This weekend I joined UCD’s International Students Society (ISS) on a 3 day trip to Galway on Ireland’s west coast, a little over an hour north of the Cliffs of Moher (which are in Liscannor, Co. Clare). ISS really likes to surprise the students on these trips, so all I really knew about it when I showed up for the bus at 9am on that very cold and rainy Friday morning was that we were headed to Galway. I thought we were going to get 3 days to explore the small city…
…but what we actually got was so much better.
The first stop on our journey to Galway was the Kilbeggan Distillery – Ireland’s oldest operational distillery, which began making whiskey in 1757. At Kilbeggan, we got a tour of the old building which still contained all of the old equipment they used to use way back in the beginning, as well as well as an explanation of how whiskey was made back then. I found it really fascinating getting to see everything and learn how all of the equipment was used, all while walking through the extremely old, cold, cramped building that they definitely don’t pay to heat anymore.
One of the coolest parts about this distillery is that its primary source of power back in the day was a huge waterwheel at the front of the building that they (somewhat) recently had to rebuild, but that still runs today (when it doesn’t rain so much that everything is flooded).
They even gave us all a small sample at the end of the tour, and a small souvenir glass!
So, what did I learn from touring the Kilbeggan Distillery?
- The Irish love and are very passionate about their whiskey
- A lot of the tastes in whiskey come from the kind of wood used to make the barrel it is aged in, as well as what does and does not get absorbed into the wood of the barrel over time
- There are worse things than sipping a small glass of whiskey at 11am on a Friday
Our second stop on our journey to Galway was at the Clonmacnoise Abbey, and was one of my favorite stops on the whole trip. The Clonmacnoise Abbey is an Early Christian monastery that was founded in the mid-6th century by St. Ciarán (yes, I just had to look that up because I couldn’t remember). In the centuries after it was founded, the monastery was regularly attacked by the Irish, Vikings, and Normans, which is what led to the various stone structures being built on the property for protection and stability.
Fun fact: Over the centuries this Abbey became one of the most sought-after burial grounds for Christians everywhere, because it is believed that many Christian kings had been buried there. This is unfortunate for anyone who had hoped to be buried there in this century, because they actually no longer have room for any additional burials at all.
On the site visitors are allowed to walk through, photograph, and take in the various ruins scattered around the property, which include a cathedral and various temples.
Our guide never explained to us what the ruin in this next photo is, but as you leave Clonmacnoise you can easily see it if you look out over the river. I found it one of the more fascinating ruins, and would have loved an opportunity to go and look around it a bit (although that’s probably not allowed).
After we left the Clonmacnoise Abbey, we made our way into Galway City where we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. Thankfully, the rain cleared up just as we arrived so we got to see all of Galway’s beautiful coastal views in the sunlight. A few of my friends and I made our way through the cobblestone streets, walking to the sounds of all of the street artists playing their music and passing numerous pubs and cute little sweater shops along the way.
Once we got to the harbor, this very nice old Irish man saw me taking photos and came up to me asking if I knew anything about the Claddagh Ring. I had heard of the Claddagh Ring and know many people who have one (it’s that ring that has two hands clasping a heart, and the heart has a crown on it), and had been told that the way you wear the ring and what hand you wear it on has some sort of significance, and is supposed to tell if you’re looking for love or in a relationship or married…something like that.
SO, this very nice Irish man began talking to me about the Claddagh Ring and the history of it (his accent was very thick so I had a bit of a difficult time understanding him) but apparently, the original makers of the Claddagh Ring are also the oldest jewelers in Ireland, and are actually located in Galway. This man talked to me for a good 5mins about the ring amongst various other topics (at one time in the conversation he pointed toward a black boat that was beached by the harbor and started talking about it, but he was talking really fast and I couldn’t understand what he was saying…and now I will forever be curious about the significance of that little black boat).
After we left the harbor and got some food at a local pub, we went back to our hostel and pretty much passed out for the night. It was my first time every staying in a hostel, though, so here are a few takeaways from that experience:
- Always bring shower shoes and a towel
- Unless you know and are friends with everyone in your room, bring a lock to secure all of your stuff because you could potentially be sleeping in a room with a bunch of strangers
- It can be really difficult to charge your phone from the top bunk, so always go for a bottom bunk if possible
- If you’re tired enough, you don’t even have time to think about how weird and unsanitary sleeping in a hostel can feel