Get to know Galway’s county towns to visit
By Magdalena Szulc
Athenry, one of Ireland’s hidden jewels, is medieval heritage town surrounded by five towers of the town’s ancient walls and full of picturesque ruins. One place worth having a look at is Athenry Arts and Heritage Centre which has plenty of hands-on activities to illustrate life in the old days. Children can dress up in period costume, take out a long bow and arrows, and act out a scene from medieval battle. A selection of displays and puppets help to explain the history and significance of the walled town and the buildings that will survive. The restored Norman castle, the only one of its kind in Ireland, should be your next stop. Nearby is also a beautifully preserved Dominican priory dating from 1241, and the original market cross.
Renowned for its historic October horse fair, a wild week of haggling, merry-making, and competition, Ballinasloe is the second largest town in Galway, and a popular coarse fishing centre. The River Suck is famous for its pike, bream, and perch and is celebrated each year at An tSuca Fiain, the River Arts Festival, in July.
The pretty village of Clarinbridge is situated at the mouth of the River Claren. The town is famous for its September Clarinbridge Oyster Festival, a week-long carnival of music, food, and Guinness that has been celebrated since 1954.
Clifden is a charming town known as the ‘capital of Connemara’. Just over an hour from Galway, it is a great base for discovering the area with wonderful golf, cycling, walking, and fishing nearby.
The small market town of Gort lies at the centre of what was once the literary heart of Ireland. Lady Gregory, co-founder of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and a patron of WB Yeats, made her home at Coole Park which soon became a favoured haunt of Irish writers. Yeats also made his summer home nearby at Thoor Ballylee, a Norman tower, which now gives visitors an insight into life and works, while the Kiltartan Gregory Museum and Millennium Park is largely devoted to the literary achievements of Lady Gregory. Also worth a visit is the monastic settlement at Kilmacduagh, where the evocative abbey ruins surround a lofty 30-metre tower.
Gorgeous Oughterard, the gateway to Connemara, is nestled between the mountains and bogs and brooding Lough Corrib, a popular angling lake. Nearby you’ll find the dramatic ruins of 16th century Aughnanure Castle, a six-storey tower house on a rocky lakeside outcrop, and the Glengowla Mines, Ireland’s only lead and silver mine. Also worth visiting is Brigit’s Garden, a themed oasis reflecting the four Celtic seasons.
Home to two magnificent cathedrals, Tuam grew up around a monastery founded by St Jarlath, the remains of which can still be seen in the town centre. St Mary’s, the Church of Ireland cathedral, is a blend of architectural styles with sections dating from 12th, 14th, and 19th centuries. The Catholic Cathedral was built in the mid 19th century and boasts wonderful stained glass from Harry Clarke studios. Also worth paying a visit is the 17th century Mill Museum, the only preserved working corn mill in the west of Ireland, and the Ross Errilly Friary, one of the best preserved medieval Franciscan friaries in Ireland.