If Ireland tugs at your heartstrings, Galway is a wonderful retirement location. On the west coast, this historic maritime city combines a modern urban lifestyle with scenic beauty, deep-rooted traditions, and a staggering array of activities. Whether your passion is for the outdoors, the arts, traditional music, horse-racing—or a combination of them all—you’ll be spoiled for choice.
And Connemara is on the doorstep. Established as a National Park in 1980, this unspoiled region of stone walls, green fields and thatched cottage villages is picturebook Ireland at its best. It takes in the Twelve Bens mountain range…golden beaches and coral strands…peat bogs, sparkly loughs and trout streams.
Home to around 75,000 people, Galway has grown over the past few decades, but its center still has a small town feel. The Saturday farmer’s market is always thronged, and shops are mostly of the individual variety—butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, bookstores, etc.
Galway’s University student population ensures things are kept lively. Retirement is always a good excuse to try something new, and the university also runs adult and continuing education courses. Options include screenwriting, Irish studies, and if you’ve an interest in the past, you could even find yourself with a Diploma in Archaeology.
Enjoy the Arts, Culture and Food When You Retire to Galway
Few people in Ireland would disagree that this is the country’s arts and culture capital. Highlights include April’s Literature Festival, when authors of local, national and international repute head to Galway for readings, workshops, discussions, and much more. Promoting good food outlets and producers, the Galway Food Festival is also in April. At this time of year, some mouthwatering local ingredients become available, such as Connemara spring lamb, and locally caught trout and salmon.
May erupts with music. The Galway Early Music Festival features concerts, workshops, and street performances of music, dance and historical re-enactment. That’s followed by the Galway County Fleadh, which includes competitions for traditional musicians, session music and dancing. More fiddles and bodhran drums appear in June—the Galway Sessions Festival is another excuse to party to Irish folk and traditional music.
In July, the Galway Film Fleadh is Ireland’s leading movie festival. This is followed by the two-week long Arts Festival and its accompanying Fringe Festival. Stampeding on their heels is Galway Races and the summer Festival Meeting. This is a huge event for Ireland’s horse-racing crowd—and the fashion crowd, too. It’s well worth winning the “best-dressed lady” competition—this year’s winner gets a diamond solitaire pendant valued at almost $12,000, and a shopping spree worth $2,000.
In August you can catch the Galway Hookers Festival. No, not a gathering of ladies of the night—a Galway Hooker is a traditional boat, and this is a celebration of the county’s maritime heritage. September ushers in the oyster festivals, both in the city and at nearby Clarinbridge.
All done? Not quite. In October, there’s the Theatre Festival, the Comedy Festival, the Jazz Festival and the Halloween Festival—the latter spooks its way around the streets of the Latin Quarter, the name given to Galway’s medieval core. And just because Christmas is a festival, Galway doesn’t take a rest—before January’s Midwinter Festival kicks off another year of shenanigans, there’s an old-fashioned Christmas market, and part of the harbor area gets transformed into a gigantic skating rink.
This is only a taster of annual events. There’s an Astronomy Festival, the University’s Spring Arts Festival, and more music festivals. Any “what to do” calendar would always be full, as county Galway’s hinterland is also packed with events throughout the year—Walking Festivals, the Connemara Horse and Pony Show, the Kinvara Mussel Festival, and the Great October Fair of Ballinasloe, where hundreds of horses are sold on the town’s Fair Green.
Away from the festivals, you can take advantage of activities such as yoga, hiking, cycling, fishing and golf. Weekday green fees at Galway Golf Club, beside the sea at Salthill, are currently €35 ($49). Go into county Galway and they’re even less—€25 ($35) at Athenry Golf Club, for example.
In Galway you don’t have to own a boat to belong to a sailing club. If you fancy discovering if sailing is for you, try an introductory course. Options include Galway City Sailing Club. Their non-member special offer includes course tuition and 50% (€50/$69) discount on first year membership—members have the use of club dinghies after completion.
Eating Out in Galway
Organic cafés. Seafood bistros. Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Italian. Posh nosh. Pubs. No matter what your budget, Galway will feed you well. Although you’ll find traditional cod and chips (McDonaghs on Quay Street is an institution), and Irish stew, menus are now so innovative, you’ll want to experiment with new and delicious tastes.
Anyone for beetroot and fennel soup with soda bread? Or spicy lamb koftas with wild rice and herb yoghurt? On Sea Road near the Spanish Arch, one place I can recommend is Kai Café and Restaurant. Menus change seasonally, but ingredients are organic and locally sourced.
On Dominick Street, Oscars Bistro specializes in seafood. On weekdays, a 2-course prix fixe dinner menu is €15 ($21). You could opt for freshly-made seafood spring rolls with a zingy green chili sauce followed by locally caught hake with dillisk (seaweed) butter.
On Quay Street, Martines offers an early bird menu seven nights a week—2 courses for €20/$28; 3 courses for €25/$35. On the a la carte menu, temptations include 28-day dry-aged sirloin steak from the grassy plains of Munster, and West Cork duck confit with spiced red cabbage.
Pub lunches are normally great value. Many do homemade soup with brown soda bread for around €4/$5.50, and a choice of main courses for about €10/$14. Whether it’s for seafood chowder, the “catch of the day” or a steak sandwich, one of my favorites is McSwiggans on Eyre Street—an old-fashioned inn of nooks and crannies with a pub section where there’s often live music, a café-bar with gourmet coffees, and an upstairs restaurant. And a pint of Guinness is excellent value compared to Dublin watering holes—only €3.50. (Just under $5 a pint.)
The Property Market in Galway
Linking up with real estate agents and private sellers, www.daft.ie is the best portal site for both sales and rentals.
Properties for sale in Galway City
- Overlooking a large green area with tennis courts, a city center two-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment (615 square feet) built in the early 1990s. Price: €75,000 ($104,000).
- Beside the sea, Salthill is a prime location. A two-bedroom apartment (620 square feet) with views of Galway Bay is for sale for €120,000 ($167,000). Salthill’s promenade is practically on the doorstep, and there are plentiful local shops and amenities, but Galway city center is only 20 minutes’ walk away.
- Ballybrit is Galway’s racecourse neighborhood. On a mature estate, a four-bedroom detached dormer-style property with front and rear garden is a short walk to a shopping center, and only a few minutes by bus to the city center. Price: €149,000 ($207,000).
Rentals in Galway City
Current lettings for one and two-bedroom furnished properties in Galway City and its suburbs are mostly between €345 ($480) and €500 ($700) per month. The majority of properties are on a one-year lease basis, but you can sometimes find shorter terms.
- Close to Westside shopping center, an apartment comprising of one bedroom, one bathroom, a living room and kitchen is renting for €500 ($700) monthly.
- A one-bedroom apartment is for rent in the seaside suburb of Salthill, 200 meters from all amenities. It includes all mod cons, storage heating throughout, instant hot water and electric shower. Price: €500 ($700) monthly.
Properties for Sale in County Galway
- Clifden is the small “gateway” town to Connemara. A one-bedroom, semi-detached vacation house in Clifden Glen, a development of holiday cottages, is €60,000 ($83,400). The development’s estate covers 190 acres and includes tennis courts, plus hill and river walks with spectacular views.
- A recently renovated two-bedroom traditional cottage near Lough Corrib—a popular fishing lake, is for sale. Oughterard Village and Galway City are both within an easy drive. Price: €149,000 ($207,000).
- Overlooking Camus Bay and the Connemara mountains, a traditional three-bedroom cottage with around an acre of land at Rosmuc is for sale. Price: €150,000 ($208,500).
The above are all through Connemara specialist agency www.mattosullivan.com.
Rents drop in the “commuter” towns and villages of the county. Plus you get a lot more space for your money.
- In Menlough, a three-bedroom semi-detached furnished house in a quiet rural village is available to rent. A solid fuel range provides central heating. There’s an open fire in sitting room. The property has a large garden. Price: €350 ($486) monthly.
- In Athenry, a two-bedroom terraced cottage in the grounds of a working farm, which comes fully furnished and has electric heating is renting for €475 ($660) monthly.
Living Costs in Galway
Like anywhere else in Ireland, the cost of living varies according to lifestyle. Galway’s specialist shops are considerably more expensive than nationwide supermarkets. If you’re watching your budget, Aldi and Lidl are German discount supermarkets where prices on many items are lower than other main supermarkets: Tesco, Supervalu and Dunnes.
Aldi usually have a promotion on fruit and vegetables: Six selected items (a kilo of potatoes, a kilo of carrots, a melon, a net of 4 grapefruits, etc.) for €0.39 ($0.54) apiece, and bottles of French table wine for €3.99 ($5.55). That said, Tesco have half price or “two for one” offers on many items too.
Aldi and Tesco charge similar for basic items:
10 large eggs: €1.99 ($2.76)
Pack of back bacon rashers: €1.99 ($2.76)
Soft batch loaf of bread: €0.99 ($1.39)
2 liters of milk: €1.69 ($2.35)
300gms of Maxwell House coffee: €6.00 ($8.34)
1 kilo of sugar: €1.19 ($1.65)
450gm pack of butter: €2.19 ($3.04)
Your Monthly Budget in Ireland
The following costs for two people are assessed on my monthly outgoings:
Groceries and sundries: €400 ($556)
Utilities (electricity, bottled gas, peat briquettes): €300 ($417)
Garbage collection: €30 ($41.70)
Phone (Landline): €22.50 ($31.27)
Cellphone: €27.00 ($37.53)
Internet (Broadband): €30.00 ($41.70)
Basic TV satellite package: €27.00 ($37.53)
A car isn’t necessary in Galway City, but public transport in many rural parts of the county is sparse at best. When insurance, road tax and running costs are taken into account, the average cost of keeping a car on the road annually is around €2,500 ($3,475). Petrol (gas) prices currently average €1.52 ($2.11) per liter.