Walking with me through Galway city's Eyre Square, my guide Liam SiIke made a beeline for the John F Kennedy memorial. The stone plinth with a bronze bas-relief of the US president marks the spot from which he addressed a star-struck crowd in June 1963.
"I was there!" cried Liam (he is also the town crier). "It was the moment when people of Irish descent all over the world saw that coming home to visit was an option. TV was a new thing and watching the most famous Irish-American return to his roots had a big effect on the diaspora."
Since then the harbour town on Ireland's far western edge, where the rushing River Corrib sweeps into Galway Bay, has swelled to a city closing in on 100,000 people. Many incomers are of Irish heritage, but they have also been joined by large numbers of Spanish and other Europeans, a sizeable Brazilian community, and students from India and Malaysia. The new Galwegians add spice to this welcoming and walkable city brimming with brightly painted shops varying from traditional to cool and kitsch. Great hospitality plays first fiddle in old-fashioned cafes, pubs and wonderful seafood restaurants, cheek by jowl with curry houses and the odd tapas bar. After dark, jig music wafts from countless cosy watering holes.
This diversity was key in the successful bid to be European Capital of Culture 2020 (along with Rijeka in Croatia), which runs until the end of January 2021. Landscape, language and migration are the themes under a slogan of 'Let the magic in'. This applies to the region as well as the city with about half of the proposed events - musical, artistic and theatrical - due to happen in rural County Galway (check Galway 2020 for latest info).
Traditional Irish culture remains strong throughout the region. Galway's Gaeltacht – the area where Irish Gaelic is the main language – is the largest and most populated of its kind in Ireland.