Galway City was a short local bus ride from the campsite at Salthill, a western beachside suburb. Local buses always seem to go a circuitous route and so we enjoyed a tour of the 'burbs of Galway before arriving at the central Eyre Square in town.
Galway is a small town (though the third largest in Ireland) and getting around is easy and remarkably quick. The shopping precinct is all pedestrian, with the streets closed to traffic after 10am. We hunted for part of the old city wall up a small side alley and were surprised to find it nicely protected by glass...inside a shop window. Another portion of the walls down by the river boasted the Spanish Arch which was the dullest view you could imagine in the photos in the guide books. But on the banks of the river it was more impressive, and having been built in 1584, it gained some kudos with its age. St Nicholas's Church - a protestant Church of Ireland - was a little gem with some pretty impressively old stuff there too. A crusader's tomb pre-dates the church itself, coming in at 1280, with an inscription, unusually, in Norman French. Much of the interior was almost as ancient with great stonework both inside and out. Some interesting gravestones were laid into the floor of the transept: the usual inscriptions were embellished with symbols of trade - 3 winged hammers for the goldsmith, an adze and other tools for the cooper and a pair of scissors for the tailor.
The shops themselves, and the pubs as well, were brightly coloured and decorated. Many of the buildings had large murals on their front faces or on the sides. One building mirrored the style of a Wedgewood blue and white dish! The little jeweller where the Irish Claddagh ring was first made is still operating and had a little museum at the back of the shop. Some of the rings on display dated to the 1700s, and in old wooden cases was an interesting collection of tools, moulds and memorabilia.
Buskers were common along the malls, reflecting the fact that Galway is a renowned centre of Irish music. One interesting street 'performer' had a large sheet of canvas piled high with beach sand. On it he was carving a sand sculpture of his sleeping Labrador, while the model himself rested close by.
The city lies on the banks of the River Corrib which flows into Galway Bay from the huge Lough Corrib just to the north. There is a river walkway with the main river to one side and a canal to the other. Both are shallow but the water travels at breakneck speed, swirling and rippling all the way. It seems likely that the force of the water flow never allows the tide to come in - the weed growing on the edges all the way to the entrance had the look of freshwater weed and not saltwater. Weirs punctuated the river with water rushing over the tops. And it seemed that a popular pastime for the locals was fishing in the river - in waders in the middle of the river, a fisherman was still only thigh deep. Along the banks, long lines were thrown out. We saw a sizable fish in the side canal, so they must catch something!