Sunday, June 03, 2007

Day 09, "Ireland" seminar trip

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

Pretty early night on Monday, after the day's sun and travel. Dr Smith's Blueplate Special on order for this Tuesday morning's breakfast (eggs, chips, and sausages--a good way of bulking out the free continental breakfast and of keeping within trip budgets), where we also heard about the exploits of our step-dancing girls, who apparently took over the place at Taafe's for an impromptu dance concert.

The weather continues relatively fine: cloudy and blowy, but dry and warm with no rain, so a late-morning walking tour of the old medieval city was in order. We visited, in rough order:

Eyre Square, the old Georgian park, lined with the townhouses of the 18th-century burghers who ran this commercial city, and whose new renovation includes a monument containing a 16th-century slab giving the coats-of-arms of the 14 trading families (the “Fourteen Families” or “Fourteen Tribes”) who ran Galway;

the Quays--the walking/pedestrian mall, ground zero for trip-shoppers, whose cobbled streets slope gradually downhill toward the River Corrib and the harbor;

St Nicholas Church, founded in the 1340s as a Catholic cathedral (whose size and opulence confirm the wealth of the medieval traders who endowed it), later taken over as a Protestant church during Cromwellian times (1640s-60s), then reconsecrated as Catholic, before finally being given back to the Protestant denomination. It's a beautiful, peaceful, but rather sad place inside, containing the tombs not only of the 17th and 18th century commercial aristocracy, but also the flower of Galway's Anglo-Irish population who were cut down on the Western Front in WWI;

Kirwan Lane, one of the more beautiful alleys off Quays and Market streets, whose narrowness, side-gutters, cobbles, remnants of the old ring-wall, and three-story stone houses are a powerful evocation of the medieval town;

the Claddagh shop, where the ring which has become an Irish symbol for commitment or availability was first designed by Irish-born, Spanish-trained jeweler Thomas Joyce for a wealthy burgher in the 1750s;

the quay and Spanish Arches: last remnants of the city wall, and the gates to which Spanish traders brought cargoes of wine, spices, leather, and cloth to trade for Irish hides, timber, and tallow;

the locks and canals that diverted a portion of the water-power of the River Corrib through the granaries and mills that turned Irish barley and wheat into flour for export;

Monroe's pub, a fantastic bar with a beautiful floor made of wide old-oak planks, where there is set-dancing Tuesday nights and which our step-dancers plan to invade;

the Crane Pub, my own favorite music bar in Galway, owned by a nephew of the legendary Clare fiddler Junior Crehan, and button-accordion virtuoso John O'Halloran, who comes from Inishmore but now lives in Galway.

From there, we split up for lunch, to rendezvous at 2:30 for a visit to

The King's Head, the oldest bar (in continuous operation since 1641) and one of the oldest buildings (c1550, on the foundations of an older structure from the 13th century) in Galway, where there is a fine seafood menu and where we prevailed upon Liam the manager and Michael the bartender to let us into the upper floors, each an open, stone-walled room, where Angela and I have heard some mighty music in the past, and where Dr Smith regaled the group with the story of the building and the 17th-century violence and skullduggery which it witnessed (and one peripheral tale of the 17th-century violence and skullduggery in Dr Smith's own family history);

then it was on to Charlie Byrne's second-hand and remaindered bookshop, right up there with Hay-on-Wye (in Wales) and Archer City (in an exotic place called Texas) for award as Very Best Bookstore in the World, where various parties punished the “bargains” and “Irish” tables, and engaged in much closely-figured calculation regarding remaining discretionary funds.

After that, it was more free time, before we meet up again at Kashmir for a group dinner (catered in part by trip funds) to both assuage the ardor of the Indian-food junkies and to introduce those without prior Indian-food experience to a new vice, and then on to Monroe's for the sets!


Very pleasant group dinner at Kashmir, funded by combination of trip funds and Dr Smith/Prof. Mariani private donations. The combination of North and South Indian dishes on the menu and ordered by various individuals made for a nice combination of flavors for the “newbies” to Indian cuisine to sample. Leisurely dinner, followed by a short walk over to Monroe’s Pub, where the regular Tuesday evening set-dancing was going on.

Very nice music at Monroe’s, but the place was rather overrun with tourists more interested in watching than dancers interested in participating. That’s one of the unfortunate by-products of Galway’s thriving arts-and-tourism scenes: some of the traditional music “sessions” are actually “gigs” (e.g., musicians paid—which is only fair—and thus responsible for a “show” rather than for musical sharing) and the sets at Monroe’s are more a display for the tourists than a participatory event for the locals. Our girls and boys got stuck in, volunteering happily, but it was evident that the really good, really positive set-dancing experiences will be down the road in Ennis on Thursday through Sunday evenings. Later, some trippers went on to the Crane Bar, where there is always good music, but most opted for a relatively early night of it.

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