Last weekend I was sitting in a pub in Galway with one of my closest friends, giggling at the strangeness of enjoying a pint together several thousand miles away from our homes and histories.
Lynn, my college housemate, was just starting out on a ten-week tour of Ireland, Scotland and England and we decided to meet up in Galway for St Patrick’s Day weekend.
Galway is an amazing city. When I arrived, I stepped out from the bus station into Eyre Square. The beautiful city park is surrounded by pubs and elegant hotels and filled with Galwegians and tourists strolling through the rare, early spring sunshine. I got a kick out of the Occupy Galway camp at the end of the park, having visited Zuccotti Park many times while living in New York last fall, and entered the pedestrian streets that make up the city centre.
One of the things that really impresses me about Galway is the way it embraces its history and still feels very modern. On either side of the wide cobblestone streets you see charming pubs and storefronts with names written in Irish. None of the buildings are more than three or four stories high, and as a result you can see the steeple of the St Nicholas church from almost anywhere. However, once I stepped through the facades I found myself in some of the coolest pubs, most innovative restaurants, and trendiest shops.
Galway is also home to a variety of artistic and theatrical companies. This was very apparent during their St Patrick’s Day parade, which was filled with elaborate costumes, musical performances, jugglers, and animated floats. It was quite the spectacle, and I was both surprised and pleased to see a multitude of cultural groups celebrating their native countries in the procession. It validated my initial instinct that Galwegians respect and embrace people from all the cultures that make their home here, in addition to being extremely proud of their Irish heritage.
The National University of Ireland has a campus in Galway, and partly because of that the city has a very youthful, intellectual vibe. It’s also a popular destination for tourists, and Lynn and I saw lots of young people like ourselves with back packs, sturdy looking boots, and wide eyes. It was very easy for us to make new friends, and after a while we stopped being surprised when someone told us they were from France, or Australia, or Dubai. We shared memories of past adventures, and exchanged tips of what to see, what to miss, and where to stay.
My story is a little different than most of those I’ve encountered. I’m not really travelling in the way that Lynn or my new friends are; I’m living and working in one place. I don’t get lost when I walk into town anymore. There are a few cafés, pubs, and restaurants that I prefer from personal experience, and one or two I don’t. I’ve even been taking a weekly pilates class. After just two months, tiny buds of familiarity and routine have started to blossom.
I’ve still managed to meet people from all over the world, which, for all of its melting pot history, isn’t often my experience at home. Sharing a few pints with young men and women from Switzerland, Canada, and Spain has me dreaming up new adventures.
One unifying topic of conversation that came up over the course of the weekend was Irish ancestry. Many people proudly claimed that they were various fractional amounts of Irish. On these occasions I proudly declared that I am Irish on my mother’s father’s side.
They say everyone’s Irish on St Patrick’s Day, and as I look around at my life and experiences in this country, I can’t help but think, who could blame them?