Talking to local strangers is one of the best parts of traveling alone. There’s no better way to get a first hand taste of the local culture and spirit and really connect to it. And the Irish are hands down the most friendly people in the universe and the easiest strangers to talk to (one of the reasons Ireland is perfect for your first trip abroad). They are also quick to tell you the colorful local legends if you don’t already know them, making them the best, most enthusiastic ad-hoc tour guides I’ve ever encountered.

My first encounter with a local

The very first time I went to Europe, I started in Galway, Ireland. I hopped off the bus, found an internet cafe and emailed my family to let them know I had arrived, whole and healthy and hungry. I stood to pay, and cheerily said good morning to the man behind the counter.

“Good morning, yourself,” he said. I paid, and asked him where I could find the best Irish breakfast in town.

The man looked at me brightly and smiled. “Are you American?” he asked me. I confessed that I was. “Traveling alone? You seem awful young.” I got that a lot. He then told me there was an excellent restaurant not too far away that served a full traditional Irish breakfast for not too much. He even drew me a map, and when he realized I didn’t know anything about Galway and had just kind of landed here, he even drew on the map where else I should go in the city, sites to see and stuff like that. “Here it is, just around the corner from Lynch’s Castle. It’s a bank now, but you can see there’s a little placque on the side saying what it is.” When I asked him what Lynch’s Castle was, rather than being taken aback, he hunkered down on the table and started to weave me a tale, right there in the internet cafe.

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Once upon a dark Irish legend…

Centuries ago, there was a judge named Lynch, who had a son that everyone liked. He was a very charming fellow, see, and he had a love story. “They’re always love stories, aren’t they?” the man said with a laugh. He was in love with a girl in town, and at the pub, had a few too many pints, and got in a fight with another fellow over her. And he ended up killing him. Now, the penalty for murder was a hanging, but this was the Judge’s only son, and he loved him. So he put his son in the jail, to figure out what to do the next day. That’s what Lynch’s Castle is, see, is the jail. Everyone knew that the penalty would be hanging but thought for sure the Judge wouldn’t do it. The boy was so well-liked that no one wanted him to be punished. They mobbed the jail to break him out. But the Judge had thought they would do that and so had moved his son to his house in the middle of the night. And he hung him there, in the dead of night, in the window of his own house. The people were sad at the boy’s death, but rather than lashing out at the Judge, they commended him for his dedication to justice.

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We joked about the dark Irish stories, I thanked him, took my hand-drawn map, and found me my first European meal. And let me tell you, it was delicious, blood pudding and bloody story and all. It’s amazing what stories you get on the road with a simple good morning and asking a local where to find breakfast.

irish-blood-pudding

Have you ever had a local tell you the legends of the area for you? Drop a line in the comments! Let’s see how many stories we can conjure.