Friday 26 December 2014

Galway's golden touch

Summer may be over, but there are plenty of festivities and activities to enjoy in the City of the Tribes, says Tanya Sweeney

Tourists flock to the west for a version of Ireland that they've long read about or pictured in their mind's eye: green, romantic and full of charming gaiety.

Galway has long enjoyed a reputation as an unspoiled, enchanting land, but that's not to say that it can't be action-packed. Scratch the surface and you'll find that, whatever your persuasion, there's rarely a dull moment in the City of the Tribes.

The world is your oyster

A stone's throw -- okay, a stone's pelt -- from Galway city proper, Clarenbridge is first and foremost known as a prime oyster-breeding ground. So where better to sample the sea's offerings than in this truly picturesque village?

Since 1954, the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival has celebrated the sea's bounty with food, dancing, music and plenty of old-fashioned craic. There's even a prize for the festival's best-dressed lady, so it's as stylish an outing as it is lively. A full rundown of all events is available on clarenbridge.com.

Later on in the month, the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival will liven up the streets of Galway with a host of festivities and its own Mardi Gras-style parade. Enjoy a restaurant seafood trail, a showcase of local seafood producers and the World Oyster Opening Championships.

See galwayoysterfest.com.

Enjoy a blast from the past

It's a truth universally acknowledged that Galway is rich in history, heritage and lore, and you could do worse than take a weekend to brush up on it all. For those interested in the city's medieval past, make haste to the 13th-century town walls, and the ancient Lynch Castle.

Many aren't aware of Christopher Columbus's strong links to Galway: visit St Nicholas's Church, where he once prayed, or the Spanish Arch, where he famously landed. And, once you're there, try dinner at Ard Bia at Nimmo's (ardbia.com, 091 561 114), roundly believed to be one of the finest restaurants in the city.

Or, if you fancy going slightly off-grid for your history lesson, the spectacular Inis Meain, off the coast of Galway, is home to a fort that's said to be up to 4,000 years old.

Something a bit more active

All those tourism adverts from yesteryear often featured fresh-faced types horseriding through the surf, and with good reason. The secluded idyll of Omey Island, near Claddaghduff on the western edge of Connemara, is best seen on horseback.

Cleggan Riding Centre in Co Galway (clegganridingcentre.com, 083 388 8135), runs horse-riding treks and there's a race against time to access the island via a sandbridge.

Islands West (islandswest.ie, 087 222 7098) has a popular diving centre on Inishbofin, and is open to greenhorns and seasoned veterans. From sea angling and island hopping to angling and night diving, Island West leaves no stone unturned when it comes to making the most of the sea.

And for those who want to really find their sea legs (or rather, their river legs), the Corrib Princess sails from the heart of Galway down the river on a relaxing and bracing 90-minute cruise. The boat sails from Woodquay, Galway city, three times a day (12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm). See corribprincess.ie or call 091 592 447 for details.

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