Living a few miles outside of town in the quiet community of Salt Hill, my class’ presence has not gone unnoticed. For the past month, we’ve become known as “the Americans down in the Grattan Apartments.” But I would never take that as an insult. To me, that means that we actually explored the town. Tomorrow is my last day and I already miss all the places that have made this town feel like home. Here is my makeshift love letter to my favorite Galway classics.
To Galway Girl:
Whenever this song comes on, I always pretend that I know the accompanying dance. It’s a cross between a country square dance and Irish step dancing. There’s something about the lyrics, “And I ask you friends, what’s a fella to do? Because her hair was black and her eyes were blue, and I knew right then, I’d be takin’ a whirl, down the Salt Hill Prom with a Galway Girl.” We belt it out at the top of our lungs every time.
The go-to “I’m in college and don’t have enough money for a nice meal” restaurant. While it is very reminiscent of Chipotle, I appreciate that it was there for us whenever we needed a quick bite. I’m still a little bitter that I never punched my frequent buyer card enough to get a free burrito. But I wouldn’t be at all upset if Boojum expanded into the United States.
What kind of student would I be if I didn’t say that I’ll miss the National University of Ireland, Galway? Home to many of our incredible lectures and classes, I can genuinely say I’ve learned more in that room than I ever could have hoped. Not to mention the fact that the NUIG cafeteria provided the perfect reference point for my friends and I, all of us eager to observe the latest Irish fashion trends.
To the Cliffs:
I completely understand why people used to think that the world was flat. A few daring classmates ventured to the edge of the cliffs, and the view was spectacular—cascading rocks and crashing waves. From such a dramatic vantage point, it seems impossible to believe that there could be anything on the other side of the ocean. The Cliffs of Moher and the ruins of Dun Duchathair, the Black Fort, and the Aran Islands are scenes that not only took my breath away but that I will remember forever.
To The King’s Head:
The King’s Head pub was always a reliable stop for some craic, local slang for “a good time.” It gets its unusual name because, at one point, it was the home of Col. Peter Stubbers, who in 1649, executed the King of England, Charles I. We enjoyed many nights there, staying out until the wee hours of the morning. I can assure you, even though The King’s Head is over 400 years old, it’s not going anywhere!
“Sweet, sweet Morton’s” was our name for the store that was a stone’s throw from the front window of our apartment. Every morning we’d run across the street in slippers to get ingredients for our version of an Irish breakfast. More than anything, I will miss this country’s fresh ingredients: butter, milk, salmon, beef. Local farmers produce the freshest products, and as a result of this trip, I think I’ll always crave Galway Bay salmon and local crème fraîche.
I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in Galway, Ireland. This being my first business course, my next one has some big shoes to fill. Watch out, C-School!
I never expected any culture shock when I came to Ireland. After all, I’m speaking my native language, studying under a W&L professor, and traveling alongside classmates with whom I’m already comfortable. At the same time, I’m learning basic things like the fact that I’ve got to look right when crossing the street—the Irish drive on the left side of the road. Or I’m trying to remember to call French fries “chips.” There are so many little things I do that make me stick out like a sore (American) thumb.
However, now that I’m on week three in Galway, I find myself becoming more confident. I know my way around town, I go to my regular restaurants and pubs, and I ask questions of the speakers in class. The other day I strolled up to an ice cream shop and ordered like a local, “Can I have a 99 with an extra flake?” (That’s an ice cream cone piled high with a tower of vanilla soft-serve and two chocolate sticks sticking out of the side!)
I know I’m not the only one beginning to feel more confident. As a class, we traveled to Dublin last weekend to meet with leaders in human resource education, speak to successful entrepreneurs, and of course, take a tour of the Guinness brewery. At an Irish dance show on Thursday night, I watched my friend Nicki sing every word to a traditional children’s song, Bog Down in the Valley (Raitlin Bog). I recommend looking it up. Later that same night, our friends Maggie and Lauren unintentionally made €3 on the steps outside the pub, attempting to replicate the Irish step dance we had seen earlier. Apparently, they were convincing! On Wednesday our entire class watched a hurling demonstration, and afterwards, we all tossed the ball around—poorly! Still, we managed. Alongside a group of Irish students and the hurling instructors, we felt at ease.
Our confidence extends to little things like striking up casual conversations with cab drivers. We’ve heard some amazing stories; one cab driver drove the Zac Brown Band around Dublin and another convinced me to cut five inches off my hair at a local salon. To me, the Irish seem inherently confident, and comfortable in all situations, which is something I admire. When we visit with Irish entrepreneurs—whether they work in the clothing industry, the medical supply industry or the aerospace industry—there’s a certain charisma they all seem to have. Here, business people become captivating storytellers, which must undoubtedly contribute to their success.
Getting on the Wrong Bus Delivers Untold Delights
We had only just arrived in Dublin, Ireland, when a group of us boarded the wrong bus. The drive from Dublin to Galway is less than that from Saint Louis to Kansas City—just 130 miles. But while half our class boarded an express bus and managed to speed across the lush Irish countryside in two-and-a-half hours, it took the rest of us closer to six hours to make it to Galway. We’d accidentally boarded a local bus, but the mistake wasn’t such a bad one — we got an incredible portrait of the country as our bus stopped in small villages and towns along the way. Looking back, I’m glad it was our first taste of Ireland.
Galway is a college town on the west coast of Ireland, nestled in Galway Bay. Every morning I get to walk behind my apartment and look past the boardwalk to a rocky beach that extends out into the water and meets a set of rolling hills on the other side.
So far we’ve enjoyed a mix of literature, lectures and landscapes as our syllabus weaves together the intricate history of Ireland, and Galway specifically. On our first day, in typical Irish fashion, we all sported raincoats and trekked through a wet downtown Galway with a tour guide who seemed more encyclopedia than human.
Our class visited Coole Park, frequent summer home of W.B. Yeats, and ventured through the limestone covered Burren to the Cliffs of Moher. Both stops showcased Ireland’s natural beauty. From the cliffs, we went to Fleadh na gCuach in Kinvara, a music festival that takes place in a series of local pubs and showcases Irish talent.
Despite the picturesque landscapes, I’ve already learned that this place is more than misty green mountains and fairytales about leprechauns. With a highly educated workforce and competitive economy, the Irish are an active people, bringing in massive corporations and investors from around the world. The IDA, a government-run agency charged with attracting foreign direct investors, just signed a €850 million contract with Apple to begin building a new data center in County Galway.
On a local level, small businesses are flourishing in Ireland’s growing economy. Every day, I see restaurants and pubs that were established in the 1600s and are still fully functional, serving up delicious food and drink. We went to the popular greyhound races at Galway Greyhound Stadium. The racing industry originally started to give people jobs and reasons to stay in Ireland during times of economic trouble.
My mother asked me the other day if I was eating more than just cabbage and potatoes. My father asked me if anyone was walking around in kilts. Their questions highlight Ireland’s perception problem. When people think of Ireland, the people and the culture can get confused and overshadowed by stereotypes, myths and Hollywood images. The reality is that Ireland’s history, economy and way of life are unique and strong, more so than I ever imagined.