All aboard the Orient Express — in Galway!

After battling through the floods with family in tow, Glenlo Abbey was a sight for sore eyes for Esther N McCarthy

All aboard the Orient Express — in Galway!

My past visits to Galway have largely revolved around the nightlife — that’s a city that knows how to throw a party. Hen weekends, the Oyster and Arts festivals and the racing, of course.

But there is much more going on in that ancient city on the Corrib, so I was excited to find out what a family weekend would offer, besides blessed sobriety, obviously.

The floods made us hours late, making our way west from Cork. “You know, Noah had three sons, too,” husband commented. An ark would have been handy on that Friday afternoon, with our 6, 4 and 9-month-old boys getting bored on waterlogged roads.

We were a ragtag bunch that ended up at Glenlo Abbey resort, a sight for weary eyes, all decked out in festive finery, fairy lights twinkling, a welcoming log fire in reception. Our executive suite had a four-poster bed and an interconnecting room with a sofa that magically transformed into a double bed, plus a cot for the little one. There was a balcony dining room too. Seriously spacious digs and little touches added to the luxury — from the Orla Kiely shampoo to the duck down duvets.

The most important conversation of my offsprings short little lives occurred in that room. I hunkered down to eye level. “You are not, under any circumstances, to go near the mini bar. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?” The KitKats were €5. We’re in 5-star land now, lads.

We had pre-booked dinner at the Pullman restaurant without knowing anything about it. What a wow factor when we were led outside the hotel (the little fellas in their onesies) to... a train. An actual train.

Our minds were blown before we set foot in the place. We got to dine in our own personal carriage — a restored original from the Orient Express. Brilliant for the kids — and for other diners because we couldn’t bother anyone — it was the most unique place we’ve had dinner as a family.

Bart was our waiter and he was so patient and knowledgable about everything from the menu to the history of the restaurant. The food was sensational, all products traced 100% from farm to fork, using local suppliers, with herbs grown in the hotel gardens. We all cleared our plates and as the lads were fading fast, we took Bart’s suggestion to have desserts in our room.

After a great night’s sleep, despite us all ending up sharing the fancy four-poster, we hit Salthill for some activity the rain couldn’t spoil. First stop, Galway on Ice. My highlight was realising the orange skates and seal skate aids matched my hat and coat! It made my day and it was only 11am. Don’t judge me, I get my kicks where I can these days. Great craic, no bones broken, that’s a win. (Family ticket, €30.)

From there we hit the Atlantaquaria. The kids adored it, we saw Dory and Nemo, played some educational video games and oohed at the life-sized whale skeleton. A great activity for a rainy or a sunny day. (Family ticket, €33.)

We had planned walking the prom to the diving boards at Black Rock but not even Teresa Mannion would’ve have braved it that day, so it was time for a treat.

Not having daughters is not a regret of mine — probably because the boys, in their innocence, still want to hang out with me. Afternoon tea in An Cupán Tae might sound slightly girlie, but the sons loved it. It’s an experience that should not be missed in Galway city. Glorious antique bone china, pretty napkins, electric atmosphere and super-friendly staff. They accommodated the wet pram, helped set us up, made us feel like we were at an auntie’s house for tea. A auntie with sublime taste in teacups.

Even though they sell 27 types of teas, we ordered hot chocolate. Alison, our waitress, bless her tiny waist and sweet soul, brought extra marshmallows, such a lovely touch. We devoured the Afternoon Tea, (€15 per person including drinks), tier, by glorious tier. Handmade scones and jam with whipped cream, fingers sandwiches and teeny tiny cakes, not a crumb left. Baby slept through which only means I’ll have to bring him back when he’s a bit older. This is my vow to you, my son. You’re welcome.

Fresh fish is in abundance in Galway and it doesn’t get fresher than ‘Hooked’ on Henry Street. The kiddies gobbled every morsel of monkfish goujons, so brainfood sorted.

The maritime theme went down well with our pirate lovers, lots of toys in a treasure box to play with and simple, delicious food, made it a very relaxed meal. Highly recommended.

Sunday the weather was better so we wandered around the city — Galway’s relaxed vibe, the market buzz, and friendly locals all makes exploring with kids easy. We visited ‘Iceville’ and spent a fun hour listening to stories from Mrs Claus, throwing snowballs at Rudolf and riding a retro carousel. Santa was receiving but we decided we’d wait until we were in Cork to visit him, in case he got confused.

We headed down to the House Hotel, in the Latin Quarter, very chic, very cool — and thankfully very kid-friendly. We had a lovely late lunch — great children’s menus available — and because it just felt goddamn wrong to leave Galway without any alcohol, I had one Duchess cocktail. Thank you, Connacht capital, we’ll be back.

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