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.
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.
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 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.
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.