You’ll find more than one pearl inside, truthfully
You’ll find a handful of pearls from this jewel of a city.
This first pearl is the bedrock of Galway, the history:
A medieval town by a river, buildings in harmony
That face to the future with pride and with dignity.
This second pearl is music, reel through to symphony,
Choirs lifting their voices, pub sessions sing endlessly
Variations on tunes that have verve and longevity.
This third pearl is language, of prose and of poetry,
Of street conversations ringing with euphony
So words are huge part of this city’s scenery.
This fourth pearl is landscape, more complex than ‘scenery’
More nuanced than postcards of water and greenery:
Here’s land and here’s water; here’s people, here’s empathy.
Ian McMillan, Poet-in-Residence
Planning for Rapid Growth
People and Partnerships
Equally interesting for contemporary urbanists is the story of the town’s growth over the last fifty years: Galway has more than tripled its population to 75,000 and expanded its urban area ten-fold. How the town has handled the tensions and opportunities associated with this breakneck growth is very interesting.
The town’s growth has led to rapid suburbanisation since the 1960s. Inevitably, these generally car-orientated residential and commercial developments lack the charm and character of the town’s historic core. But the results are not all bad. For example, more recent residential neighbourhoods are pleasant, compact and tenure-blind places to live. There is good work in progress to stitch recent commercial developments into their surrounding neighbourhoods. Challenges remain for the existing suburbs and future growth, for example, how to break that car dependency that has emerged over the last 50 years? And how to create contemporary neighbourhoods of a quality that matches the town centre?
Culture and acceptance are at the heart of Galway. Founded by the Normans and part of the mediaeval maritime superhighway of trade that linked Western Europe’s ports, the town has always been shaped by incomers. There is something of the feel of the historic merchant areas of Amsterdam or Lisbon about the place. Today, Galway attracts around 2 million visitors a year, attracted not least by culture – Irish music in the streets and bars, Galway’s position as the gateway to Connemara’s Gaeltacht, and a busy programme of events and…Cont. …festivals throughout the year – in particular, high profile arts and food festivals. Many choose to stay and make Galway their home, continuing the town’s long tradition of welcoming incomers. This gives the city an international buzz that is unexpected in this location and size of town.
The assessment team came away from Galway with a real sense that our hosts from the public, private and community sectors really do enjoy and take a pride in working together – and achieve much more as a result. There is a pride in being Galwegian; there is also an openness to new ideas and people.
Today’s Galway has a sense of purpose and economic vitality over and above its popularity as a tourist destination, due in no small part to the significant higher education presence and the town’s success at capturing and rooting successive waves of foreign direct investment since the 1960s. Galway appears to be punching above its weight in terms of it being an attractive, vital place – particularly given the strength of the recession in Ireland. But the town’s place quality needs to be carefully nurtured, building on the obvious commitment and enthusiasm that the assessment team encountered during their visit.
Finally, the opportunities that Galway offers for place-based learning are perhaps the strongest of any of this year’s three Great Town candidates, not least due to the presence of two higher education institutions in the town with place-related social science programmes.
“I know that after I go, I will always return. Galway is in my blood now.”
Lenka, Slovakia (from “Galway: city of strangers – voices of the new Galway”, 2008)