Ireland isn't all about beautiful scenery. In fact, usually when I said I was going to Ireland, anyone I talked to was pretty much guaranteed to mention Guinness in the next sentence. And yes, I was planning to partake in my share of Guinness and pub food on this trip.
By the end of my first two days there, I'd had my first draft Guinness (delicious, as expected, and smoother than in the U.S.) and a delicious Irish stew, but our group had also discovered that most pubs closed ridiculously early in Killarney in the off-season. When the three of us who were either brave or crazy enough to undertake a four-hour bus ride to Galway set off for there on Tuesday, we were more interested in seeing the city that had charmed us in pictures. What we ended up finding, though, was a place ripe with charming pubs that stayed open much later than Killarney.
We started with a lunch so late it was nearly dinnertime, at Quay's Pub. This was one of those enormous-but-still-cozy pubs, winding through multiple rooms with a maze of stairs and bars and balconies, warm wood paneling, and worn furniture. We worked our way down to the dining room and ordered, among other deliciousness, a dozen amazingly fresh, super-briny oysters. This was a first oyster experience for my friends Min and Katie, so I was glad they had great ones to try, and it was fun to be the oyster pusher this time. Time will tell if I've created any oyster monsters, as my friends Melissa and Eileen did when they talked me into my first oyster.
Delicious Quay's Pub oysters.
After the Quays, we walked around amongst the pubs and shops, and along the water by the Spanish Arch, snapping pictures as usual, and killing time before meeting up with Katie's friend Luke, and his friend Tom, at a different pub, Naughtons.
Naughtons might well be the quintessential Irish pub. Dimly lit, worn by years of drinkers, with a wall of whiskey behind the bar. We snagged a little paint-chipped snug and settled in for an evening of fun conversation and great beer (I tried a Galway Hooker Ale, which was quite yummy). At some point a music session started up in one of the pub's other rooms — a bunch of young guys, just sitting around a little table crammed with Guinness glasses, playing away. It added a whole other level to the atmosphere, and it was tough not to tap your foot, the music was so good.
It was great fun chatting with Luke and Tom, too. Ireland is a country I think Americans have built up a lot of stereotypes about — many of them stemming from St. Patty's Day — and talking to people from Ireland is really the only way to find out what they really enjoy, and what they're really concerned about. We also learned that the Irish think we have even more stereotypes than we do — for example, that we think everyone in Ireland says "to be sure, to be sure." None of the Americans at the table had ever heard of that.
It was especially good to talk to fun, normal Irish people, because we seemed to have a disproportionate number of encounters with crazy people on the trip. There was the guy in a Killarney pub with the ZZ Top beard who sat down at our table and started talking nonsense about things like mermaids. At some point he decided that I either worked for the KGB or the CIA, probably the result of my attempts to surreptitiously take a picture of a guy across the bar who had a super mullet. All too blurry, sadly. He then proceeded to go off on a lengthy diatribe about how terrible the United States is that seemed to be some sort of redux of the Iran Contra scandal.
As off as that guy was (and as uncomfortable as he made us), the craziest person I saw was actually on the bus ride home from Galway. A man a few seats up from us was reading the newspaper, quite normally. But I happened to look up when he got to a page with a picture of a dolphin on it, when he reached out, and caressed the dolphin on the newsprint. Then he pulled his hand back and WAVED AT IT, and returned to normally reading the newspaper. It was quite impressive. I mean, I ride public transit most days of the week, and I've never seen anything remotely that crazy.
I don't doubt that most people in Ireland are perfectly sane, non-newspaper-dolphin-petting people. We definitely spent one of our most fun evenings of the trip drinking and chatting with two of them, and we all agreed the bus ride had been worth it.
All of my Galway pictures are posted at Flickr, although sadly I was not in picture-taking or video-shooting mode at Naughtons.