Getting under an Irishman’s skin

If memory serves correctly, it was my fault. Husband and I were sitting in a pub on a bustling street in Galway. As with every pub in Ireland, we were befriended by locals, this time by three men on their way home from work. Our group circled around a small table and talked about American and Irish history. That’s when I brought up the British. Dicky, the tallest, broadest man of the group, spit over his shoulder. “That’s what I think of the Tans,” he said slowly.

Thankfully an awkward moment in Ireland is only as long as a sip of beer. It was evident on our trip that some Irish still harbor unfavorable feelings toward England. It also explains why you could not order a Black & Tan without an Irish scolding. Mixed marriage is one thing, but combining Irish and English beer in the same glass is sacrilege.

After apologizing to our three hosts for the obvious insult, the men did what the Irish do best – talked it out. We spent the next hour talking about the history of Galway, the struggling economy in Ireland, and their travels to America. In the end even Dicky admitted his sister-in-law was a Tan, “and a beautiful woman, God bless her.”

The lush green hills and sheep sprinkled across the landscape are just one element that make Ireland magical. But it’s the people like Dicky that make Ireland unforgettable.

Galway was a favorite town during our trip through the southern half of the country. A college town situated on an inlet of the western sea, it is full of young people, music and a large shopping district.

While there are many places to stay, we had good Irish luck at Victoria Hotel. It was at the end of a street off the main square of town, which meant it was centrally located yet quiet. We were able to negotiate our rate to $70 Euro per night, which included a full Irish breakfast.

If you only have time to do a few things in Galway after the pubs, I suggest fueling up and mingling with the locals.

While pub food is usually very good, McDonagh’s Fish-and-Chips at the end of Quay Street is worth a stop in Galway, even if you’re just passing through. Moderately battered, the fresh catch is fried to crispy perfection. The chips are also good, but it’s the mushy peas I dreamt about for months after returning home to the States. The combination of sweet peas, milk, butter and salt are addictive.

After stuffing yourself on fish, chips and peas, stroll the opposite direction on Quay Street to the open air market wrapped around the St. Nicolas Collegiate Church. Roasted nuts, fresh herbs and cockles are on display, and rubbing elbows with the residents of Galway definitely heightens your local experience.

Ireland spoiled me a little. Trips abroad after experiencing the Emerald Isle left me hoping a stranger like Dicky would approach in a pub to discuss world politics of the day. But that hasn’t happened yet. Instead, I’m left with a longing to return to a place that feels very much like home.

Want to hear more about Ireland from a local? Check out the winners of the Irish Blog Awards.