FOR LOVERS OF OYSTERS AND FUN

Some festivals are really just glorified flea markets, but the people in Ireland's jolly city of Galway know how to put the fest in festival. A case in point is the annual Galway International Oyster ...

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Some festivals are really just glorified flea markets, but the people in Ireland's jolly city of Galway know how to put the fest in festival.

A case in point is the annual Galway International Oyster Festival, the 55nd installment of which will be held in September. The City of the Tribes already has a reputation as a great place to party, with its history as a trading port for Mediterranean wines, and its current experience as a university town with students from all over the world. Galway s famous pubs, such as the King s Head, the Quays and the Skeff, have turned the term pub crawl into an art form, and the well known song about watching the sun go down on Galway Bay, was probably written in anticipation of a night of mirth and music in one of these emporiums.

The Galway International Oyster Festival has taken its cue from this jovial atmosphere. Its annual program features a series of events that are enjoyable on many levels, even if you re not particularly a fan of oysters.

The initial event at the last outing was the Irish Oyster Opening Championship, held on a Thursday evening at the Quays, a rollicking emporium that reinforces the reasons why the world loves Irish pubs. Sponsored by Guinness, the free-admission event featured local chefs vying for a place in the international contest held later in the festival. The entrants competed in speed and dexterity, cheered on by a crowd that was enjoying the fruits of their labor, washed down with pints of that famous Irish brew, Guinness stout. For some reason the Guinness always tastes better in Ireland, especially when enjoying the fun and frivolity of a classic Irish pub like the Quays.

The next night, having recovered from the previous evening s cheering and celebrating, the attendees enjoyed a Mardi Gras Ball in a huge tent alongside the bay. A reception of champagne, Guinness, and oysters was followed by a delicious dinner of Irish salmon, another of Galway s fruits of the sea, along with superior wines and liqueurs. The feast was followed by dancing into the wee hours. This year the event has been scheduled at the Radisson Hotel.

The following afternoon is the Festival Parade, featuring Irish bands, colleens participating in the Oyster Pearl pageant, and chefs from 18 countries competing in the oyster opening contest, all the led by Galway's Mayor as it winds its way through town. Following a lunch of oysters, clam chowder and salmon, the attendees cheer on their favorites in the Guinness World Oyster Opening Championship.

The crowning experience is the Gala Ball, to be held this year at the Meyrick Hotel, where 1,000 tuxedo and gown-clad revelers from all over the globe are sure to "lose it, standing on their chairs and waving their napkins to the strains of Tiger Rag. Oh, they'll enjoy a gourmet meal and dancing, but the napkin waving is definitely a unique highlight.

This year s Galway International Oyster Festival will be September 24 to 27, and it s guaranteed to draw oyster and fun lovers from as far away as Japan, China, Australia, and South Africa. In the last installment we ran into TV newsman Dave Price reporting on the event for CBS, and the first lady of Chicago, Maggie Daley.

Festival attendees can fly to Ireland via Aer Lingus, and rent autos at Murray s Car Hire in Shannon Airport. An excellent place to stay right on the water is the Galway Bay Hotel, www.galwaybayhotel.com. For information, log onto www.galwayoysterfest.com, or contact Tourism Ireland, (800) 223-6470 or
www.discoverireland.com.