Recently I packed my bags and headed on a trip to Galway and Inisheer with some friends for a summer getaway. With fabulous scenery, great Guinness and a visit Father Ted’s house I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tell you about it!
When I studied in Belfast previously, I never had the chance to travel much outside of the city. Mainly because I can’t drive a car (although I’m finally learning) and the public transport system is quite expensive. But, since moving back to Belfast in January, I have been taking every opportunity to explore more. So, I was excited when I got the opportunity to take a trip to Galway for the July bank holiday.
Taking the scenic route
I didn’t really know what to expect from my first trip south but the drive was really lovely. We avoided the tolls on the motorway and opted for the scenic route. I really appreciated that chance to see rural Ireland at its finest, although I’m sure it was less fun for the driver!
Galway (or Gaillimh in Irish) is a county in the west of Ireland, in the province of Connacht, about a four-hour drive from Belfast. So we covered a good stretch of the country as we wended our way towards our destination.
From the moment we turned onto the country roads, it was like a different world. One, where all the shops are independent. Small, quaint villages breezed by and I amazed me with their variety of shops: never seen a “victuallers”? You need to head to rural Ireland!
I also enjoyed that the road signs are in both Gaelic and English. I love words and etymology so it was fascinating to see the Irish versions of familiar cities and towns. Many are very similar and you can tell the anglicised version has developed directly from the Irish. However, some places like Dublin, which is Baile Átha Cliath, are totally different!
A Day on Inisheer (Inis Oírr)
We woke up to glorious sunshine on the first day of our trip to Galway and decided to make the most of it by taking the ferry out to Inisheer. This tiny island (part of the Aran Islands) is home to just 250 people. It’s also a ‘Gaeltacht’, an area where Irish is predominantly spoken as a first language. The island is an extension of the region known as ‘The Burren’ which is one of the six national parks of Ireland. The distinctive limestone scenery makes for dramatic views of rolling hills and limestone pavements with criss-crossing cracks, known as ‘grikes’. Basically, it’s pretty beautiful here.
To make the most of our time on Inisheer we decided to rent bicycles. Despite my scepticism about this mode of transport it’s a perfect way to explore the 3km by 3km wide island. Inisheer is packed with interesting places, for such a small place. On one side of the island lies the ship wreck of the cargo vessel ‘Plassey’ which now sits above the high tide mark thanks to the strong Atlantic waves. Fans of Father Ted will also recognise this boat from the show’s opening credits!
After scrambling about the shipwreck, we decided to cycle on towards the Lighthouse in the south of the island. This was a perfect place to watch the waves from the Atlantic crash into shore. As well as a few surfers who were braver than us. You also get a splendid view of the Cliffs of Moher from this point, so it’s worth visiting. On the way back to the ferry port, we briefly stopped off at O’Brien’s Castle, built by the O’Brien family who formerly ruled here until the 1500’s. Finally, to cap off the day we had the freshest fish and chips ever at one of the Island’s only pubs.
A Night Out in Galway City
No trip to Galway would be complete without a visit to Galway City. Galway is a truly amazing place, it’s packed with culture, with a vibrant and eclectic nightlight and arts scene. It is also the Bilingual Capital of Ireland, thanks to its strong association with the Irish language, music and dancing traditions. It’s the fourth biggest city in Ireland but has a welcoming vibe that other cities lack.
The Latin Quarter feels more like France or Spain but inside the bars are unmistakably Irish. Despite the fact it was a Wednesday evening the place was packed to the rafters with people. I could happily have explored the city for hours, but since we were there for a night out we headed for the bars, although it was tough to narrow them down. The first pub we visited was The Salt House Pub. It is a rarity…an Irish Pub that doesn’t serve Guinness! Instead it’s home to 23 craft beers on draft plus 120 bottled craft beers from around the world. It’s small but well worth a visit.
Next, we headed to The Quays bar in search of some live music and a great atmosphere. The bar is built into the arches of an old Church and there was a live band playing a less traditional set full of reggae classics. Finally, to finish the night we headed to the Roisìn Dubh, one of the best music venues in Galway. There was no live music the night we went, but that didn’t stop us having a good time.
The Cliffs of Moher & Father Ted’s House
For the final day of the trip to Galway headed for the famous Cliffs of Moher. The rain poured down, the mist rolled in from the sea and threatened to spoil the view. However, by the time we arrived the weather granted us a brief reprieve. The sky brightened just long enough for us to trek across the fields and see the Cliffs of Moher in all their splendour. I was totally blown away by how beautiful they are.
I am always a sucker for a dramatic coastal view, but the Cliffs of Moher are really something else. Perhaps it was the fog, which clung resolutely to the rocks that added to the atmosphere. Or maybe it’s the fact that they’ve featured in films like The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Either way, sitting on the edge of the cliffs and watching the waves crash in from the sea was one of the highlights of my trip to Galway. I wasn’t alone, apparently the cliffs are one of the most popular attractions in Ireland, clocking in over a million visitors every year.
One the way back, we decided to pay a visit to Father Ted’s house. My friend, who’s from Galway, said that it would be a massive let down. But it seemed a shame to take a trip to Galway and not make time to see this famous house, after all. In the end, it was a little bit of a disappointment (although don’t tell me friend!). It’s a private residence and so we had to make do with looking at it across a field. Add in the rain and the fact three vans were parked outside…well, at least I can say I went!
Conclusion: A Great Trip to Galway
In the end it was a really great trip to Galway. I was lucky to be travelling with a local, whose family kindly hosted us for the trip. This made a big difference, one I am grateful for. I always want to get a local perspective on a trip away, but rarely find it. This time, we were treated to proper home cooking; Irish fries for Breakfast are an ideal way to start the day! I really can’t thank the family enough for their hospitality! Plus, I felt like I was able to experience a glimpse of the real Galway. A perfect trip!