Ed Sheeran sings on this folk-pop song about falling for an Irish girl. The track is the result of him inviting the Northern Irish trad-folk band Beoga to his home recording studio for a week. Sheeran explained to The Irish Times:
"It was based on the fiddle player in Beoga, Niamh [Dunne]. She's married to an Irishman, a friend of mine. I had the band in my house for an extra day so I was like, 'what can I write about? She plays the fiddle in an Irish band... right, cool, let's write a song about that.' She inspired the first line but the rest of the song isn't about anyone, I just made up a story."
Dunne is from Limerick, not Galway, but try getting that in a song.
Galway is a city on the west coast of Ireland where Sheeran's cousin and uncle both live. "It's a really beautiful place," he told Spotify. "It's like cobbled streets, it's quintessential Ireland."
"I actually tried to find another lyric. I did Wexford Girl and Clonakity Girl and Cork Girl... none of them worked. But the whole point of folk songs is taking inspiration from the past and making something new - so people will just have to deal with it."
The song showcases Ed Sheeran's taste in music. His favorite album is Van Morrison's Irish Heartbeat, made with traditional Irish band The Chieftains and he doggedly fought his record company to include this folky track on Divide. Sheeran told The Guardian:
"They were really, really against 'Galway Girl,' because apparently folk music isn't cool. But there's 400 million people in the world that say they're Irish, even if they're not Irish. You meet them in America all the time: 'I'm a quarter Irish and I'm from Donegal.' And those type of people are going to f--king love it.
My argument was always: well, the Corrs sold 20 million records. The label would say, 'Oh the Corrs, that was years ago,' but who's tried it since the Corrs? There's a huge gap in the market, and I promise you that in two years' time there will be a big folk band that comes up that's pop, and that will happen as a result of labels being like: 'Oh s--t, if he can put a fiddle and uilleann pipe on it, then we can try it as well.'"
The collaboration came about as a result of a mutual friend of Sheeran and Beoga - Foy Vance. Niamh Dunne explained: "They were on tour together and they played some of Beoga's tracks in the van together and Ed liked it, so when he was making his new album he emailed us and asked if we would be up for doing some recording."
The song's music video finds Ed Sheeran spending a night out in Galway with Saoirse Ronan, who earned an Oscar nomination for her role in the 2015 movie Brooklyn. She's not really a Galway girl, but did grow up in Dublin.
The clip was shot from his perspective, meaning the viewer spends three minutes and nineteen seconds in Ed's shoes. We see him with Ronan, drinking Guinness, dancing, playing darts and frolicking through the town's streets at night. Ed ends up getting punched in the face… Yep, that's the second time we've seen him receiving some facial damage.
Irish presenters Tommy Tiernan and Hector Ó hEochagáin also make a brief cameo, drinking Guinness at a table in the men's toilets.
Ed Sheeran had the name of the song inked on his arm, only realizing afterwards that the tattoo had a typo in it. Speaking at a show in Glasgow, Sheeran explained that the misspelling was the result of a prank by Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, with whom he'd shot the track's music video.
"When we were filming it, I meant to get a tattoo of her handwriting saying 'Galway Girl,'" he said. "It actually says Galway Grill. Like, full on, she really took the piss out of me with this one. It actually says Galway Grill. G-r-i-l-l."
"I'm actually kind of proud of her," Sheeran went on. "It's the kind of thing that I would do."
Speaking to Capital North East, Sheeran admitted that the above story was not completely true: "It's not actually what I said it was," he said. "It was planned for the ['Galway Girl'] video, she didn't play the prank on me... She was meant to write 'Galway Girl,' and then I was like, 'It's gonna be funny if you write something different.' She came up with 'Galway Grill' and then we had it done. I think it's just funnier to say that she f---ed the tattoo up, but that isn't actually the story."
According to Sheeran, this is a love-it-or-hate-it song, and many hate it. "I've never put out a song before that's polarized people so much," he told Entertainment Weekly. "People really, really hate it! It, like, offends them that the song exists. But I do think, in 5 or 10 years, those same people will be dancing to it on St. Patrick's Day, drunk at the bar."
When Ed Sheeran recorded this cut his musical partner Benny Blanco said it was his worst-ever song. Most of the people at Asylum Records didn't like it either, but it's turned out to be one of Sheeran's biggest crowd pleasers, especially in Ireland where it went to #1.
"People do f--king hate that song so they would say I'm wrong but the general consensus is yes, it works," Sheeran told Q magazine. "That song's proper Marmite, which is quite good. I want people to have an opinion even if their opinion hurts me. I get called beige a lot but I can't be beige if it's splitting this much f--king opinion."