Irish Eclectic

Irish Journey Day 8: Galway, City of the Tribes

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Irish EclecticBy Brian McGowan

Got here last night, it seems. Early on, we are out and about with a free day to explore the Republic of Ireland’s third largest city, population of 82,000 souls.

Galway, which spans the River Corrib, is known as “The City of the Tribes.” Why is that, you wonder? While always a trading hub, particularly so with Spain and Portugal during the 15th and 16th centuries, Galway came under the control of some 14 wealthy merchant families, known as “the tribes.” All of them were of Norman origin and all were fiercely loyal to the English Crown.

This loyalty cost them dearly in 1652, when Oliver Cromwell, the ultimate anti-monarchist, devastated the city and Galway’s star lost its luster. Hard times, happy to report, have diminished over the past few decades, and Galway has carved an estimable niche for itself in high-tech industries, education and the arts.

Some overnight rain has given way to a blustery but clear day, and a quick cab ride drops us off in Eyre Square, the heart of the city. Turns out our driver lived for several years in our little Village of Pleasantville, before heading back to Ireland in the days of the Celtic Tiger, Ireland’s economic boom from joining the European Union. Small world, indeed!

We quickly find one of Galway’s many double-decker tour buses, and head out on a “hop on, hop off” circuit of Galway’s sights. Our first stop is the Spanish Arch, built in 1584 to protect the old quays where ships to and from the Iberian Peninsula would dock. Little beyond the arch is left of the once-massive walls that protected the harbor from the seas beyond, including a tsunami sparked by the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, almost 1,100 nautical miles distant.

Next door is the Galway City Museum, which provides astounding insights into the development of this unique city, with artifacts dating back almost 6,000 years.

We next explore Galway’s Salt Hill neighborhood, a delightful seaside area with splendid houses and amazing views across the choppy waters of Galway Bay. We get off to explore Galway Cathedral, a massive structure on an island in the middle of the Corrib. Early afternoon light suffuses through magnificent stained-glass windows, and the still and gentle quiet of the place easily places one in a meditative mood. Youngest of the world’s great cathedrals, construction began in 1958 and completed in 1965.

Heading back into the city proper, we cross the Salmon Weir Bridge, where in season (mid-April to early July) hordes of salmon make their run upstream to the spawning grounds on Lough Corrib, not far inland.

Back to Eyre Square. A quest for a pub that can accommodate us for lunch proves fruitless, until a kindly patron directs us to the Imperial Hotel, where with a crowd of locals we enjoy a good menu, great food and welcome libations, all at a reasonable price.

The rest of the day is spent strolling the “Latin Quarter,” as a beautiful afternoon sun casts its glow on winding, cobbled streets and byways. Lynch’s Castle, the Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas (1320), and the Hall of the Red Earl, all provide stunning glimpses into Galway’s past. Columbus himself prayed at St. Nick’s while on a merchant voyage. Rumor has it he was also in search of information on a previous traveler, St. Brendan the Navigator. And, of course, there is always the shopping.

We meet up with the rest of our tour group for a dinner at Skeffington’s on Eyre Square, and that evening are treated to a concert of traditional Irish music. It’s a late hour when we get back to the Maldron Hotel and prepare for an early morning departure back to Dublin, where we bid a final fond farewell to the Emerald Isle.

Longtime Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the Battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II.  Both are available at


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