It is a reminder of the rapid changes Ireland experienced in its modern history. Not everything could keep up, and not everywhere wanted to.

I picked my steps carefully along Corcogemore, starting on thick, boggy terrain. The Earth’s crust cracked in parts, creating a recessed stream bordered by tall and muddy walls of peat. While not as statistically impressive as other ranges, the Maumturks present a surprisingly challenging climb. Parts of Corcogemore lack any kind of solid ground; sometimes I took a step and sunk up to my knees, other times the spongy ground only gave a few inches. After an hour, the brown and yellow bogscape gave way to granite. Half-dead grass and thick twigs poked out from the jagged rocks, which turned entire parts of the mountain white. The wind picked up and the mist rolled in. I walked through icy fog that cut through each layer of clothing and seeped straight into my bones. I could see the rain start to fall, but I could no longer distinguish that form of water from any other.

The Maumturks are an area of brooding beauty and solitude, which makes them both magnetic and dangerous. The weather changes abruptly and dramatically. A sunny day at sea level could turn into a fog so thick that it feels like it might choke you. The silence and greyness can be so disorienting that sometimes it is impossible to turn back.

Maumturk 2

For this reason, the Maumturks account for 40% of the Galway Mountain Rescue Team’s annual casualty calls, and the majority of those requiring help are tourists. Fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable weather put hikers in danger of hypothermia. Many people underestimate the difficulty and overestimate their abilities to correctly read a relief map and a compass. Beyond all of that, the volunteer-run Galway Mountain Rescue Team has never had a steady headquarters in its nearly 40-year history, making it difficult to train both prospective climbers and new rescuers before they both embark on the dangerous terrain.
A proposed rock climbing wall and mountaineering training centre at the Tonabrucky Quarry in Galway city might alleviate both of these issues. (Pending final approval, development could start as early as next year.) The site aims to draw in tourists before they head into the mountains, and would also serve as a training centre for the Galway Mountain Rescue Team’s volunteers.

 

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Galway, Ireland’s most Irish city

 

Galway map

Known as Ireland’s most Irish city, Galway is making a name as its cultural capital. Located 210 km west of Dublin, at the edge of Europe, the city’s remote coastal position has not deterred visitors that over the years have included Christopher Columbus, John F. Kennedy and the Spanish Armada.

Also known as “the city of tribes” after the 14 merchant families that ruled between the 13th and 19th centuries, Galway has the highest concentration of native Irish speakers. It is the birthplace of James Joyce’s wife and muse Nora Barnacle.

The university draws youth into this medieval city whose arts and music scenes are thriving despite Ireland’s near economic collapse and painful austerity policies.

Live music is standard fare in the pubs, so don’t be surprised if a group begins what looks to be a spontaneous session.

Galway’s festival season that used to run from May to October is expanding to meet the demands of increasing tourist traffic. The city is preparing for science and visual arts festivals in November and the Continental Christmas Market.

Here are tips for getting the most out of the Galway area from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

Embracing the weather

Mark Twain could have been talking about Galway instead of New England when he said “if you don’t like the weather just wait a few minutes” as you’ll need to pack sunglasses and an umbrella for the daily rain, hail and sunshine.

Nestled in the Galway Bay, the combined effects of the Atlantic ocean and Twelve Pins mountains mean the weather is far from boring.

The city is a gateway to the rugged Connemara region, while the wild ocean is a favorite among water sports enthusiasts.

Connemara

One of Galway’s assets is its compact size. Its historic landmarks are conveniently located with 10 minutes’ walk of each other, meaning they can all be visited in an afternoon. Galway is best explored by foot as public transport is limited.

Following the Salthill promenade walk, which begins at the edge of the city near the Spanish Arch – built in 1584 as an extension of the city’s ancient walls – you will see the Claddagh area, which is famous for its old Irish wedding jewelry, and the three beaches of Salthill, an old seaside resort.

The hills of Clare can be seen on the walk and on a good day the Aran Islands – Ireland’s most famous islands – that can be visited from Ros a’ Mhl, a port 23 miles west of Galway.

By the end of the seaside walk visitors should follow locals who “kick the wall” – a tradition whose origins are unknown – before turning back, and for the brave, a refreshing dip into the bay off the Blackrock diving boards is a must.

In a city surrounded and divided by water, those looking for a river tour can take the Corrib Princess from Wood Quay to Lough Corrib, Ireland’s second largest lake.

Visitors & Merchants

Galway’s high-profile visitors have been making their mark for centuries so to retrace their steps start with a visit to the central square (Eyre Square to locals) renamed Kennedy Memorial Park after a visit from the U.S. president.

Galway Eyre Square

From there, meander down Shop Street – a pedestrianized walkway where you can buy Claddagh jewelry, Aran sweaters and other Irish goods.

Midway down the street you’ll find Lynch’s Castle, once home to one of the most powerful tribes in the city but now a bank.

While some visitors might be drawn by Galway’s cathedral whose green copper dome can be seen from many vantages of the city, locals favor St. Nicholas Cathedral where Christopher Columbus is believed to have stopped and prayed in 1477.

Two minutes from the church is the family home of Nora Barnacle which claims to be the smallest museum in the country.

From there a walk along the river Corrib will take you to the Bridge Mills, built over 400 years ago, which is the start of “The West” where trendy bars, coffee shops and restaurants have emerged, creating a booming food culture.

Artisan Haven

Although by this time of year the oyster and theater festivals have been and gone, the city’s new identity as an artisan haven means any time is a good time to visit.

Galway Music

It took a while to develop but Galway is now a city of foodies. Whether it’s the Michelin starred Aniar, McCambridges deli and restaurant or Kai that has just been named Ireland’s restaurant of the year, Galway is winning awards for showcasing Irish produce.

On Saturday the Galway market, held outside St. Nicholas Cathedral, bustles with stalls selling anything from doughnuts, to falafel to madras pea and potato curry.

Queues can be long for the cities favorite eateries at peak times of day.

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Four Irish hotels named among Europe’s Top 10 resorts

Last Week the country featured on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 to visit in 2015.

Now comes the news that readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine have named four Irish hotels among their Top 10 European Resorts.

Sheen Falls Lodge tops the list at No.1, with Ashford Castle ranked second, the K Club fourth and Adare Manor rounding off the Irish showing in tenth place.

The Top 10 Resorts in Europe is as follows:

Sheen Falls Lodge, Co. Kerry
Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo
Blue Palace Resort, Crete
Kildare Hotel at the K Club, Co. Kildare
The Gleneagles hotel, Scotland
Badrutt’s Palace, Switzerland
Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, Switzerland
Villa d’Este, Lake Como, Italy
Old Course Hotel, Scotland
Adare Manor, Co. Limerick
Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards are published annually, and this year featured over one million votes from almost 77,000 readers. Several lists of best cities, islands, hotels, resorts and cruise lines are drawn up from the results.

Sheen Falls Lodge, which overlooks the picturesque Sheen Waterfalls, also ranks 82nd on the global list of Top 100 Hotels & Resorts.

“We are extremely honoured to be named the number one resort in Europe and to be one of four hotels from the UK and Ireland in the Top 100 hotels and resorts in the world,” said Patrick Hanley, General Manager, Sheen Falls Lodge.

“A special thank you must be extended to the team here who dedicate themselves and make an exceptional effort to ensure all guests have a pleasant and memorable stay.”

The Kenmare five-star is commended by readers for its “first-class service” and “very pretty views”, according to the magazine. Its “very high-quality design” also merits a mention.

The Cong, Co. Mayo five-star has “beautiful grounds, fantastic recreational activities” and “outstanding service”, according to readers.

Formerly the Guinness family home, the hotel’s guest rooms come with high ceilings and four-poster beds, the magazine points out, “though they can be tired looking.”

The five-star is currently undergoing an extensive refurbishment programme.

Connemara’s Ballynahinch Castle also features, ranking 23rd of 25 Top Hotels in Europe.

“The setting is something out of a fairy-tale book – lush greenery, lake, silence,” readers report. “It’s just gorgeous, like a rich uncle’s country estate.”

The Condé Nast citations cap an extraordinary run of international recognition for Irish destinations and hotels overseas. In addition to Lonely Planet’s Top 10, Enniskillen’s Lough Erne resort recently topped the Huffington Post’s “Best Hotels for Winter 2014/15” round-up.

The full list of Readers’ Choice Awards winners can be accessed here.

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