In parts one and two of this series, we traveled throughout County Clare to the impressive 702 feet tall Cliffs of Moher and the peculiar limestone mountains of West Ireland’s only UNESCO Geopark, the Burren.
There was classic Irish music to be enjoyed and drinks to be had in the traditional fishing village of Doolin, while homemade pies and cakes baked by an Irish granny and handcrafted chocolates awaited us in Oughtmama.
In this third and final installment of the Exploring the Wild West of Ireland series, we will venture out of County Clare and into County Galway where “wild” can take on an entirely different meaning.
With a population largely comprised of university students, Galway, Ireland’s third largest city, qualifies as part of the “wild west” not only for its geographical location and natural beauty, but also for its lively atmosphere.
As in many Irish towns and cities, a pub is never more than a stone’s throw away in Galway. With so many students running around town, the pubs and dance clubs cater to this university environment with special events and activities almost every night of the week. While some people may think Tuesday is a great night to stay in and relax, in Galway it’s Silent Disco night at the popular pub/dance club, Roisin Dubh. If you’re scratching your head wondering what a silent disco is, it’s quite simple: There are two DJs. Each one plays a completely different style of music. Everyone is wearing headphones. You decide the channel and the DJ that you listen to and can change back and forth as often as you like. While you’re jamming out to a Beatles classic the person next to you is dancing to Jay-Z’s latest hit. It’s quite amusing to see someone dancing to a completely different beat and style than what you’re listening to. Dancers with two left feet finally have a way to hide their lack of rhythm… sort of. With pubs that host traditional Irish music and dancing on one night and spinning salsa dancers on another, the Silent Disco is just one entertaining option that scratches the surface of Galway nightlife.
Although Galway has an incredibly cheerful atmosphere and most of its residents fit the stereotypical mold of a friendly Irishmen, the city has an intriguingly dark history underlying its positive vibes. Taking a walking tour of Galway is undoubtedly one of the best ways to see the most important sites and get a good sense of the city and its history. If you decide to take up this opportunity, your guide will surely entertain you with the stories of churches built over mass graves, fights between drunken Spanish sailors and even drunker Irish merchants, fathers executing their own sons and much more. They are all a part of what adds to Galway’s “wild” feel.
For those still looking to discover more of the natural beauty western Ireland has to offer, Galway is also a great starting point. From this city, a ferry can take you to the Aran Islands. This chain of three islands just 45 minutes off the coast of Galway Bay was actually once part of the Burren mountains (mentioned in part two of this series) hundreds of years ago. For that reason, interesting limestone formations can also be found on the Aran Islands. Its separation from the mountains, however, has allowed the islands to create its own trademark landscapes.
The islands are home to stunning cliffs where at the right time of year, you can even find some daredevils diving from their edges and into the Atlantic Ocean below. In June 2014, the Aran Islands will even host an event for the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. If jumping off the cliffs seems too extreme, nature lovers can still enjoy the views and landscape with a bike ride around the islands. Meanwhile, the history buffs can admire the many stone forts which can date back to as far as 1100 BC and now lay in ruins along the edges of the cliffs. There is something to be found for anyone’s taste and pace. If all else fails, however, a visit to the Aran Islands would not be wasted even if it were only for the sake of kicking back and relaxing in one of the small, sleepy villages on the islands.
Whether you’re looking to spend time with Mother Nature, relax, party or party and then relax, Galway has a little bit of everything. This fun university city is certainly worth adding to any western Ireland itinerary.
Travel Tip: If you take a trip to Galway, check out Kinlay Hostel for your accommodations. I had an absolutely wonderful stay there. The facilities were well kept and comfortable, and the incredibly friendly and helpful staff were willing to go above and beyond to make their guests’ stay as memorable and pleasant as possible. Recently, it was even voted as Ireland’s best hostel. I highly recommend it!