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 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.


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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Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?