Five reasons why Galicia is Spain's version of Ireland

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected] • 17 Mar, 2023 Updated Fri 17 Mar 2023 11:42 CEST
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Galicia. Photo: Ignacio Ruiz / Pixabay

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17th, The Local has been delving into Spain's northern region of Galicia to find out what it has in common with Ireland. The Emerald Isle and Galicia have lots of surprising similarities and connections, from music and landscapes to gastronomy and even DNA - here are just a few.


The greenery

Ireland is of course referred to as the Emerald Isle because of its lush green landscapes, but did you know that Galicia and the other northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria are known as Green Spain? These regions are very different from the dry almost desert-like landscapes in parts of Andalusia. This is partly to do with how much it rains. In Galicia, rainfall exceeds 1,000 millimetres per year, while along the west coast, it’s close to 2,000 mm per year. The amount of rainfall in Ireland is similar with 750 to 1,000mm over most of the country and up to 1400mm on the west coast.


Galicia is known as Green Spain. Photo: Christopher Winkler / Pixabay

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The Celtic connection

It is often said that Galicia is the seventh Celtic nation, besides Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, Wales and Brittany. It is thought by some historians that Galicia was founded by a Celtic tribe called the Gallaeci who settled in the area. This is evident from the number of pallozas or ancient round stone houses found in Galicia, which date back 2,500 years and are thought to be of Celtic origin. Add this to the existence of pagan festivals and ancient stone circles in both places, and you'll see that there is definite evidence for these theories. 


Although the language in Galicia is very different from Celtic languages and closely resembles a mix of Spanish and Portuguese, it does still contain dozens of words with Celtic roots. The words Gallic and Gallego even sound similar.

The Celts and Galicians have a lot of similarities. Photo: Calanard / Pixabay

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Genetic links

In 2006 a genetic study at the University of Oxford revealed that in fact the Irish were distant descendants of fishermen from northern Spain. According to Professor Bryan Sykes, the Celts have a genetic footprint almost identical to that of ancient inhabitants of the coastal regions of Spain, who would have migrated north between 4,000 and 5,000 BC.


More research in 2018 by Trinity College Dublin and the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology at Queen's University Belfast also backed up the theory that the Irish were descended from populations in Northern Spain.


There is evidence to suggest that the Irish are descendent from people from Northern Spain. Photo: Pete Linforth / Pixabay

The music

There is no denying that when it comes to music there is a definite similarity between Galicia and Ireland. In Ireland, they play a type of bagpipe called the Uilleann pipe, which has a softer, more melodic tone than those from Scotland. The Galicians too have their own type of bagpipes called the Galician gaita. Bagpipes have been played in Galicia and neighbouring regions of northern Portugal, Asturias and Cantabria since the Middle Ages. You can still hear them being played today on the streets of cities like Santiago de Compostela and at local cultural festivals.

The Galician gaita bagpipes. Photo: Dario Alvarez / Flickr

The cider

Ireland is of course known for its cider – famous throughout the world for its celebrated cider brands. But did you know that some regions in Spain are also known for their excellent cider or sidra as it is known here? Galicia produces more than 80,000 tons of cider apples per year, making it the largest producer of cider apples in Spain.

Although Galicia does produce a lot of its own cider, the majority of this alcoholic apple drink is produced in nearby Asturias and the Basque Country. Unlike the Irish cider however, the northern Spanish cider is cloudy, not as sweet and is often not sparkling either. You can even enjoy a glass of cider with a traditional dish of lacon con grelos, which is very similar to the Irish dish of bacon and cabbage. Both dishes are often served with a side of potatoes too.

Cider is popular in Northern Spain like it is in Ireland. Photo: Jose a. del Moral/Flickr



Esme Fox 2023/03/17 11:42

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