Getting to know Galway on “Shop Street”

I arrived in Galway to my hotel, on the outskirts, and decided that cabs were my best bet getting into the city. My skills as a left-side driver were improving, but I wasn’t ready to test them in a crowded city, and without a GPS to help direct me. My first stop was “Shop Street,” a pedestrian district in central Galway, full of specialty shops, pubs, and street musicians. Just out of the cab, I noticed a small church with four huge Roman pillars sandwiched between two larger commercial buildings, and went to investigate. Of course—it was the Church of St. Francis of Assisi. Seems he is always popping up, assuring me that I can travel from Assisi and Spello, but St. Francis will already be there to welcome me.

St. Francis was there to greet me in Galway, before I’d taken 20 steps.

I left the church and passed a double-decker tour bus stuck in traffic just beside me, and the driver let me on where I stood—since he was going nowhere until the construction vehicles cleared the roadway. His name was Cieran (“Kee-ran”), and he was the guide for all 6 of us on his nearly empty bus—and finally insisted that I get up top for unobstructed views. I used the bus circuit to see the highlights of Galway, knowing that I’d be on foot for the next few days, and I was able to get my bearings and decide what I wanted to see.

Cieran, the bus driver who explained local history, and set my itinerary for the day

Claddagh, a 1000-year-old village across the river from Galway, on the Bay of Galway. The old thatched houses were removed because of an outbreak of TB in the 1930s, and replaced with these homes. It was the fishing village for the area, selling their catch to Galway–and the sails of the “hooker” small wooden fishing boats were dyed red–except the one white sail for their king. They still use red sails for ceremonies on the Bay to bless the fishing fleet, and the Bishop gets the only white sails on his boat.

Once the bus let me off, and I got to talk a bit to Cieran, I headed back to the Galway Cathedral, the last large stone cathedral built in Europe. It was begun in 1958 on the site of the old city jail, and completed in 1965, with Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston giving the sermon at the dedication. Much of the financing and support for the building process came from Boston Irish immigrants and the Kennedy families, and both Cardinal Cushing and John F. Kennedy are remembered in mosaic tributes on the inside wall of the Cathedral.

Galway Cathedral, on the footprint of the Galway city jail–the newest stone cathedral in Europe, completed in 1965.

Rose window over the Cathedral entrance–modern style stained glass.

The Cathedral sanctuary

Mosaic wall in the apse, with Cardinal Cushing on the left, JFK on the right

Mosaic of JFK, whose family and friends contributed to the building of the Cathedral, but he was killed before ever seeing it.

My initial route, however, was aimed to see if I could locate the pair of nesting swans I’d seen on the bus ride. They were tending a huge straw nest on the Gaol (“jail”) River, just behind the Cathedral, and Daddy Swan was alert to my presence, ready to defend his family if I made a move toward the nest. When the Mama Swan stood up briefly, I got a rare glimpse of the eggs, which she turned with her beak before settling back down to incubate her clutch.

Daddy Swan–keeping an eye on “that lady” with a camera, watching us

Mama swan rolling her eggs before setting on them

I headed back into the city center and “Shop Street,” which is actually about 5 small streets packed with specialty shops, with outdoor tables, and with banners and brightly painted buildings. It is not just the big draw for tourists visiting Galway, but businessmen also pass through with their briefcases, as well as parents taking babies in prams for walks, and women doing their regular shopping. There are all sorts of musicians and street performers scattered along several “busking” venues in the area, and visitors are encouraged to find a pot of tea, a coffee or a meal nearby and linger at the outside tables to enjoy the entertainment. I made my stop at Griffin’s Bakery, for a pot of scalding hot tea and some wholemeal (whole grain) Irish soda bread on the side. That became my regular breakfast, and I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of the combination.

“Shop Street,” really a section of central Galway converted to pedestrian traffic only

Love this–this “cultural center” is a pub!

Another pub nearby–there are many here, with live Irish music at night

My favorite entertainer–he speaks 5 languages fluently, and plays 7 instruments, this one a relic

Shoe store window–wingtips in any color you’d like, with ties to coordinate

Street musicians (“buskers”) entertaining the crowds

Griffin’s Bakery–best Irish wholemeal soda bread EVER

Inside Griffin’s, with a huge loaf on the counter, pastries in the cooler, and breads on the wall

My breakfast–hot tea with milk, and wholemeal Irish soda bread

In the bakery shop, a page from a book on how to make bread

I strolled the streets several times, as the musicians changed after about 2 hours in one designated spot, and I investigated the shops that looked interesting. In the cheese shop I found, I was told that Ireland made a lot of cheeses, but that they were all cheeses derived from another country or region: cheddar and Stilton from England; blue cheeses from France; Swiss cheeses; but there were no cheeses whose origin was purely Irish. The butcher shop was where I first found “streaky rashers,” a thick-cut equivalent to our bacon, and a staple on Irish breakfast plates (along with baked beans, black pudding sausages made from blood, sliced fresh tomatoes, fried potatoes and eggs).

Another shot of “Shop Street”

Blankets on the chairs for cooler Irish weather in Galway–already prepared

The butcher shop for locals

“Streaky Rashers,” their equal to our bacon but thicker, meatier

Black Pudding, made from ground meat and powdered blood

Schoolkids on the way home stop to listen to the hustlers in the street

The Claddagh symbol, from the village of the same name nearby–hands mean friendship, heart means love, and the crown means loyalty–a very frequent wedding ring here

A “self serve” tasting bar in a local specialty store, with high end Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Gin, etc.–taste before you buy, and you get to pour

A gentleman and his sleeping Irish Wolfhound–a HUGE dog

Varieties of cheeses in the cheese shop, all from other countries (none from Ireland, even if made here)

Cheese shop dropout

Did you ever think that the escalators (and sidewalks, and lines) would be determined by the left side driving? (Those folks are coming DOWN.)

Time for a Guinness from the tap, and then a cab back to my hotel

It was no challenge at all to entertain myself on Shop Street, until I returned at the end of the day to the cab stand in the city center, and retired to the hotel for the night. It’s an excellent place for street photography, and I enjoyed my day there very much. The Irish people certainly can equal the Italians with their warmth and charm, and welcoming ways.


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