The Republic of Ireland is a country that has close ties to its past, but which has been able to embrace modernity. This coexistence is evident in many aspects of modern Irish culture. Understand these nuances and you will be able to fully appreciate the Ireland of today.
Irish Gaelic and English are both official languages of Ireland. Considered the first language of Ireland, 40% of the population speaks Irish as a second language. Throughout the countryside, you may hear the older generation speaking Irish and you will see signs written in both languages. National University of Ireland, Galway, where ISA students study, is a bilingual campus – students may submit course work in either language and all employees are required to speak Irish!
Literature & Music
Literature is an important part of Irish culture. Stemming from oral tradition and ancient mythology, modern Irish literature has found recognition the world over. Irish writers of note include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats and Samuel Beckett.
The oral tradition found in ancient Irish literature is also present in traditional Irish music. Passed on orally and aurally, "Trad Music" is played in pubs and on street corners throughout Ireland. During the mid 20th century, Trad Music fell out of favor, but was revived in the 70s and 80s with groups like The Dubliners. While rock and pop music is popular in Ireland today, Traditional music still holds a place in everyday life.
Food & Drink
Irish cuisine has evolved significantly over the past several decades. Due to a rise in immigration, globally inspired restaurants can be found throughout Ireland. There is still, however, a focus on the traditional. Breakfast is an iconic Irish meal and is often served all day long. A traditional breakfast plate includes eggs, sausage, black pudding, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, hashbrowns and half a tomato! Salmon, trout and oysters are also important components to the Irish diet, along with handmade cheeses and soda bread. And, of course, don't forget the potato!
Pubs (public houses) are integral to Irish culture. As the name implies, pubs are considered meeting places where the Irish spend time with friends and family. Pubs are also a wonderful place to listen to live Trad music and grab a bite to eat.
Gaelic football and hurling are two of the most popular sports in Ireland. Gaelic football is similar to soccer, but in addition to kicking, players can also touch and carry the ball. Hurling, which is considered one of the fastest paced games in the world, has been played for 3,000 years. In this sport, players use wooden sticks and brute force to get the ball (sliotar) into the other team's goal.
Located in the heart of Galway's town center, Eyre square was originally used as a town market. Bordered with beautiful flower gardens, the square is now a favorite meeting place and a great spot in which to relax.
Situated along one of Galway's pedestrian streets, Lynch's Castle was first built in the 14th century by one of the most powerful of Galway's ruling tribes. Considered the finest town castle in Ireland, the castle's hints of Spanish architecture recall Galway's prominence in the shipping trade between Ireland and Spain in the 1600s. Although Lynch's Castle now houses a branch of the AIB Bank, the façade still displays the crests of various ruling families – a testament to the power struggles that mark Galway's history.
Collegiate Church of St. Nicholas of Myra
Dedicated to St. Nicholas, the 4th century Archbishop of Myra, this is the largest medieval church still in use in Ireland today. Begun in the 14th century, St. Nicolas was expanded in the 1500s by the Lynch and Ffrenche families, two of Galway's famous 14 Tribes. St. Nicholas has had many visitors throughout the centuries, including Christopher Columbus and Cromwell's troops, although the later used the church as stables for their horses. Today, the church is open for worship and hosts traditional Irish music concerts in the summer.
Between the residential neighborhood of Salthill and Galway Bay, the Promenade is a favorite place to walk, run or roller blade. A seaside stroll is popular among all ages, while the truly adventurous can jump from the Promenade's diving boards into the bay.
The Spanish Arch
The Spanish Arch, believed to be an extension of Galway's medieval wall, is positioned on the banks of the river Corrib. Once regulating and protecting the ships that brought goods from Spain, the arch is now a popular hang-out for locals and visitors alike.
Nora Barnacle House
While in Galway, follow the traces of James Joyce, one of Ireland's most famous authors. Homage to the love between James and his wife Nora, this museum is housed in Nora's childhood home. Love letters and photographs allow you to step back in time and take a glimpse at the life of this legendary author.
Listening to Live Music
Music is a central part of life in Galway. Throughout the week, street performers play along the pedestrian streets of Galway's town center. Passersby can expect to hear anything from traditional Irish tunes, to U2 covers and original compositions. Don't forget to throw some change in the instrument boxes and encourage the continuation of this cultural gem.
Hikes in Ireland's countryside are an ideal way to experience the Emerald Isle. Discover the picturesque green fields and the rocky fences that separate them. In the Burren, just south of Galway, hiking allows you to become a part of the unique stone landscape. To the North in Connemara, the Maamturk Mountains offer challenging ascents and panoramic views.
Because of its location on Galway Bay, Galway is a perfect location for many types of water sports. Paddle a kayak along the Promenade, sail out into the bay, or plunge into the frigid Atlantic to surf the waves (wetsuit recommended!).
Volunteering in Galway is a popular way to learn about Irish culture and get involved in the local community. Students who study at The National University of Ireland, Galway have the opportunity to join ALIVE. This on-campus organization connects students with schools, charities and community organizations in an effort to foster personal growth and community development.
Share your experience with your friends and prospective ISA students through the ISA blog! Your blogs will be featured on the ISA website for all to see. To learn more about the ISA Blogs, please visit the page.
We also suggest you check out the plethora of other cultural blogs available on the web to learn more about others' experiences in Galway, cultural happenings, and expat lives.