En route to Galway, we stopped at a very picturesque place called Athlone, where Mike's grandfather hails from. Athlone boasts not only a castle, but according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and our host, Timmy, Ireland's oldest pub. Sean's Bar dates back to 908 AD and inside the bar in a framed display is a section of the original wall of the building. Timmy regaled us with the true history of whiskey, starting with the Irish monks who learned the distillation process from The Spaniards and Moors in Spain who were using it to make perfumes. These monks brought it back to Ireland, and particularly to their monastery on the lake just outside the town of Athlone (Loch Ree) From there it travelled to Scotland and England, and when the Vikings invaded, they took it back to Scandinavia, and through their travels, subsequently to Greenland, Iceland and eventually Canada (think Erik the Red and Leif Ericsson). It was a fascinating story, made all the more believable when you are standing in a building that is 1100+ years old!
On then to Galway which turns out to be a delightful small city of around 80 000. Our hotel is right in the city centre, a hop, step and a jump from Eyre Square, where one finds both the Hooker Sculpture and the Browne Door. The former is a stylized rendering of the sails of a Galway Hooker, which is a boat, not a lady of the evening! Browne Door is the remains of a merchant's house dating back from 1627, and removed from its original location to Eyre Square.
After a quick lunch at a local sandwich shop, we headed off on our tour of this fair city. Again, a history lesson on the invasions, takeovers and hands-changing of the area throughout the years. However, as our guide explained, west Ireland was not as attractive a place for those from elsewhere, so did not undergo the same amount of disruption as places in the eastern part of the country. Galway is a very beautiful city, with the River Corrib running though it. There are several lovely churches, the grandest being the Cathedral, with an even grander name - Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St. Nicholas. It was built on the site of an old prison. Our tour took us in a meandering route throughout the city, including a foray into a modern shopping mall, which was built to incorporate a portion of the old city walls. Our walk took us along the river where once stood many mills and fisheries, and on out to Galway Bay.
Of course all that walking built up a thirst, so we had to stop for a pint at Garavan's before heading off to the hotel. Once there I decided it was too nice a day (apparently a rarity in these parts) to be inside, so I took off to do a little more exploring on my own. I just roamed the streets and ended up at the cathedral, which we hadn't gone into on our tour. It is a beautiful building with two huge stained glass window formations at either end.
Back to the Imperial to get reset and off to dinner at the Quayside Kitchen or a delectable meal, which we were able to eat outside, whilst enjoying the street music.