Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Crane Bar in Galway


A random gathering of folks playing traditional instruments.

In honor of the St. Patrick's Day weekend I'm going to share some videos and photos of my visit to Galway last year. Despite being a tourist town it ended up being a very nice place. The area is stunningly beautiful, nestled between the wilds of Connemara and the rocky Burren area to the south. Close to Shannon airport, it makes for the perfect tourist destination and gets a lot of visitors, and it can be hard to find a seat at the pubs some nights. The Lonely Planet guide sent me out to the Salthill section for a bed & breakfast and also a pub called The Crane Bar that has traditional (aka trad) and modern bands playing nightly. What I liked best was that people would just show up with instruments and join in. Very friendly and cozy.

The beautiful coast near Galway.

Using Google Maps on my phone I walked there from the B&B one night, along the Salthill shore with its amusement park and typical seaside eateries, eerily reminiscent of the Jersey shore despite swapping chip shops for funnel cake. My friend Sonny from Denmark was arriving that night, so the Crane Bar was a landmark he could put in his GPS and drive to, and I could sit and ingest Guinness.
The locals were friendly and a fellow named Brent bought me a drink and we talked about what I planned to see and atuff. The second question out of everyone's mouth is always "why the hell did you guys elect that idiot?"

Roundstone's Bodhran maker.

When Sonny showed up the place was closing, but I managed to nab us some bacon pizza (Irish bacon is more like thinly sliced pork loin). The next night after a long day of seeing Galway's sights and driving up the coast to Roundstone to see a bodhran (drum) maker, we returned to the bar.

The hanging wall in Galway.

We sat with a group of folks from Dublin and talked about the country, why we elected Bush, and thankfully books. We had a love of detective novels in common and we talked about what authors we liked. They liked a Swedish fellow whose name I can't recall. They told us of their favorite spots to visit along the coast, which would eventually send us to some of the most beautiful spots in Ireland that I remember. The Beara peninsula, a remote finger of land south of Kerry, was their favorite. They told us of a pub called O'Neil's that they loved, and we eventually found it days later. Ireland is so small that even a remote spot like that is only a few hours away, but we made so many stops along the way- visiting the Skellig Islands where monastery villages from the 5th century remain, the Cliffs of Moher, caves, the Aran Islands, and Kilkenny, which is more modern than Galway but still has much to see.
The players.

Sonny is a much more seasoned drinker than I am. Those Danes know how to hold their ale. In fact when he lived in Cambridge, the Brits there were amazed at his capacity for ale and called him "Horny Helmet" in honor of his Viking heritage, and gave him a horned Viking helmet when he left... myself, I'm a cheap date and you'll see from the cheerful, red-faced photo at the end that I'm no match for him in a drinking contest.


A man singing a capella in honor of a patron's birthday.



And by the end of the night I looked like this!

We only managed to explore perhaps a quarter of the Irish coastline and I'm eager to go back and see more of the country, like the Giant's Causeway, and of course Dublin. We got close to Dublin when I visited the old family home in Bray, but the traffic getting into to town was so bad we just hauled back toward Shannon. I'll blog about the rest of the trip over the weekend if I have time. In the meanwhile, the photos are all at here in my Ireland album, which is rather neurotically ordered by County.

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