Letter from Galway
BC Business Magazine
I’m zigzagging along Galway’s darkened, rain-slicked High Street, battling a winter gale that’s slapping at my face like the back end of a feisty wet fish. It’s only mid-afternoon, but the roiling grey tempest has drained any light from the sky, while the only locals are scuttling past with lowered heads, focusing on their feet in an attempt to make them move faster.
Christmas is just around the corner in western Ireland but the only seasonal cheer comes from bedraggled fairy lights waving in the wind like disembodied beards and random carols percolating the air from shops serving as shelters from the storm. Since I find shopping as much fun as a kick in the Yuletide baubles, I decide to seek alternative sanctuary.
Guinness famously flows through Dublin like a second River Liffey, but Galway – built by the kind of hardy fishermen born with gills and chunky sweaters – is Ireland’s pub capital. With ancient bars lining its streets like bright-painted, oversized beer taps, it’s not hard to find a drink. And with my ears about to snap off in the icy rain, I duck into the nearest one to dry out.
Inside the labyrinthine Front Door, a wood-lined tavern crammed with shady nooks and glowing fireplaces, I speed walk to the counter and hurriedly order a pint of Ireland’s favourite stout. The twinkle-eyed old barman is in no rush and launches into a rambling monologue about Vancouver – “You certainly have the mountains there” – taking almost as long to pour my beer as most people would take to drink it.
Guinness finally in-hand, I sink heavily into a hearth-warmed corner, jeans slightly steaming and drowsiness quickly taking hold. The whistling wind raging impotently down the chimney adds to the coziness, while a burble of conservation from surrounding tables – mostly Christmas-avoiding men expecting their wives to burst in and catch them – lulls me into full nap mode.
But since a one-stop pub crawl is like eating a single item at a buffet, I eventually jerk open my eyes and blunder towards the exit, hurling myself into the storm like a parachutist jumping from an airplane doorway. Landing across the street at The Quays pub, I slide into the chatty bar, this one lined with nautical knick-knacks and a cavernous interior resembling a medieval boat galley.
I’m soon discussing Ireland’s three main stouts with a red-nosed regular who looks like he’s been here all day. Insisting I taste-test both Murphy’s and Beamish, he watches closely as I sip on two pints and pretend to tell the difference. “This one has a coffee aftertaste but this one’s a bit creamier,” I lie, as I catch him regarding me with an amused grin. When I question his favourite, he pauses before telling me “I never touch the stuff; I’m more of whisky man.”
Back outside – after forgetting my bearings and spinning around twice to correct myself – I pinball along the street into the crowded Tig Coili, a pub known for its traditional jamming sessions. A gaggle of local musicians is partway through a raucous accordion jig and the place feels as warm and enveloping as a bathtub of Irish stew. Guinness in hand, I’m soon tapping my feet and wondering where I can buy a penny whistle. Catching sight of the rain lashing at the windows, a final Christmas beer for the road also seems like a good idea.
Weather: Wet. Perfect cozy pub weather, with temperatures averaging eight degrees Celsius.
Can’t miss: Aran Islands. Take advantage of any rain-free days for a boat trip to this rugged idyll.
Cool eats: Stylish bistro. The Malt House showcases seasonal, regional dishes like delectable, fresh-caught crab and mussels. themalthouse.ie
Best bed: City centre class. Rooms at the 1845-built Hotel Meyrick have a swish, modern élan. hotelmeyrick.ie