Saturday, June 02, 2007

Day 08, "Ireland" seminar trip

[These are the daily posts located at Google Maps. Posting one-a-day in the aftermath.]

Soda bread for breakfast, dry, warm and still weather; quiet crossing on a mostly-empty ferry; Sleepzone shuttle into Galway with true curb service; into rooms in beautiful, clean, new, and impeccably-maintained hostel; laundry, free Internet (though with long waiting lines sometimes), the Quays within short, easy (and costly!) walking distance.

[Later: Last morning on Kilronan, and the weather was, if possible, even more idyllic than it had been the two days previous: clear, bright, warm, with only a light breeze blowing. Angie and I agreed that it was, bar none, the longest stretch of virtually-perfect weather we could imagine in all our springtime visits to Ireland. Dr Smith managed to scavenge enough staples from the left-behind dry goods of previous hostelers to be able to improvise a soda-bread, which though an “experiment” was speedily dispersed. Then, after watching the wave of incoming day-trippers off the 11am ferry from our hostel veranda, it was down to the quay to board the ferry for return to Rossaveal.

Very calm crossing, in contrast to the trip out, during which many of our travelers opted to nap (combination of Dramamine, a great deal of sun, and two late nights all taking their toll). Met at the quay without a hitch by our friend Joe driving the familiar red-and-orange Sleepzone shuttle bus, for the ride into Galway city, through the small Gaeltachtai (Irish-speaking villages) of Bannog and Spiddal, east along the north coast of Galway Bay, with the coast of Clare and Burren across the water. Joe took the circuitous route into the city and provided us curb-service (literal: he drove up on the curb to avoid the following traffic) to Sleepzone Galway (, located on Bothar na mBan (Mary’s Street) just north of the old medieval town.

Galway (name probably deriving from the Latin for “Place of the Gaels”) is a medieval trading city, founded at the mouth of the River Corrib where it empties into the huge (perfect, deep-water, dramatic, and workable) harbor of Galway Bay. It was a Norman city founded by Richard de Burgos in the 13th century, but there had been settlements of traders and fishermen long before then.

Like Cork on the south coast and Limerick at the mouth of the Shannon (and Dublin on the Liffey and Belfast on the Boyne), Galway’s riverine nature made it a natural point for the international sailing trade. On the streets of medieval Galway, which was ruled not by nobility but by an oligarchy of “Fourteen Families” of tradesmen, you could hear the languages and accents of Spain, France, England, and most of the eastern Mediterranean. The Phoenicians came here trading for the tin that, mixed with copper, created the bronze weapons that ruled Troy and Greece. The Romans traded into Ireland, principally for hides, timber, and tallow, but never conquered. The Normans invaded in the 12th century, founding trading alliances with their homeland in western France and building castles, but were quickly assimilated anad “Hibernnicized”. The city remained.

And remains: portions of the old medieval wall that surrounded the quays, the Spanish Arch where wine and leatherwork came off ships to replaced with hides and timber, the Claddagh on south side of the river outside the walls, where fishermen, traders, musicians, prostitutes amnd other undesirables were ruled by a self-styled “King of the Claddagh,” are all very much alive. It’s still a university and arts city, its streets teeming with students, tourists, and Irish natives who moved west in the 1970s (as California hippies had moved to San Francisco in the 1960s), and it’s a wonderfully exciting place.

Here we fetched up at the Sleepzone, where we have good friends and fond memories, and were able to quickly move the students into their (impeccably clean, well-appointed, comparatively spacious, and well-thought-out) dormitory rooms, with free Internet computers, an expansive kitchen, and a webcam downstairs, clean “en suite” bathrooms and laundry room above, and the center of the city’s street life just a couple of blocks away—but behind three sets of key-carded security doors. We always breath a sigh of relief when we arrive at Sleepzone: no more cliffs, no more ferry rides, no more unknowns—while the students take a breath of excitement: shops, pubs, street musicians, great views, cheap and interesting ethnic restaurants, and all around them, the still-very-real feeling of a medieval trading city.

We’re glad to be here.

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