Galway: A Hundred Thousand Welcomes
I can still hear Frank Maher’s voice at the Petra House Bed & Breakfast in Galway. “Der we go now,” he would say as he placed a warm plate of homemade scones next to bowls of oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit while his wife, Joan, rambled around the kitchen, the scent of coffee and baked goods wafting through the air. Together, they have run Petra House, which doubles as their family home (which Frank built himself), for more than 20 years. If you stay, you might see one of their four grandchildren visiting.
I could listen to Frank talk all day, peppering his stories with phrases like “They’ve been through the rough and tumble of life” or “We all mucked into it.” I’ve taken another one of Frank’s simple sayings with me along the way: “It’s nice to be nice.”
Céad míle fáilte, Ireland’s oft-repeated blessing, means “a hundred thousand welcomes.” And that promise of hospitality has rung true wherever I’ve traveled — from grand castle hotels to sophisticated city retreats — on the Emerald Isle. But nowhere have I felt more welcome than at Petra House, where the beds are comfortable yet simple, and where no spa, fitness center, or Michelin-starred restaurants can be found.
I’ve worn a Claddagh ring now for almost a decade, and always felt an affinity for Galway because of it. When I was looking for authentic Irish encounters, Frank directed me to Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold, the first jewelers to manufacture the Claddagh ring, starting in 1750 (theirs are the only rings that have “original” stamped inside). Whether it’s gold, rose gold, or silver, the ring’s significance remains the same: Two hands (friendship) hugging a heart (love) which wears a crown (loyalty).
Frank and Joan are practically celebrities in Galway, a small village where everyone seems to know everyone else. I got Frank to tell me his favorite places and day trips from his hometown.
For Good Eats and Friendly Faces
- If you’re in the mood for seafood, try McDonagh’s (don’t miss their fish and chips bar).
- If you’d rather indulge in delicious steak and wine, head to Martine’s.
- If you’re looking for quality bar food and kindly waitstaff, check out the Park House Hotel.
- If you’d rather sample local and seasonal food from Ireland’s West Coast, opt for The Malt House.
- And, if you’re itching for homestyle cooking at a place that makes you feel like family, go with The House Hotel.
For a Truly Authentic Irish Experience
Visit the Salthill Hotel to get a good view of Galway Bay. They put on a fantastic program of live music, with artists, dancers, singers, musicians, and storytellers from Galway. Check the calendar listing for special events.
For a Day Away from the City Center
The Cliffs of Moher: Rent a car and take a trip to Ireland’s breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, just a 90-minute drive from Galway. Make sure to take in the Burren area on the way, which comes from an Irish word meaning “rocky place.” According to Frank, talking a walk on the limestone formations is like “walking on the moon.”
Connemara: Head north from Galway to the Connemara region to experience “beautiful mountains and rugged scenery,” Frank says. Start by driving to Cong in County Mayo (where much of The Quiet Man was filmed), stopping at Ashford Castle, a 13th-century castle turned luxury hotel, on your way. From there, drive to Kylemore Abbey to see the beautiful walled Victorian garden and down to Clifden, hugging the coast back into Galway via Maam Cross and Barna. On this loop, you’re guaranteed to see enduring Irish vistas, and probably quite a few sheep.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Frank also suggests taking a Hidden Connemara walking tour to experience the beautiful Irish countryside. “All you need is a pair of good walking shoes, a jacket, and a bottle of water,” he says. “The best is sitting down afterwards with a bowl of seafood chowder and a couple slices of brown bread.” Guided tours run 25 euros for adults and start out from the tourist office.
Aran Islands: If you want to get away from the world, visit the Aran Islands. There are three: Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, all with a harsh beauty and steep cliffs. For a day trip, Frank recommends catching a morning ferry from a port 15 minutes west of Galway to Inishmore and returning by 4:30 or 5:00 to “come back to Petra House, freshen up, and go back out for a good evening in town.”
Frank’s Perfect Day in Galway:
“I’d bring [my grandsons] on the hop-on, hop-off bus because they really love it. For myself and Joan, we would walk around town, down by Quay Street, stop and see a friend for coffee, sit down and take it easy. It’s a very simple life. On Saturday, we have the market and just enjoy it. Of course, it might take us five hours to get down to the market with seeing everyone along the way! For dinner, we’d eat at home and roast the whole lot — a piece of pork with applesauce and parsnips and carrots.”
Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her travels on Twitter @anniefitz.