While most of the #MAET Program was exploring the Ring of Kerry this past weekend, a few of us stragglers stayed home and went to the Galway Garden Festival.
Just outside Galway city limits (about 10-15 minutes by bus), the Claregalway Castle was host to this festival of art, music and culture. The prevailing theme of this particular festival – Medieval.
When we first arrived, we spent a lot of time in conversation with two members of Nuada – a musical group specializing in Medieval and late century instruments. We learned all about the history of these instruments: their origins, their functionality, as well as their sound and technique. These musicians were incredibly knowledgable about their craft which made for a great learning experience.
Next we toured many of the local shops and stands – everything from art, to jewelry, woodwork and jam. Everything (or nearly everything) was hand crafted in Ireland, or even right here in Galway!
As we continued walking around we spoke, at some length, with a group of people promoting Galway 2020. What Galway 2020 is, is a movement of support for the city of Galway as it competes for the title of “Culture Capital of Europe.”
Galway has already been voted as the friendliest city, this would be another huge accolade on their resume. In order to earn the title of “Culture Capital in Europe” Galway must exhibit its cultural diversity and expertise in food, music, film, tourism, education, industry and many other areas. Galway is one of 4 Irish cities still in the running for this title (Dublin was voted out in the last round). Fortunately for us (and for Galway) the committee who decides this award will be visiting on July 11 – right in the middle of our stay, and on the first day of the Arts Festival. Galway should know by July 15 if they made it past this round. Fingers crossed! #IbackGalway
Other things we were able to see on this trip were the castle Claregalway, an old Friary and lots of Irish culture. We even got to see some Medieval knights battling – it was very interesting! After speaking with a local photographer, we learned that the knights who were battling had to earn the right to battle at this festival. The knights had to compete in enough fights to prove their skill and proficiency and be deemed as one of the best in their craft. Surprisingly, there was a female knight represented at this festival. She won both fights I watched her participate in, and learned from the photographer that she is a professional stuntwoman! Very surprising information to learn at what you thought was going to be a quiet garden party.
Throughout the fights we learned about the different techniques and rules of Medieval fighting. We learned about the armor, the weapons and even that fighters would dance in their downtime – to practice their footwork. We learned that many dances that came out of the Medieval era incorporated many of the same moves fighters would use in battle so that no matter what they were doing, they were always practicing.
In the Friary, we were able to soak in more of that wonderful Irish architecture of many centuries ago. The surprising thing – the cemetery at the Friary is still being used! We were able to see that many of the grave sites are for families, and there were a few members that joined their loved ones in the early 2000’s and were added to the burial grounds. One site that was very interesting was a tomb that we found on the inside of the Friary. I didn’t take enough time to learn who was buried inside (we were worried about not missing our bus home), but found that someone had cracked the tomb open, and the remains of its resident could be seen if you peeked inside. To imagine that these bones and structures have lasted this long is amazing, and really tells a story about this country as it has progressed.
I am very excited that I got the opportunity to experience what Galway has to offer in the way of Irish culture, both past and present. I feel so enriched after having these experiences and appreciate my place in the world today.