Galway Girl

This song was written by Steve Earle: an American with good taste in women. The song has become a kind of anthem in Ireland, a country proud of its Galway girls (for good reason! Even James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, was from there). I (James) was learning to play this song in our hostel in Dublin and a married couple from the States sat down to listen. The couple, a musical duo on tour in Ireland, are Steve Earle’s sister and brother-in-law! How crazy is that? I didn’t really have the tune right in my head that day, but I’ve been able to play it successfully since. I listened to some different versions online and this is the composite cover I perform. It’s in the key of D to make it well suited for fiddle and tin whistle accompaniment.

Intro: D (which carries on until the first chord change)

Well I took a stroll on the old long walk

                                   G

On a day-aye-ay-aye-ay

          D

And I met a little girl and we stopped to talk

                       G           D

On a fine soft day-aye-ay

          G           D                     G        D

And I ask you man, what’s a fella to do?

                  Bm        A                    G             D

Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue

           G               D                G           D

And I knew right then, I’d be taking a whirl

                  Bm        A                 G          D

Round the Salthill Prom with a Galway girl

D (for a bit) A A G G D (repeat while your tin whistling friend plays and then go back to D)

We were halfway there when the rain came down

                                   G

On a day-aye-ay-aye-ay

               D

And she asked me up to her flat downtown

                       G            D

On a fine soft day-aye-ay

          G          D                       G         D

And I ask you friend,what’s a fella to do?

                  Bm        A                    G             D

Cause her hair was black and her eyes were blue

         G           D                G              D

So I took her hand, and I gave her a twirl

           Bm       A            G           D

And I lost my heart to a Galway girl

D~ AA GG D, etc.

                                                            G

When I woke up, I was all alone

            D                                                      G D

With a broken heart and a ticket home

          G           D                  G                         D

And I ask you now, tell me what would you do?

           Bm       A                     G             D

If her hair was black and her eyes were blue?

                   G              D                             G            D

Cause I’ve travelled around, I’ve been all over this world

                     Bm            A                    G           D

Boys, I ain’t never seen nothing like a Galway girl

                 Bm             A                   G           D

No I ain’t never seen nothing like a Galway girl

D~ A A G G D (until satisfied)

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Belfast

James went to Belfast with our friend Jonathan five years ago and they were welcomed by police tape on the street of their hostel. A girl had died in a nearby hostel and that is where we coincidentally stayed (Brice booked it) this trip. Arnie’s Hostel was an excellent place to stay (the altercation leading to the girl’s death had nothing to do with the hostel, and don’t bring it up with Arnie. He hired the girl who died, and we doubt he’d want to discuss it. We learned what little there is to know about her death from a helper at the hostel). Arnie owns two spoiled Jack Russell Terriers (Rosie and Snowy), who are getting on in age and will hound you incessantly for food.

Because James had already done the tourist bit in Belfast, Brice hit the museums. The highlight was a stuffed Irish Wolfhound. It’s massive!

Irish Wolfhound at the Ulster Museum

The Ulster Museum has a restaurant for when you get hungry. And you will. The place is huge. There are many collections from early Irish history including Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. “Treasures of the Armada” displays items recovered from the wreck of the Girona (1588) and other Spanish ships. There’s even an Egyptian collection to gaze upon, including a mummy. The top floors display Irish and British art.

The Botanical Gardens sucked when James and Jonathan saw them because it was raining incessantly. This time, the rain yielded for a day of sun, and James discovered that the Gardens include a park and are not just an indoor greenhouse.

Out enjoying a day of sunshine at the Botanical Gardens

Different bars claim different weekday nights to attract the local talent (The Parlour on Mondays for example), but the best bet on any day is Laverys (with Spice Land curry cheese chips across the street). It’s between Arnie’s Hostel and the City Centre and has three subdivided floors.

James met the band playing traditional music one night and had the chance to swap poetry with Clare the next day. She told him more about the Troubles and how it was unthinkable during her youth that traditional Irish music would ever be played at Laverys. It’s baffling, coming from a small town in Canada, to realise what people our age went through in other parts of the world.

On the third floor of Laverys (with an open mic down on the first), we also decided to try some Irish style pool. To our surprise, the balls, tables, pockets, and cues were smaller than in Canada.

Brice, trying to get used to smaller balls.

At first it threw both of our games right off, but gradually we were able to compensate and play with the skill we were beginning to worry we had left at home. Only the eight ball is numbered, and the rest are divided evenly into yellow and red colours. It was refreshing to play a game we knew and yet still had to learn in a new way.

James working with a smaller cue.

The Crown (near the main bus station) is the most famous pub in Belfast.

The Crown Saloon

The story goes that the wife of the man who started the bar was Protestant and she demanded that a crown be placed somewhere on the premises. He, a Catholic, agreed, but put a crown in the entryway where patrons could wipe their feet on it. As James and Jonathan did five years ago, Commonwealth Canadians, James and Brice, walked around it.

Slainte Jonathan!

The Black Taxi tour of the murals is good, but if you ever go to Belfast, just meet some locals and hear about the Troubles from them.

Kells (not related to the Book of Kells), Co. Antrim

My (James’) family was originally from Kells: a tiny village outside of Ballymena in Northern Ireland. The last time I was in Ireland, five years ago, I stopped briefly in Ballymena, but did not go to Kells because of time constraints. Buses are infrequent and I had no contacts in town anyway. So I skipped it. At first, it was wasn’t in my itinerary for this trip either, but as Brice and I headed north and north and north, I decided I should at least see the place, even if it killed a day.

The plan was for Brice to head to Belfast with our guitar and the rest of our stuff while I would bus / hitch into Kells with only a small day-pack, intending to walk into the local pub declaring: “Do you know any Stevensons?” This worked in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan (where my family originally settled in Canada) for my dad and I years ago.

Thanks to meeting Hugh (the name of my great-grandfather and my grandfather’s middle name) in Malin Head, this plan became even easier. Kells is a short detour off the road from Derry to Belfast, so we rolled into the “Ancient Monastic Settlement” and asked where the local pub could be found.

“What pub?” was the response.

What? There is no pub in Kells. There is an Irish town with NO pub. And my family is from it. Brice is still laughing at me over the irony of this.

My shirt reads: "I don't belong here." Never has it been more true.

Connor, an adjoining village, has a rugby club that wasn’t open in the late afternoon, so I went into a pharmacy and asked about Stevensons in the area and was told that the only Stevensons to be found in Kells would be in the cemetery. “Stevenson is a Ballymena name,” they told me.

This made me feel better. Not only did my ancestors escape from their pub-less village to Canada, but the ones still in Ireland made sure to relocate to a more livable town.

I’m glad I had Hugh to get me out of Kells and into Belfast. And the pubs there.

Slainte! (and a brief tour of Londonderry-Derry)

Slainte Hugh!

Thanks Hugh for all your help!

On the way to Belfast, we stopped in Londonderry (to Protestants) or Derry (to Catholics) and Hugh showed us the murals and (even though he’s Catholic) took us to the Protestant district. We went into a guard tower converted into a museum by Mr. Jackson who lives nearby. Jackson has war memorabilia from WWI to Afghanistan including uniforms, pins, badges (some Canadian), a copy of the Nuremberg Trial documents, and model ships. The most impressive item, because of its personal nature to Jackson, was a graffitied soccer ball at the top of the tower.

Soccer ball of hatred.

It’s not part of the collection, but a confiscated item Jackson took from local children. The ball has anti-Protestant slurs written on it by Catholic children who then kick it into the Protestant area hoping to incite retaliation. Jackson, whose house has been hit by bricks launched over the fences of the area even with the last few nights, blames the kids on both sides and wonders why with such throwing abilities they’re not playing cricket. Jackson and Brolly shaking hands with a shared desire for peace has been one of the highlights of the trip.

Malin Head, the Northernmost Point in Ireland

We had four Internetless days in Malin Head: our most spontaneous and obscure destination in Ireland. In Sligo, we were nervous about finding hostels over the Bank Holiday weekend and decided to go somewhere off the beaten tourist track. We wanted to go to a music festival in Ballyshannon, but, without a tent, it wasn’t much of an option. We mined our Lonely Planet for interesting places in Co. Donegal (a favourite of Irish travellers) and picked Malin Head: the most northern point in Ireland (more northern than Northern Ireland, oddly enough—the Inishowen Peninsula of the Republic wraps up and around Derry). We’d already been to the westernmost point in Ireland, so the northernmost sounded like something we should see.

A great decision thanks to more lovely weather.

We transferred in Derry and again in Carndonagh onto a community shuttle bus that only runs once a day and not on Mondays (the day we planned to leave). The owner of the Malin Head Hostel (Mary) was not in when we arrived, but her mother told us not to worry. Someone would be happy to give us a ride south whenever we planned to leave. The friendliness of the Irish in Donegal (and the Northern Irish travelling there) took us aback. The Irish have been friendly everywhere, but it’s absurd how kind they are up north. They don’t see as many tourists passing through, and they take this as incentive to treat those who do with unrivalled hospitality.

The peninsula itself is beautiful and has a raised beach packed with semi-precious stones. We had no idea what were looking for, so we just collected a sample of all colours. And climbed cliffs.

James, with no idea what he's looking for.

Brice being adventurous.

James is probably throwing away a semi-precious stone.

Everything around Malin Head boasts about being the most northerly ________. So is this the most northerly grave? shrine? suicide?

We also split up to write on deserted cliffs and beaches.

Where James Wrote

 

Most Northerly Nuns

Most Northerly Longhorns

Where Brice Wrote

The Malin Head area has three pubs. We—purely in the interest of research…cough…—went to all three. Farrens is for elderly locals to reminisce about the old days and to gossip, so we didn’t feel like we belonged there.

Most Northerly Pub

Seaview has a Canadian-born but Irish-raised owner who introduces himself personally to every patron and the adjoining restaurant serves excellent baked crab. John Sands, the performer while we were in town, is quite famous in his own right, but also because his brother Bobby died in the hunger strike in 1981. Unfortunately, a drunk at the Seaview thought we were his best friends and made it uncomfortable for us. He bought us pints so we felt compelled to be nice to him. At the first opportunity, we escaped to Crossroads Inn where we met a co-rec basketball team from Limerick.

Our friends for the night.

When the solo-acoustic-performer was finished his set, Casper borrowed the guitar for James to play his comedy set list. It was better received than the songs played by the guitar’s owner. There’s a mobile chipper in Malin Head, but it closes early making it useless for drunk food. These poutine-ish chips we love so very much are not as good when we’re sober we discovered.

Our best memory of Malin Head is not any particular place, but Hugh Brolly: a Raconteur (as his author friend Annie Hawkes labelled him) from Derry. Hugh took us under his wing, having had a lot of help when he was our age and travelling. He is paying it forward, and we will definitely do the same in the future when we have the means to help travellers.

Hugh on guitar.

Hugh has a car, so he drove us around the Inishowen Peninsula to lookout points, beaches, and to meet Annie (she’s English, but writes in Ireland…when she’s not gardening or watching 24).

James out in the ocean. The water was cold but no worse than Vancouver's beaches in the summer.

Fields from a mountain pass.

The next day, Hugh drove us to Belfast! It was completely out of his way, but he wanted to help us out. Mary’s mom was right about someone giving us a lift out of Malin Head!

Sligo Wordweavers

Sligo was on our list of places to see for two reasons, both people: William Butler Yeats and Michael Quirke. A dead poet and a very living woodcarver.

I (James) collect photos of myself kissing graves of literary writers, so going to Drumcliff (just north of Sligo) was a necessity. Drumcliff is a walkable but inconvenient distance away, so I made up a sign and hitchhiked (without Brice for this section of the blog post).

My return sign.

I was picked up immediately by Troy, a surfer headed to the beaches north of the cemetery, and was greeted at the graveyard by the body of a dead raven (I’ll spare you the picture). Ravens were complaining loudly about this, adding that extra haunting dimension to the lines of graves even during the day. I wrote a poem about this visit in the church overlooking Yeats’ simple grave. The poem is posted on Write with Lightning.

"Yeats had nobody, we had Yeats," T.S. Eliot on writing verse drama.

Raven mourning death at Drumcliff.

I hitched back to Sligo with Peter, a stonemason from the Czech Republic. We stopped in Rosses Point to unload some stones and have a pint on-the-house from Harry’s Bar. Peter knows the owners and they opened it just for us to have a drink. The decor of nautical junk is intimidating because it’s obvious that every whale tooth, hammerhead skull, police badge, and knick knack has a story behind it. Ruth (one of the owners) knows people in the area who are old enough to remember Yeats walking the strand around Rosses Point. He would talk out loud to himself, counting out syllables and the rhythms of poetry. Local boys thought him to be an eccentric (which indeed he was!) and would throw stones at him as he walked along. He never noticed, the story goes, so involved was he in the fancy of a moment.

Ruth and Peter in front of Harry's Bar.

Peter dropped me off in Sligo and I walked to Carrowmore Monolithic Cemetery (past a dead badger, and again I’ll spare you the morbid picture), one of the largest collections of such tombs in Ireland. And Brice was there! Small world. We weren’t impressed by the stones. We’d seen more impressive piles of rocks in the countryside than these apparent tombs.

A bunch of rocks...err...a tomb.

The most impressive of the unimpressive tombs.

We went back to the dull White House Hostel to work up the confidence (with beer of course) to go to karaoke at the Stable Bar. The DJ enjoyed generating a country competition between the Irish, we Canadians, and a group of American girls there. Our “Friends in Low Places” was well received, but because the karaoke didn’t last long we didn’t have time to wow them with some of the songs we regularly sing (like anything by Matchbox 20…which they didn’t have in the book anyway).

We shared our curry cheese chips with the swans in the estuary.

Lucky swans.

If you ever go to Sligo, it’s a necessity to visit Michael Quirke, Woodcarver of Wine Street, Wordweaver and Witness to the Power of Myth.

Quirke at work.

He is a living tourist attraction who will carve a design for free on a small piece of wood for everyone who enters his shop. To buy a fully carved statue you’d be set back at least 100 euros. While he effortlessly carved a raven for James and a wolf for Brice on pieces of ash, he told us stories related to these animals in Irish myth with many digressions to other legends along the way. We “graced his palm with some silver”, but it was a pittance for these souvenirs: the prizes of our trip.

James' Raven

Brice's Wolf

Treasure Ireland: Galway

We hid treasure in Galway, but to get the clue (it’s a treasure map), you have to go to Salmon Weir hostel and shake hands with Mr. Mule. Robbie and Sam are gatekeepers of the map. Pass the test and the treasure is yours to find. Good luck!

Slainte!

Bill gave us enough, through paypal, for two pints each! He drinks Ballantine’s on the rocks, if memory serves, so we had Bushmill’s in Sligo.  For the second round we will raise a Scotch to him when we reach Scotland at the end of our trip.

Slainte Bill!

Galway (Or: How We Learned to Love Curry Cheese Chips)

We first went to Galway on Saturday May 22 so James could see his friend Cain from Northern Ireland whom he had met working as an English teacher in South Korea. Cain and two of his friends had road-tripped down from Belfast in a Volkswagen van, but were denied entry to a “family only” campground. They were probably just worried about the drunken shenanigans these lads would get into. For good reason! Luckily, they had a friend in Galway and she acted as our local tour guide taking us to the best places to hear live music in the city. After one night we went to Doolin for four to enjoy the sunshine and then back to Galway on May 27. This is what we learned there.

Galway is the youngest city in Europe in terms of population age. It’s a university town to the extreme and has the night life to prove it. Any night in Galway is a good night to go out, but going out on a rare sunny Saturday is something else all together. On the pedestrian Quay Street, patrons from the pubs spill out onto the street with pints in hand (something that is technically illegal in Ireland, but no one seems to care). Neachtains is a good pick. It has booths inside for groups or couples and an outdoor patio…if you’re not already standing on the street. The bars get pretty crazy here and you’ll have to line up for ATMs, but the best spots are south across the Wolfe Tone Bridge.

This random girl jumped into a photo of James and Cain at the end of the night.

The Crane is the place to be for live music—the best we’ve seen of traditional music in all of Ireland. Of its two levels, the upstairs tends to host more traditional ceilidh sessions with less singing, while the lower has foot stomping genre-bending fun. On the night with Cain, there were a dozen musicians and an old old old song sung in Irish gaelic.

Ceilidh session at the Crane.

Massimos is a dark place with a lot of booths and a small dance floor, but for a night of dancing go to Roisin Dubh on Friday or Saturday. This multi-level late-night bar is even better on Sunday thanks to the free show Cartoon Thieves (previously No Banjo) put on each week. We stayed in Galway an extra night just to see them and it was well worth it. They are bluegrass… roots… rock… who knows!? Just amazing. Don’t miss them if you visit Galway.

Cartoon Thieves playing at Roisin Dubh on Sundays.

For hostels, don’t go to the impersonal Sleepzone. We were there for one night because we couldn’t get anything else on such short notice on a Saturday. Salmon Weir is the place to be. At the hostel, we were spoiled with the partying expertise of Robbie and Sam, a Kiwi and Aussie respectively, who compete as you’d expect anyone from those countries to do. We drank a lot of cheap Stella (Tescos across the country are selling 24 bottles for 15 euros) and had our first experience with a beer bong. We do not recommend this experience to anyone. Beer pumped directly into your stomach is as unpleasant as it sounds. James (in terror) “shook hands” with Mr. Mule first and took much longer than Hannes (whom we met in Doolin and was in our room in Galway) and Brice. Hannes was the clear winner. The beer vanished within a second.

James bowing down to Mr. Mule. Wow ... that sounds gay ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

Mr. Mule and James

Mr. Mule and Hannes

Mr. Mule and Brice

Robbie and Sam also taught us some drinking games and how to drink the perfect Guinness. Apparently, you have to drink under the head and get a Guinness moustache so that after each sip foam is left on the inside of the glass. Tiger stripes will appear after each drink and tell the tale of your Guinness—like tree rings. The fewer the rings, the quicker you drink. With beginner’s luck James drank the perfect Guinness. We don’t have it on our cameras, but hope that it is sent to us soon. James completely screwed up the second, cracking under pressure in a competition with Robbie. But as it turns out, a lot also depends upon the pour, the taps, and the cleanliness of the glass. You’d need a perfectly poured Guinness to have the perfectly drunk. Still, it’s something to work towards for the rest of the trip.

Much dancing was also had with Hannes, Robbie, and Sam. Robbie, Sam, and James broke out the “Running Man” and were instantly joined by some strangers. Hannes is one of the most uninhibited dancers we’ve ever seen. He’ll groove to anything.

Hannes dancing like a maniac

As a final note on Galway’s nightlife, and indeed Ireland’s in general… We love curry cheese chips. Wow. They are an improvement on poutine and an end of the night drunk-food delight. They are exactly what they sound like: a heart attack in a take-away box. And oh-so delicious. “Chippers” (like Vinnie’s and Charcoal Grill) everywhere have them. We now have them everywhere.

The lads after a night out.

For a more cultural / scenic experience in Galway, we recommend the Galway Cathedral. We don’t tend to take pictures inside of the churches we visit because we feel disruptive when there are people inside at prayer. You’ll just have to take our word that the architecture is powerful. You can see James’ thoughts about it on his website Write with Lightning.

Walking the narrow road to the Mionloch Castle is also worthwhile. The riverside castle is overgrown with vegetation and very much the kind of sight we like to see.

Brice entering the gate to Mionloch Castle.

James approaches Mionloch after jumping a padlocked fence.

Mionloch overlooks the River Corrib.

Brice explores the ruins.

We tried to take a shortcut back, but the road progressively became less and less travelled and ended in a bog.

Stupid bog.

Fortunately, we were visited by these horses along the deserted road which made the mistake worthwhile.

Visitor along a deserted road.

Hornless unicorn.

Treasure Ireland FOUND: Couch Surfing Cork

As per our instructions, Keira, Ronan, and Brian gave a tin whistle to the next person to couch surf with them. And we know her! It was Kate, passing through Cork again. It couldn’t have gone to a better person. Congratulations Kate!

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