A Stranger in Galway

The day was chilly and dark, the rain misting down without any real conviction. I had just eaten a hearty plate of fish and chips and I was feeling a little… under the weather. It was the land of Guinness, after all.

Galway, Ireland was exactly what you imagine Ireland should look like. It was charming, even in the rain, so damn quaint I felt like I had shrunk myself into one of those model villages your grandma sets up on the mantle; or like I had walked into an overpriced calendar. There were stone streets and little alleyways, flags strung across the way; painted store fronts and well-arranged window displays.

Naturally, I pulled out my camera to start taking pictures of the green moss against storm- weathered grey walls or the cute graffiti of a cow peering out of a window frame.

The “vandalism”

Suddenly I heard a voice call out: “What are you taking a picture of?”

I turned to see a man with a black umbrella had appeared beside me. He was older, well into his 70s, and sharply dressed in a grey suit.

“The art,” I replied, gesturing to the wall in front of us.

“That’s not art. That’s vandalism!”

I laughed and we started to chat. He offered me a space under his umbrella, ensuring to “leave room for the Holy Spirit.”

He asked why I was visiting Ireland and where I was from, and even knew where the orange line went. David, he said his name was. He was well traveled and interesting and had a wonderful accent. He was born and raised in Galway and considered it to be the greatest city in the country. He told me about the history of the places we were closest too –the Spanish arch covered in creeping lilac over to the left, the ancient Claddagh neighborhood across the river Corrib.

And then something changed. He began to ask more about me, about where I was staying, what I was doing later that day. The alarms in my head went haywire. I don’t know how a seemingly innocuous interaction with a friendly local took a sinister turn, but all I knew in that moment was I needed to get out, now. I made my excuses and nice to meet yous and he said goodbye with a different, strange expression in his old blue eyes.

I fled to the Galway City Museum (an awesome museum by the way) and wandered around several centuries of Irish history until the uneasy feeling calmed within me. It’s not as if the interaction was dangerous, or even that frightening, but it had unsettled me.

A couple of hours later, after a shower and a change of clothes, I was refreshed and renewed. I set off on a brief walking tour of Galway and our tour guide told us the legend of the Lynch house.

The Lynches were a powerful family in Galway’s history and served as mayors for three centuries. Their home is a formidable stone building with a curious curved chunk missing from a corner of the house. But this is no ordinary mistake — it has much darker origins. It begins with a stranger.

There once was a man walking home one night and he came across a stranger. This stranger was an old man and a friendly one, so when he invited the man to have a drink with him, the man accepted. The stranger led the man to his favorite bar, but when they entered the bar, they found it to be completely packed. The two were separated, and the man began to wade through the crowd to find the bar. But as he began to push his way through, he found that the crowd didn’t seem to end, and he’s walking for days through the biggest crowd he’s ever seen.

Finally, after a week of muscling his way to the front, he finds the bar. The bartender walks up and the man sees that it’s the very same stranger who led him there. He offers him a whiskey that the man accepts. When the drink is finished, the bartender offers the man a bargain: the man can drink as much whiskey as he wants in exchange for his soul. The bartender, of course, is Satan.

The man looks around, sees he doesn’t really have a choice, and accepts.

He drinks. For years. For centuries.

Then one day, the bartender returns and the two meet again. This time, the man offers Satan a drink. The devil matches the man, who has spent the last hundred years exclusively guzzling whiskey, drink for drink and eventually becomes so smashed, he passes out behind the bar. The man takes his chance and escapes the bar.

The devil rouses himself and, enraged, chases the man out into the streets of Galway. By this point, he’s dropped his old man look and is now dashing around fork-tailed and cloven-hoofed. As he drunkenly runs past the Lynch house, his hoof clips the corner and removes a chunk right out of the stone.

The magic of Galway is palpable in its beauty, history, and culture. It seems like around every corner there is something to be discovered. I’m not saying that David was the Devil, but it does make you wonder… what or who is wandering around the streets of Galway?

Beware of the stranger…

Magical Galway

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