The Galway Bookshop

As part of our plan to revisit places around Ireland which have given us so much pleasure over the years, Vi and I elected to spend a few days in Salthill, a holiday resort on the northern shore of Galway Bay.

It was thirty years since our last visit, but Salthill’s 2km long promenade – known locally as the ‘Prom’ – with its magnificent views across the bay to the Aran Islands and the mountains of Connemara, soon brought back many happy memories. At that time we stayed in a local bed and breakfast guest house along with our two young children, but on this occasion we were on our own in the Salthill Hotel, beautifully situated overlooking the promenade and the bay.

Although a 4 star hotel, Vi had struck gold by securing a promotional voucher deal, which gave us a three day stay at a fraction of the usual price! The Salthill boasts spacious bedrooms, a fitness centre, swimming pools, good food and, possibly best of all, the luxurious Blackrock Bar where you can while away a dram or two with a good book. All of this supported by friendly staff throughout the hotel, I have to say, made our stay there all too brief.

One other advantage for us was the convenience of the bus stop just outside the hotel. As we prefer to dispense with the car to avoid impatient drivers on crowded roads and traffic congested towns and cities, we tend to use trains and local bus services wherever we can. It’s a regular service from Salthill into Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City. It only takes about 15-20 minutes, and the ride offers the opportunity to sit with the locals and see a little more of their city.

When in Eyre Square we popped into the iconic Hotel Meyrick for a coffee to soak up the atmosphere of a building which has been part of the square for over 160 years. It represents a bygone era that has seen Prince Louis Napoleon arrive for lunch in 1857, saw King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra dine there, and entertained the aviators Alcock and Brown after their memorable transatlantic flight in 1919.

Galway is packed with pages of history, but its present-day reputation is that of the fastest growing city in Europe. Certainly when you leave the square and wander into the Latin Quarter, a labyrinth of cobbled stone streets leading to the Spanish Arch on the bank of the river Corrib, you get the impression that half of Europe is wandering through it. Crowded with small shops, boutiques, bars, a wide range of restaurants, and buskers playing on practically every corner, you can easily spend a day exploring the place.

But my overriding objective, while Vi visited the shops, was to discover the bookshops in the area and one in particular: Charlie Byrne’s. The store has the distinction of being Galway’s leading independent bookshop, selling new and second-hand books; and during my inspection, numerous collections of antiquarian and leatherbound classics were available.

With over three thousand square feet of book space, they claim to have over 100,000 books in stock. Without doubt it’s a book lover’s paradise consisting of what seems to be countless, meandering rooms, stacked to the ceiling with books. In fact, when Vi came looking for me it took awhile for us make contact – take a look at one of the rooms in the blog photo and you’ll get the idea!

On this occasion, I picked up a couple of rare, second-hand, paperback Irish novels for less than three Euros – unexpectedly cheap but priceless reading for me. And to complete a very pleasant sojourn we left Charlie Byrne’s to retire to a well-known traditional Irish pub called The Dail Bar. It’s only a few yards away from the bookshop, and no better place to celebrate my purchases.

For me, travel and meeting interesting people is one of the joys of making these trips. Especially, if it ties in with an idea for an article or book that I have in mind. Galway certainly exceeded both our expectations on this occasion and we will return soon, given the opportunity.

W.L.