A hooker, a castle and a queue

Throughout my trip, there’s been a distinctive smell in the air. It’s unmistakably rural, and yet it permeates urban areas too. No, it’s not a Guinness fart (the original definition of silent but deadly), but the peat fire, a symbol of Irish energy for centuries.

The peat itself was often transported along the coast by distinctive Galway Hookers. And before you laugh at the back of the class, these sailing boats also known as pucans and gleotogs were once a powerhouse of transportation. At, at last, as the sun breaks out in the evening, two are moored up in the inner harbour.

Today they’re used for shows and competitions, their broad black hulls and thick masts making them stand out from other craft.

As mentioned in my previous blog, I first visited Galway in 2000 following a conference for the National Union of Journalists which was held in Ennis. At the time, the Irish Punt was still around – and a combination of a strong English pound and outstanding hospitality from the Irish Tourist Board, it turned out to be an inexpensive trip.

The Euro has changed that, but Galway offers value as good as any comparable European city. Hotel rooms here are competitively priced, and the advent of Air B&B and the like means there are plenty of choices.

Back in the Latin Quarter, the overwhelming accent is American. Almost every American claims some kind of Irish heritage and from the conversations I’ve been having it seems many favour Ireland for family weddings – perhaps a chance to get the clan together and, quite often, hold the event in a castle.

In the centre of the city, Lynch’s Castle is now a bank – but it was built in the 16th Century by one of the 14 merchant families who controlled the area at the time. Today, it’s also a pupular busking spot for those trying to put some cash inside the place.

It may have been the foul weather, but for a country built on its musical heritage, there seem to be a limited number of street performers here. These guys are all about the trad music, and just down the road a lone singer belts out ballads more commonly associated with Dublin. There’s also a constant background soundtrack playing from various tacky gift stores offering DVDs and CDs of performances no true music lover would ever wish to endure.

And why should you, when you can see the real thing?

The small boy and his sister (hidden between the banjo and the fiddle) also play instruments as part of the set. And they’re evidently brought up in the cultural tradition, adding their own orders for drinks and snacks when the bar tender comes round.

For the adults, it’s a pint of the black stuff – ordering which can be a challenge for the uninitiated. Stout needs to be carefully poured to get the perfect creamy head. And this can only be achieved by filling the glass about three quarters up, then leaving it to settle. The precise timing is unspecified, but some tourists look perplexed as the staff wander down the bar to another waiting customer.

All good things come to those who wait, and it’s polite form to always assume someone is ahead of you in the queue.

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