The Galway International Oyster Festival has come to symbolise four days and nights of the ultimate experience in gourmet sea food, Guinness and live music in Ireland’s exciting west coast tourist city. Visitors from all over the world descend on this beautiful corner of ‘the Emerald Isle’ to participate in this glorious extravaganza. Held at the end of September each year, the festival has been taking place since 1953, when it was originally the brainchild of the manager of the Great Southern Hotel, who successfully discovered a way of extending his tourist season by celebrating the start of the region’s oyster season! From these comparatively humble beginnings, a prestigious international event has developed.
The Galway International Oyster Festival usually officially opens at noon on the Saturday with a massive free public event in Eyre Square. There will be a host of musicians and street entertainers and then the recently crowned Galway Oyster Pearl presents the first oyster of the Festival to the city’s mayor. The Oyster Pearl competition has been taking place since 1954 – to decide who becomes the official ‘face’ of the festival for the coming year – in addition to winning some rather handsome prizes.
The Opening Ceremony is followed by a fun-filled street parade of musicians, dancers, vintage vehicles, the Oyster Pearl and various dignitaries. For those with the energy, there is an all-night disco as well.
The other major official events of the festival are the Guinness Irish Oyster Opening Championship and the World Oyster Opening Championship when contestants from all over the world participate and, again, there is an accompanying programme of high quality Irish music and dance.
Each year the Festival has its own magnificent Mardi Gras Party, Festival Gala Ball and Fairwell Party as well as associated events such as the Elegant Lady Competition. For many people, however, it is in the streets of Galway itself that the Oyster Festival really excels – they are packed full of visitors and locals all enjoying the special Irish ‘craic’ that brings people back year after year.
Galway is home, not only to the oyster, but to some of the finest seafood restaurants you could wish to find anywhere. The mussels and the crabs are especially enticing but, if it’s fish or seafood you’re after, then you’ll find nowhere better.
As a city of just about 75,000, Galway is easily negotiated on foot and visitors soon discover why it has the reputation, even in a country as hospitable as Ireland, of being one of the friendliest around. Although it appears to be geographically isolated on Ireland’s western coastline it is easily reachable – with its own airport and others, such as Shannon and Knock, only just over 50 miles away. It takes two and a half hours to travel by train across the country from Dublin, and there are plenty of regular rail services, and nowadays the ferry ports on the east coast are all only half a day’s drive away at the most.
There are some excellent hotels in the city – although if you want to stay in The Radisson you really will have to book early as it hosts some of the Festival’s premier events. The Sleepzone Hostel, quite close to Eyre Square, has had fine reviews and was, in fact, considered to be Ireland’s finest in 2006. Of course, this is a particularly beautiful part of the world so there are some excellent hotels quite near to the city as well. There is a lot of information on the Discover Ireland website.
The Galway International Oyster Festival is not just about food – sensational though it is. It is an opportunity to visit a wonderful city at a time of the year when it has four days of fun-packed activity, great music, good Guinness – and the best oysters in the world! Further information can be found on the Galway Oyster and Seafood Festival Website.