Eyes on Eire – Limerick and Galway

King John's Castle

A view of the river Shannon from King John’s Castle in Limerick

Last week I spent a weekend in Limerick with a friend studying at the university. My stay was short but not uneventful – I drank “the best tea ever” (at The Kitchen in Galway), and I saw a newly wedded bride (crossing Thomond Bridge), a baptism (in St. Nicholas Collegiate Church in Galway), and a kitchen in smoke (on university campus). Oh, and one of the most eclectic churches I’ve ever seen: Galway Cathedral with its Italian Renaissance exterior built with Galway limestone material, its wooden coffer vaulted ceiling, its Gothic-inspired rose windows, its American-style layout of pews surrounding the altar on all four sides, and its holy water stored in a hot water dispenser. Here’s some other impressions Ireland gave me:

Irish Gaelic was as foreign to me as Croatian and less predictable phonetically. I wouldn’t recognise Dublin by its native name (áth Cliath), and my pronunciations of the words I saw on signs were woeful. Words sometimes begin with a lowercase consonant followed by an uppercase consonant (denoting eclipsis or an onset prosthetic, I later found out), and the syntax (Verb Subject Object) is stranger than German. Before 1000 AD the Irish language was written with its own unique alphabet, the Ogham alphabet, which some say corresponded to the Latin alphabet but had Runic origins, and others say was a cryptic alphabet used in resistance to foreign occupiers. It is a beautiful language, with pretty names – Aisling, meaning “dream”, is my current favourite – and the catchiest pub slogan “ceol, caint agus craic”, (“music, conversation and fun”).

Irish Catholic tradition was strongly felt from the moment I arrived in Limerick, when I saw maroon-robed pupils walking past, after finishing school (later I found out that they were from Laurel Hill Coláiste, ranked the best secondary school in Ireland). The Irish lifestyle revolves around family and church, which makes the Irish university experience quite different from a British one. At UL Irish university students head home for weekends and so the Friday rave common to many British university weeks is shifted forward to Thursday, leaving Fridays eerily quiet and the university social life noticeably split at weekends between the absent Irish and the present International communities. Buses from UL campus into town centres don’t run on Sundays until around 11:30, perhaps to allow for or encourage Sunday Mass attendance. And Galway Museum was closed on a Sunday as well as the Monday expected for European countries.

Bus Eireann was the bane of my short stay in Ireland. The amount of time it took from my landing at Shannon Airport to my arrival at the University of Limerick (UL) where I was due to meet my friend was so great that I might as well have flown to Dublin and taken a more reliable Citylink bus to Limerick. The information office told me the bus would arrive at 15:25 but this time was not among those written on the bus stop sign. According to the sign I could take either the 15:10 bus or the 15:50 bus which took twice as long to reach Limerick as the former. In the end, the bus arrived at none of these times and departed from the airport at 15:40. Similarly, when I got off the bus at Limerick Bus Station the bus I wanted to go to UL had just departed, and I waited for the next one, which happened not to be the next time listed (16:52) but the time after that (17:07). All in all, looking at a map of the area it seems improbable but true that these are the times of the duration of the journeys from:

Limerick Henry Street to Galway Bus Station     1h20m    Citylink

Shannon Airport to Limerick Bus Station            1h           Bus Eireann

Limerick Bus Station to University of Limerick    50m        Bus Eireann

Bus Eireann routes N.B. Stars indicate the location of Shannon Airport and UL.

Saturated colours and fair weather were a surprise to me, whose previous perception of Limerick as a grey and rainy place came from watching Angela’s Ashes. The grass is emerald green and their waters sapphire blue. Their sunset is a golden haze on the horizon, and truly spectacular when seen from the causeway connecting Mutton Island to Galway Bay, with the roar of the Atlantic spray on one side and the still sea plain on the other and the feeling of being like Moses parting the waves. The “Emerald Isle” really is the most richly hued of the British Isles.

Distinctly Irish high streets consisted of many shops and cafés which were particular to their towns, and alongside British franchises Tesco, Costa, and WHSmith were Irish ones like Dunnes Stores, Insomnia, and Eason.  British brands may also be rebranded with an Irish name – Primark is Penneys in Ireland. To complete the small-town atmosphere, you might see a horse and cart pass by – I didn’t, but assume that they are a common sight, since in no other country have I seen a sign warning against having horse and carts on the highway.

I hope to return one day, and 2020 would be the best time, when either Dublin, Limerick or Galway will be the European Capital of Culture.


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