McCambridge’s, Galway: An Emporium of Aroma

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McCambridge’s in Galway has to be one of my favourite shops. I don’t go in half as much as I should. If I want something special, I go there: last week my sister and I bought a wonderful lunch of grilled artichokes, olives, artisanal Irish cheese, organic smoked salmon and sourdough bread there. The minute you walk into the shop, the aroma cloaks you in comfort. It’s the smell of freshly roasted coffee beans, dried sausage, cheese…well actually I don’t know what the smell is but it’s great.

It’s been a fixture on High St in Galway for about a hundred years and is still owned by the same family. It’s great to see it doing so well – I remember back in my college days I would get these amazing sandwiches in McCambridge’s (beetroot and Emmental on ciabatta, mmmm). Me and my classmates would eat them by the rushing water of the River Corrib, and now I buy Easter eggs for my children there.

I felt like knocking out a sketch on Galway’s High Street today, but the intermittent rain put paid to that (plus I had forgotten my little stool so my sketching spot was going to be defined by whatever bench was nearby). Then I saw McCambridge’s and thought I’d draw from within. I settled down with my coffee and off I went.

I love this sketching business. The coffee bar where I was sitting was jam-packed with people getting lunch, and I overheard snippets of all kinds of conversation, from the diners to my left and right, to the lovely French girls behind the bar. The only problem was my new Schminke watercolour set: I was trying out my new full-pan big set, and it was much too big for the tiny space I had. Eventually I knocked everything over, and my jar of mucky paint water went everywhere.

I saw something quite touching as I sketched: I heard an exclamation, and the lad with the beard was giving a great big hug to another chap. I thought it was a girl at first, because the hug was so affectionate. Then I overheard the bearded lad telling one of the French girls behind the bar that so-and-so was back from his travels, and I realised that the guy he had bear-hugged was a colleague in the shop. It was so sweet to see such camaraderie amongst the staff.

I bought some amazing pesto, a couple of artichokes and some stuffed vine leaves, and after all my sketching I was very hungry. I walked out into the pouring rain and because everyone had fled to the shelter of the shop entrances, I figured no one would notice if I wolfed the vine leaves right there on the street. But it was really pouring and I remembered that there was a dress I wanted to try on: the very nice shop assistant was not going to be happy to let a drowned rat put on one of her dresses. So I joined the tourists and Galwegians under the awnings, finding lots of room in front of a bookshop opposite Lynch’s Castle, where AIB Bank is now. A soldier was standing beside me – on duty during a money transfer – and he smiled indulgently as two little kids fondled his gun (I kid you not).

(The dress was much too small. I resembled a certain sister in Cinderella trying to get the zip up, which was very sad as it was black cotton, with a russet-toned cowgirl print all over it, beautifully cut.)

McCambridge’s has recently added a restaurant on the second floor. It’s really cool and the food is super. I had lunch there with my sister earlier this year and we both sketched. She drew the cake stand, then she gave me the sketch and I treasure it. This is the one I came up with:

I loved those two old boys having lunch – they must have been friends for years as they talked for ages. I’d like to go back, choose something from that table groaning with goodies, and do another one. Next time I’ll show it in all its finery….if that’s possible when it’s covered in cake crumbs.

Róisín Curé


Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend

My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-


Set of 24

Set of 24

or in the UK and EU :-

Jackson’s Art Supplies
Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Metal Set : 12 Half Pans

I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-


Escoda Versatil Brushes

Escoda Versatil Brushes

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Escoda : VERSATIL Kolinsky Synthetic : Series 1540 : # 8

There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-

The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-


Kuretake Brush Pen

Kuretake Brush Pen

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Kuretake : Bimoji Fude Pen : Black Medium BRUSH : Maroon pack XT5-10

The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-

I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-

I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-


Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

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