Galway surpasses many other parts of Ireland in the spectacular variety and charm of its many scenic routes. But it also has more to offer in the way of slightly offbeat expeditions and experiences, in addition to all the usual visual attractions of Ireland's Atlantic seaboard.
Visiting the Aran Islands across the mouth of Galway Bay, for instance, can be done by air as well as by sea. However, as the much-visited Aran Islands have shown, the presence of an air service doesn’t seem to lessen the popularity of the ferries, and people often seem to think that you haven’t properly visited an island unless you go there by boat. Then, too, there are many coastal boat trips, including an informative seaborne tour from Killary Harbour on the county’s northwest coast, Ireland's only genuine fjord, while Lough Corrib is also served by miniature cruise liners.
As for sport ashore, the Galway Races at the end of July have developed into a six day meeting which is firmly established as Ireland's premier summer horse racing event, while the Ballinasloe International Horse Fair in the Autumn is simply unique. It dates back more than 280 years.
This has to be Ireland's most generous county, for in effect you get two counties for the price of one. They're neatly divided by the handsome sweep of island-studded Lough Corrib, with the big country of many mountains to the west, and rolling farmland to the east. As a bonus, where the Corrib tumbles into Galway Bay, we find one of Ireland's - indeed, one of Europe's - most vibrant cities. Galway is a bustling place which cheerfully sees itself as being linked to Spain and the great world beyond the Atlantic, and prides itself on annual theatrical, cinema and arts festivals.
The theme of double value asserts itself in other ways. As Autumn ripeness makes its presence felt, the county and city provide not one, but two, Oyster Festivals. Once September has ushered in the traditional oyster season, Galway's long and distinguished connection with the splendid bivalve mollusc is celebrated first with the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival on the southeast shore of Galway Bay, and then a week or so later, right in the heart of the city with the International Galway Oyster Festival itself.
Lough Corrib is both a geographical and psychological divide. East of it, there's flatter country, home to hunting packs of mythic lore. West of the Corrib - which used itself to be a major throughfare, and is now as ever a place of angling renown - you're very quickly into the high ground and moorland which sweep up to the Twelve Bens and other splendid peaks, wonderful mountains which enthusiasts would claim as the most beautiful in all Ireland.
Their heavily indented coastline means this region is Connemara, the Land of the Sea, where earth, rock and ocean intermix in one of Ireland's most extraordindary landscapes. Beyond, to the south, the Aran Islands are a place apart, yet they too are part of the Galway mix in this fantastical county which has its own magical light coming in over the sea. And yet, all its extraordinary variety happens within very manageable distances – Galway is a universe within one day’s drive.
Local Attractions and Information
Arts Centre 47 Dominick St 091 565886
Galway Airport 091 752874
Galway Arts Festival (July) 091 565886
Galway Crystal Heritage Centre 091 757311
Galway Races (late July/early August, Sept & Oct) 091 753870
Galway International Oyster Festival (late September) 091 527282/522066
Kenny's Bookshops & Art Galleries High Street 091 562739
O'Brien Shipping (Aran Island Ferries) 091 563081
Tourist Information 091 563081
Town Hall Theatre 091 569755
Aran Islands Heritage Centre 099 61355
Aran Islands Ferries from Rossaveal 091 568903/561767
Aran Islands Flights from Inverin Airport 091 593034
Aughrim Battle of Aughrim Centre 090 9673939
Ballinasloe International Horse Fair (Sept/Oct) 090 9643453
Clarenbridge Oyster Festival (September) 091 796342
Clifden Connemara Pony Show (mid August) 095 21863
Clifden Connemara Safari - Walking & Islands 095 21071
Gort Thoor Ballylee (Yeats' Tower) 091 631436
Inishbofin Arts Festival (Biennial, September) 095 45909
Inishbofin Ferries (Cleggan) 095 44642
Inisheer Duchas Inis Oirr (Arts Centre) 099 735576
Killary Cruises on Connemara Lady 091 566736
Kinvara Dungaire Castle 061 360788
Letterfrack Connemara Bog Week (May) 095 43443
Letterfrack Connemara Sea Week (October) 095 43443
Letterfrack Kylemore Abbey & Gardens 095 41146
Loughrea Dartfield Horse Museum 091 843968
Roundstone Roundstone Arts Week (July) 095 35834
Roundstone Traditional bodhran makers 095 35808
Tuam Little Mill (last intact cornmill in area) 093 25486