On The Road Travel Essays

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Pre-Elizabethan Galway was the stronghold of Anglo-Norman tribes, earning it the nickname "City of the Tribes" from the 12 powerful clans of the time — Blake, Bodkin, Browne, D'Archy, Dean, Font, French, Joyce, Lynch, Morris, Martin, and Skerrit.

The rugged Atlantic coastline of the West has been occupied for over 5,000 years. This is the heart of Connaught, Ireland's historic western province. The west lives up to its image as a traditional, rural, sparsely populated land, with windswept mountains and countryside speckled with low stone walls and peat bogs. Images from the classic 50's movie The Quiet Man are sure to come to mind as you tour the area.

Galway celebrated its 500th anniversary as a city in 1986. Originally a Gaelic settlement, it was quickly adopted by the Normans as their primary Western trading city. The Spanish and French sailed their galleons to Galway for hundreds of years trading their wines and brandies for Ireland's metals and wools. Galway is still has a very obvious merchant town feel with the city center a warren of narrow lanes and paved streets packed with interesting pubs and shops.

In medieval times, the city of Galway was an Anglo-Norman stronghold, surrounded by warring Gaelic clans. After Cromwell's victories in the 1640s many Irish were dispossessed of their fertile lands by English landlords. During the Great Famine, the West was dealt a cruel blow and suffered from waves emigration. In spite of these obstacles, strong Gaelic traditions have survived in County Galway. Here, many of the inhabitants remain loyal to the Irish language and much of the Gaelic culture is preserved.

The small city of Galway offers visitors a host of unique attractions. Built on the banks of the River Corrib one may easily explore the city by following its meandering path. Begin at the Spanish Arch, built in 1584 to protect the harbor, here traders first unloaded their ships after returning from afar. Continue on to the west bank of the Corrib to the historic Claddagh district, where you can learn more about this close-knit fishing community and Claddagh rings, betrothal rings historically handed down from mothers to daughters. Be sure to note Galway's traditional wooden sailing boats known as hookers, featured on the city's coat of arms. Easily recognized by their broad black hulls, thick masts, and white or rust-colored sails, hookers race in the harbor throughout the summer.


When it rains it pours  Popular months for visiting Ireland are July and August, through whatever the season it's rarely crowded. Ireland's climate is influenced by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, and is in the path of prevailing southwesterly winds coming from the Atlantic Ocean. This allows for mild conditions over the whole country, and means that Ireland is never exposed to extremes of bad weather. Throughout the course of the year it generally gets no colder than 34F or warmer than 68F. The coldest months are January and February, while July and August are the warmest. June and September can be pleasant, but never count on the weather; Ireland's lush beauty is the product of a wet climate! Temperatures do not vary much throughout the country, but rainfall is substantially heavier in the west. A typical year in Galway:

March  Temperature 38F to 49F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 3.2
Monthly Rainfall 4"

April  Temperature 41F to 54F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 4.9
Monthly Rainfall 4.1"

May  Temperature 42F to 60F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 5.9
Monthly Rainfall 3.5"

June  Temperature 48F to 64F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 7
Monthly Rainfall 2.9"

July  Temperature 52F to 68F
Daily Hours of Sunshine 7.5
Monthly Rainfall 2.3"

Synchronize your watches  The whole of Ireland is in the same time zone as Great Britain, i.e. 5 hours ahead of E.S.T. If it's 2:00pm in New York City, it's 7pm in Cork. In both the North and the South, clocks go forward one hour in the summer time.

Money, money, money  The Irish unit of currency is the Euro. As throughout Europe, there is no better way than to use your ATM card to withdraw money in the local currency whenever you need it. ATMs are located in most banks and accept major credit cards, particularly Visa and MasterCard, as well as Plus and Cirrus debit cards. If you do need to change dollars (cash or traveler's checks) into Euros, try to do so at a bank. You can expect a higher rate of exchange for traveler's checks, and you should always keep your passport handy. Bureaux de Change tend to give a slightly worse deal. Some shops, especially tourist ones, will accept American currency or traveler's checks as payment but be advised that you will almost certainly be getting a worse rate than you would from a bank. The same goes for hotels that are willing to change money for you, and even if they oblige, it's usually cash only, not traveler's checks. Bank opening hours are 10am to 12:30pm and 1:30 to 3:00pm Monday through Friday, some larger banks do stay open during lunchtime. The closest American Express office to Galway is located in Dublin on Suffolk Street, business hours are 9am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.

The joy of servitude  Tipping in Ireland is a matter of personal discretion, as in most hotels and restaurants a service charge of 10-15% is added to the bill. A small tip is appreciated for good service, and a very good tip would be around 15%. Tipping is not usual in pubs, except when you are served at your table. Cabs should be tipped 10%.

Not another 5 minute walk  Your feet, naturally, will be your prime means of transportation thoughout the City of Galway. Due to its compact size, Galway is easy to explore on foot, and a leisurely pace provides plenty of opportunities to visit shops, pubs, and historic sights at your leisure. If you would like to extend your sightseeing to some of the outlying towns try the local buses. The Republic of Ireland's national bus company, Bus Éireann, operates a country-wide network of buses serving all cities and most towns. If you are using the bus more than two or three times a day, it is worth getting a pass. For an alternative consider exploring the countryside on a bicycle for an afternoon. The quiet roads of Ireland help to make touring by bicycle a real joy. Numerous local shops rent bikes to tourists at reasonable prices and are open six days a week. You can often rent a bike in one town and drop it off in another.

Mr. Postman, please bring me...  Main Post Offices in the Ireland are usually open from 9am to 5:30pm during the week and from 9am to around 1pm on Saturdays, although times do vary. Some smaller offices close for lunch on weekdays and do not open on Saturdays. Standard letters and postcard stamps can also be bought from certain newsstands as well. The Republic of Ireland does not have a first and second-class system, but sending a postcard is a little less expensive than a letter. Although it is improving all the time, the postal service in the Republic is still quite slow - allow at least six days when sending a letter to the United States. Sending a postcard from Ireland to the United States will cost about 60 cents.

Please wait while we try to connect you  As usual the golden rule is never call home from your hotel. It will cost a fortune. The telephone system in Ireland is run exclusively by Telecom Eireann and provides a modern and effective service. For those intending to spend more than $6 on calls, it can be cheaper to use phonecards since they offer reasonable discounts. Phonecards are available from newsstands, post offices and supermarkets. Bargain rate calls within the Republic are from 6pm to 8am weekdays and all day on weekends. To call other countries: dial 00, followed by the country code (1 for the US), the area code, then the number. Credit cards are accepted as payment for calls to the country from where they were issued. For emergencies dial 999.

The access code to put you through to an AT&T operator from Ireland is 1800 89 0011, for MCI the number is 1800 89 0222.

Home, sweet home  The address of the American Embassy in Dublin is:
42 Elgin Road
Dublin 4

tel. 353 1 668 8777


Galway is a large county divided into two contrasting regions by the expanse of the River Corrib. To the west lying between the lake and the Atlantic, is Connemara - a region of superb scenery dominated by the rocky mountain range known as the Twelve Bens. This wild region encompasses bogs, mountains, and a rugged coastline. Nestled in the slopes of the Twelve Bens lies Kylemore Abby, housed in a Gothic Revival castle. It was converted into an Abby when Benedictine nuns fleeing from World War I sought refugee there. Now a boarding school run by the nuns, a visit to tour the famous grounds is highly recommended. While Connemara National Park is an interesting destination as well. The park showcases some of the most spectacular landscape in the region and offers visitors a chance to glimpse the famous Connemara ponies.

Just south of Galway lies Kinvarra, one of the most charming fishing villages on the bay. Kinvarra's appeal lies in its sheltered, seaweed-clad harbor and traditional seafaring atmosphere. Kinvarra remains a popular port of call for sailors of traditional Galway hookers. Continuing south are the mighty Cliffs of Moher, tiny Doolin with its many music filled pubs, and the delightful village of Lisdoonvarna. North of Clifden, past the rough harbor of Killary and Leenane coastal road, is the picture-perfect town of Westport on Clew Bay and smaller Newport.

Off the coast of Galway lies Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisher, the renown Aran Islands, a bastion of traditional Irish culture. Despite or because of their remote situation the Aran Islands have been inhabited for centuries. The austere landscape crisscrossed with drystone walls, stunning coastal views and several large prehistoric stone forts make these islands attractive destinations for a days excursion.


What to Eat in Ireland  Ireland's rich pastureland, unpolluted rivers and extensive coastline provide tender lamb, beef and pork, an array of fish, seafood and fresh fruit and vegetables. From hearty rural fare that utilizes local ingredients, Irish cuisine has evolved into the gourmet cuisine created by internationally trained chefs. Often you will find the best of both worlds, with Irish stew or ham and cabbage on the same menu as more exotic dishes. Traditional favorites like fresh Galway salmon, or tender lamb cutlets from Kerry are sure to please; finish the meal with a warm mug of Irish coffee.

Born to Shop  Hundreds of gift and craft shops scattered thoughout Galway make it easy to find Irish specialties to suit all budgets. In the city of Galway the Eyre Square Shopping Center has been built to incorporate sections of the historic city walls and makes for a unique shopping experience. As throughout Ireland the best buys include linen, tweeds and crystal from factory shops which invariably offer an extensive choice of good quality products. Irish food and drink make tasty reminders of your trip. Local crafts make unique souvenirs, from handmade jewelry and ceramics to traditional musical instruments.


Ballygar Carnival (first week in August) Established in 1945, this is Ireland's oldest carnival and attracts visitors from home and abroad. Featuring a variety of lively street carnivals and concerts. Ballygar, tel 0872342693.

Clarenbridge Oyster Festival (mid September) East Galway's most stylish festival celebrating the start of the new oyster season. Clarenbridge, tel 091 796 342.

Fleadh na gCuach (early May) The "Cuckoo Fleadh"" has become a showcase for the best in Irish traditional music, attracting performers from across Ireland. The result is a unique blend of traditional styles in a vibrant and entertaining festival. Kinvara.

Galway Arts Festival (end of July) (end of July) Processions, concerts, street theater, children's shows and other events in the medieval city center make this one of the most popular summer festivals in Ireland.

The Galway Races (summer) Regarded as Ireland's premier and most colorful racing festival, offering visitors a chance to experience an atmosphere of excitement. Ballybrit Race Course, Galway City.

Saint Patrick's Parade (March 17th) Traditional singers and roving bands of musicians join touring theater groups to create an atmosphere of celebration that traditionally outshine the rest of the country.


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