Galway 2020 has just extended the cultural programme of this Year into 2021. During my recent volunteering at this year’s European Capitals of Culture Galway 2020, I revealed incredible places that are a vital part of the region’s heritage and where the deeply-rooted traditions naturally weaved into everyday life. And those places can be visited at any time regardless of the Galway 2020 programme.

A Conversation in a Traditional Thatched Cottage

The trip to Menlo, an Irish village in about 5 km away from Galway, was part of my volunteer programme. In the 19th century, two immigrants from Menlo gave its name to the American city Menlo Park (home to Facebook).

With historian Paddy Dougan Cottage in Menlo

The Irish settlement is an original type of a 19th-century hamlet, typical of Ireland and Scotland. Instead of usual streets and rows of houses, such areas consisted of separately placed thatched cottages. Today, there are very few such houses left.

Menlo cottage inside 1

Together with Bulgarian, Italian and Irish volunteers, we were invited to one of the authentic Irish cottages situated in Menlo, where long-living inhabitants of Menlo welcomed us warmly. Our visit began with a breakfast at a fireplace. While trying home-made dishes, we’re looking with curiosity at some furniture and pictures owned by the family that lived there over 100 years ago.

in Menlo with italian volunteers

The stories of the local historian Paddy Dougan and Irish volunteers made our day. We learned about the history of the village, the vital role of oarsmen there, and the tragic fate of the owner of the cottage who lived there at the beginning of the 20th century. The best oarsman in the area, he went blind after being maimed in an accident. Boats were vitally important for the village because many activities depended on this means of transport. After the conversation, we went to see another local landmark, the dramatic ruins of the abandoned Menlo Castle (1569).

Menlo Castle scaled

The 700th-Anniversary Service of the Oldest Irish Church

St. Nicholas’ Collegiate Church of Ireland (1320) initially wasn’t part of my volunteer programme and even on my list of ‘best places to see in Galway’. The announcement about the celebration of its 700th birthday I noticed by chance. Of course, I couldn’t miss such a unique event.

St Nicholas Collegiate Church Galway

Although I’d never attended the service of an Anglican church before, I easily made sense of the event with a brochure distributed at the entrance. The two-hour exciting event turned out to be a fantastic mix of over 20 speeches and 10 pieces of music, including Scottish and South African melodies. I don’t know how a standard service looks like but the one I attended impressed me with its powerful message of positivity and unity clear to everyone.

After the public service, everyone could enjoy refreshments. The president of Ireland and his wife were also among the guests that day.

The oldest church in Ireland is a unique modern example of religious and social tolerance. The word ‘collegiate’ in its title means that the building is shared by several religious organizations. Among them are the Romanian and Russian Orthodox Churches and the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church. Interestingly, the rector of the Church is a woman named the Very Rev Lynda Peilow.

Lighting Ceremony with Percussionists

The most challenging part of my one-week volunteer programme is associated with Ballinasloe, a small town between Galway and Dublin. Our team of 6 volunteers helped the security team to ensure fire safety. We were responsible for keeping hundreds of cheering visitors at a safe distance from the fire installation. An incredibly thankless task!

ballinaslou lighting ceremony 2020

With the first sounds of drums, an excited crowd joyfully surrounded the procession with torches. People tried to approach it as closely as possible. Everything our volunteer team could do at that moment was just to hope for the best… Fortunately, the spectators’ wild euphoria didn’t cause any trouble that night. Having captured the hottest part of the show, people relocated to the scene where they enjoyed a highly energetic rock concert. This followed by an incredibly warm interaction with the percussionists.

The town hosted one of the six open-air lighting performances that took place across the County. The pagan Irish tradition Imbolic that symbolizes the transition from winter to spring was the basis of the celebrations. The main feature of the show in all the locations was the procession of torch-holders accompanied by percussionists and chanters.

In such a warm way Galway 2020 lightened up the big year which even without the cancelled Opening Ceremony made a long-lasting and favourable impression on all the visitors.