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CULTURE

Five reasons why Galicia is Spain’s version of Ireland

Spain's northern region of Galicia and the country of Ireland have lots of surprising similarities and connections, from music and landscapes to gastronomy and even DNA - here are just a few.

Galicia Cies Islands
The Cies Islands share some of the dramatic clifftop scenery seen across Ireland, but how much do Galicia in Spain and Ireland have in common? Photo: Ignacio Ruiz / Pixabay

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

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

READ ALSO: 12 pictures that show the true beauty of northern Spain’s beaches

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

READ ALSO: This Spanish city has been voted the best place to live by its inhabitants

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.

New 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.

DNA

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
 
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LIFE IN SPAIN

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand Tails.com.

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham

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