The Galway Girl is one of the most popular and successful songs to emerge in Ireland in recent years and is based on a true incident involving a brief romantic encounter.
Despite its title it is not an Irish song. It was written by the American songwriter Steve Earle while he was living in Ireland and working with traditional musicians.Earle recorded the song with Irish performers including Sharon Shannon, who said: “Steve wanted to record it with some of the musicians he’d been hanging around with in Galway to make it more authentic.”
The song appeared on Earle’s album, Transcendental Blues, which was released in 2000.
However, the most successful version was the one recorded by Irish singer Mundy, again with Sharon Shannon and a group of Irish backing musicians.
The Mundy recording spent five weeks at number one in Ireland in 2008 and became the country’s biggest selling download of that year.
The song has a simple storyline in which the singer meets a girl while walking in Galway. They have a brief liaison but she leaves him “with a broken heart and a ticket home”.
Earle has never spoken publicly about the origins of the song but according to Mundy and Shannon, it is based on a real incident.
Shannon told the Will Leahy Show on the Irish radio station RTE2fm that Earle met the girl in question while he was working with Irish musicians. She said: “Steve wrote the song in Galway. He used to spend a lot of time there, just hanging out and writing songs and going to trad sessions. He made great friends with all the musicians there.
“We know who the girl is. I think Steve would like to have had a romantic liaison with her. She’s a great friend of ours but she doesn’t trade on it. She doesn’t want people to know.”
Mundy, who took part in the same radio interview, said Earle and the ‘Galway girl’ still know each other and have met a few times since through work, but not in any romantic way, although some tensions may remain. “I was in the company of the two of them once and I was uncomfortable.”
The identity of the girl has not been revealed.
The Galway Girl remains one of the most popular songs in Ireland and is now regarded as something of an Irish standard. It receives constant airplays and the Mundy version was used as a signature tune for the Will Leahy radio show. It has also been used in the 2008 advertising campaign for Magners Irish cider.
It has also been recorded by the Irish group Celtic Thunder, and was also used in the film PS I Love You.
The song references local places in Galway. Salthill is the city’s seaside area and is popular with tourists. The Salthill Prom, known locally as the Long Walk, is a 2km seafront promenade overlooking Galway Bay. It is here that the singer meets and begins his brief liaison with the Galway Girl.