Go West: Galway and Headford

Soju, as they say in Seoul, is the route of all evil. The stuff is pretty nasty: at only a dollar a bottle it’s dangerously cheap, tastes of, well, not much really, and has an equally nasty effect on both the digestive system and the skull the following morning. In Buckfast, however, it may have found a serious rival. A quick bit of internet research will tell you it contains twice as much caffeine as Red Bull (per volume); over 800 calories per 750ml bottle and has been discussed in more than one different parliament as the source of serious antisocial behaviour. Just to top it all off, it’s made by Monks. Nice.

The effect of the stuff is phenomenal. I don’t know what it is they hide away in those innocuous looking brown bottles, but it has substantially more of an effect than three times the equivalent alcohol of any other form seems to have. Weird. Incidentally, although I’m aware that this is the third entry that I’ve mentioned Buckfast in since arriving in Ireland, I want to assure everyone that I haven’t become a raving alcoholic, and have in fact only drunk it twice, its impact is just that astounding. I promise this is the last time I will ramble about it so much…

As you may have gathered by now, Buckfast was a major feature of my Friday night. Good thing to, as I spent a large chunk of the evening in a Drum and Bass club. Drum and Bass, for me at least, has always been one of those genres that is only worth listening to at its very best. These particular DJs were awful, cramming their music full such lyrical genius as ‘kick it like the FA Cup Final’. Oh dear.

Fortunately the weekend got a whole lot better. When we woke up on Saturday morning (does 1pm count as morning?) Helena and I decided to head down to Galway and meet her mum and siblings and hang out for the rest of the weekend. After watching Ireland lose to New Zealand in the rugby (I was contemplating paying more than 100 Euro to go to that, dire game, extremely glad I didn’t) and watching Villa put one over Arsenal in the premier league (good times!) we headed out to Headford, a little town on the border of Galway and Mayo, to Helena’s mum’s house. As the whole trip had been so unplanned, Helena’s mum was left with a huge houseful at the last minute, but the whole thing had a kind of festive, together again feel to it. Which was great, especially considering I’d only met half the family before. I just hope I made a decent impression…

Before now Galway has always been known to me mainly as the mythical place featured in that untouchably brilliant Pogues Christmas song. Which incidentally is still the only Christmas song that I think is anything other than the musical equivalent of junk mail. Call me scrooge all you like, people who write Christmas music – the Pogues apart – should have their vocal chords confiscated.

The little I saw of Galway gave me the impression it’s a ruggedly beautiful kind of place with some great architecture (very much like Bath) and a bit of an underage drinking problem. The promenade was exactly how you’d picture an Irish coast: windswept, rocky and beautiful despite it. The local farms are still divided up into areas of land no bigger than a couple of tennis courts, which makes you wonder how the farmers ever manage to drag a tractor around them. Salthill’s ‘famous O’Connell Pub’ (which came first – the name or the fame?) has a plaque on the outside quoting Ulysses as saying ‘An interesting puzzle would be getting across Ireland without ever passing a pub’. Judging by the variety of pints, quality of banter and number of seemingly misplaced oddities pinned to the wall, I can’t help thinking a better question is who would want to?

As we took the train back a huge flock of starlings whirled around in a huge wave over the huge expanses of open countryside. The centre of Ireland is bleak and wet, but it’s undeniably beautiful, it was definitely good to get out of Dublin for a night.

Next week: Kaunas, Lithuania!

James  x

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