Shop Street, Galway

In all of the blog posts so far, the places talked about have had some element of secrecy about them; places that to look at, their sense of history would not be immediately apparent. This is true of much of Galway; a thriving, bustling (it’s not quite New York alright, but it is busy!) city that it could function solely as that. You could hop from bar to bar and just get swept up in the festival atmosphere most of the year round, missing the hidden layers of the city. But if there’s one place in Galway where the contemporary life of the city and its history are snuggled up together in harmony, it’s on the city’s main commercial centre, Shop Street. To miss the sense of history floating around it, you would literally have to walk head down, hood up, ears blocked, eyes closed and hope the city’s vibes somehow still do not make their way into your consciousness somehow! But one does not overpower the other – history and contemporary life colour each other just enough that the two co-exist incredibly well in Galway.

There is one quite prominent marker of the history of Galway on Shop Street, that being Lynch’s Castle, half way down the road. Remember those 14 tribes that ruled Galway after Grand Daddy de Burgo lost his power in 1484? Well the Lynch family was one of the most powerful amongst them and this was their seat of power. Due to the fact the building has been renovated over the years, with a large extension being added in 1808, the exact date the castle was built is unknown, but is estimated to be around the end of the fifteenth century/ start of the sixteenth. The castle is a prime example of Gothic Irish architecture despite the fact it has been renovated throughout the years. Certain elements of different architectural periods have been added to it – the orderly Georgian windows added in the late 19th century for example. The outside of the building also has the seals of some important historical figures imprinted on it; King Henry VII, King of England from 1484 to 1509 and The Earl of Kildare that finally ousted the de Burgos in 1504. However, nestled in among the seals and gargoyles, you’ll find an incredibly odd carving, that of a monkey holding a baby, That’s right. A monkey holding a baby. Legend says there was a fire in the castle and the pet money of the family saved the baby from a fiery end. The carving is there to honour this heroic monkey…now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.
For its historic past, the castle now has a very modern function however, that of a bank. In 1930, Allied Irish Bank acquired the building and renovated it to its former glory. The ground level of the bank can be visited and its history is displayed in panels on the walls. This is indicative of many of the businesses in Galway however (not that we have hordes of fire and rescue monkeys in every shop), but that the very modern businesses veils their history. Many other stores along Shop Street have been in existence for a long time, like Fallers Jewellers and the clothing store Anthony Ryans, 137 and 107 years old respectively. Many businesses along the road are family owned also and have been passed down from generation to generation. Galway’s modern facade of a bustling city sits perched atop a wealth of history and personal identity, giving it that unique blend of the old and the new.
A stroll down shop street is not only a feast for the eyes, but the ears as well. The city is well known for its buskers, who come from all corners of the world to mix with local talent, creating a wonderful sense of performance and community on the city streets. Everything from singers to puppeteers and musicians to mime artists are sprinkled up and down the street, at all times of the day (I live on Shop Street so I can attest to this. The 1am rendition of Abba’s Fernando is particularly riveting). These artists hit peak season at the same time that Galway does – during the Galway International Arts Festival and Galway Races. You will hardly be able to sustain a single thought as you walk down the street, some different aspect of architecture or artistry attracting your attention.
And where are most people who walk down Shop Street going I hear you ask? If it’s after 8pm at night, it’s towards Galway’s Latin Quarter. Just off Shop Street is where you’ll find some of Galway’s most thriving night life. The Quays and The Spanish Arch Hotel attract a huge amount of revellers, spilling out onto the streets in high season, making it difficult to even get from one end to the other. Some beautiful restaurants are clustered in the area too, catering to all kinds of tastes and appetites – Quay Street Kitchen, McDonagh’s Fish and Chips, Gemelles, Fat Freddys. You could spend a whole week in that street alone trying the local specialities!

Galway does indeed have many little secret nooks within its boundaries, but Shop Street is a huge declarative statement about the vitality and mixed nature of the city. Whether it’s a trip centred around finding out about Galway’s history, going on a shopping spree, checking out the local artistic talent or expanding your waistline by eating and drinking from one end of the day to the other, Galway caters to it all, and on just one of its streets! It blends its past and its present beautifully, really creating that bohemian and laid back vibe that Galway is famous for. And the best thing is, it’s only a 2 minute walk from us here at Kinlay! So if you’re looking for a chilled weekend away or a busy one hitting all the pubs and clubs, then Galway (and specifically Shop Street) is the place for you! That’s it again for your installment of places around Galway this week, and if that wasn’t enough for you, there’ll be more next week! You lucky things 😉 See you then!

– Martin at Kinlay Reception