About This Festival
"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."
-Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There
Founded in 1954, the Galway International Oyster and Seafood Festival celebrates the lowly but inspired mollusc, Ostrea edulis, aka European flat oyster, or a belon, in menu-speak. Pubs along the city’s Oyster Trail sell oysters by the thousands during the three-day culinary festival. Of course, an oyster’s decidedly salty nature only encourages the eater’s thirst - unsurprisingly a remedy roundly suggested by participating pubs is a pint of Guinness.
More Than Just Mollusks
The festival isn’t just about slurping back briny bivalvia and indulging in too many pints (although it does happen). The opening night event, typically held on the last Friday of September, kicks off the weekend’s festivities. Each year, the newly crowned Oyster Pearl (the festival queen) presents Galway’s mayor with the very first oyster of the season. Once it’s been consumed, the party begins.
During the party, participants compete in the National Oyster Opening Championship, hoping to represent Ireland in the International Oyster Opening Championship the following day. Oyster shucking is a skill that takes lots of repeated effort, and the occasional nick or slice, to master. Speed, precision, and safety (i.e., thick gloves) all come in to play to earn the title of Shucking Champion.
In addition to the oyster shucking and the opening shindig, the weekend is filled with culinary demonstrations, talks, classes, celebrity chef cook-offs, and, most importantly, tastings. The temperatures of Galway Bay are moderated by the presence of the mighty Gulf Stream, which brings warmer waters up to Galway’s coast, making for a rich undersea environment, lending the city the title of seafood capital of Ireland. In addition to oysters, be on the look-out for pan-fried sea bass, paellas (yes, we know this isn’t Spain), and sushi (or Japan) straight from the North Atlantic.
But, it's not just about eating oysters and seafood in all its varieties. Special "Fringe" events take place across the host city that give you a richer sense of place. Some, naturally, involve food. You can tour smokehouses in either Connemara or the Burren (an exceptionally otherworldly landscape) to learn about a centuries-old process, or you step away from the plate and dive deeper into history and culture with talks on Celtic tribes and castles at the Galway Museum. An even better opportunity for exploring is a guided hike along Galway's coasts and beaches, with the added benefit of being able to pitch in cleaning up the shore.
While the majority of the events are more populist in nature—there is a family-friendly parade, after all—you can also pay extra to attend the Mardi Gras masquerade and other more exclusive fringe events.