Friday 27 July 2007

Race Week is pure Galway, and Galway is the essence of Ireland!

Galway Races 2007!

Dublin, like many capital cities, fails to mirror the quintessential personality and culture of the nation it sits astride.
Having lived on three continents, I have seen for myself how there are many great cites which are not capitals, that somehow manage to sum up the essence of their country.
There are some cities that define countries. New York City is the heartbeat of the United States. Paris is La Belle France, and London is yer full English Monty.
Then there are yer second favourites runners, much-loved places of art and inspiration like San Francisco, Liverpool, Melbourne and... Galway?
I think not.
Galway City is only Dublin's poor relation in economic and demographic terms.
To this Englishman, Galway City is pure Ireland, and Race Week is the triple-distilled spirit of Galway City.
So Race Week is Galway, and Galway is essentially Ireland: ergo, Ireland is Race Week.
Around the world, magical festivals rip asunder all that claims to be normal, offering a brief and unique insight into the heart, guts and ailing grey matter of their host city.
Nassau has the explosion of colour and style that is Junkanoo; New Orleans simply could not exist without Mardi Gras; Pamplona hosts all that is Basque with San Fermin and the Running of the Bulls.
What does Dublin have? Please remind me.
The other day I was watching the weather forecast on RTE1.
Lo and behold, there's a massive band of rain occupying half of the country, obliterating everything west of the Shannon.
Gerry Murphy, a nice clean young man who has finally managed to overcome his nerves, but still cannot control his
'... We CAN expect We CAN expect We CAN expect',
explains how later in the day, as this band of rain moves east, we CAN expect widespread rain everywhere.
Everywhere? But like, er, derrr... the map on the tele shows half the country bathed in sunshine.
The rain is all over Dublin, therefore it is everywhere.
The psyche of this nation might be geared to Dublin.
But is Dublin the essential Ireland?
Maybe it once was, back in the dark days when it doubled up as the Irish capital whilst also carrying the dubious cachet of 'Second City of Empire' (for less ancient readers, that's the British Empire I'm on about; not the one that struck back in the second movie).
But right now, here, today, Galway City represents all the good and bad that is 21st century Ireland.
Galway has a rapidly growing population and shrinking green areas; a city centre with pubs you can stumble between, shops that still sport family names surviving alongside the multinational franchises; more buskers than silk shirts in a Haughey closet, and even more hyper-rich home-grown characters.
Galway has growing industrial estates and growing unemployment; rising inflation and thousands living below the poverty line; a Gaeltacht as well as a population that includes 10% born elsewhere (that's me folks!).
We've got 19,000 students, 786 different types of weather, 43 tons of vom on the streets; swans, herons, gannets, and wild salmon that leap out of our city centre river.
And we have water you cannot drink.
But the horses can. The gee-gees are lapping up their lovely clean cryptro-free water in the drinking troughs of Ballybrit.
Can you get more Irish than that?
And, yes, we have Race Week. And just to rub your Pale-faced nose in it, we slip the biggest social and sporting week in the country's calendar right onto the end of the nation's biggest Arts Festival.
Galway is the quintessential Irish city, and if the Film Fleadh and the Arts Festival are the sparks that fire up this city's engine each year, Race Week generates such a blazing inferno that it keeps us hot to trot all the way to next year.
Race Week is mad, bad, wonderful and horrendous.
Oh yeh, and it sends you mad. Stark staring cuckoo.
Whoever you are, and whatever you're doing, if you are around Galway City during Race Week, it will infect you, as sure as a gee-gee has a leg at each corner.
Kitchen porters clang and rush, while chefs, barmen and barwomen sweat buckets; hoteliers hop; gamblers and cards sharks are a-pumping; prossies a-jumping; and priests must go insomniac with the overtime work; our streets overflow with eaters and drinkers and dresses and hats, plastic pint glasses and a billion fag butts.
Up above choppers fly everywhere, buzzing-bizzing chugga-chigging in the air like it's all a bad dream of a Vietnam War flashback.
Or is it a film set?
Spot the difference: Galway during Race Week and the set of Apocalypse Now.
Wow. Might just take a moment.
Horror. The Horror.
The Mystery. The marvellous madness.
Race Week - it just doesn't get more Galway than this, and Ireland just doesn't get more Irish than this.
Take a tip from an old hand at Race Week. When Galway goes into fifth gear, you can hold on to neither your money nor your clothes.
But you can at least, goddamit man, at least try to hang on to your mind.
So grab a fact and stick with it, and it might just keep you sane.
To help you along the way, here's the First Annual Race Week Survival Kit.
Kind of a wee 'cut-out-and-keep' collection, courtesy of Double Vision.
All you have to do is choose at least one of the facts listed below, and force yourself to remember it, or them.
I promise you, with my hand on my heart and my cute hazel eyes staring at you as if I really care, that at some point in the coming week, you will feel like you are losing it altogether:
Whether you're watching your nag run backwards at Ballybrit, or you're stuck in a five mile traffic jam; waiting forever at the checkout in a supermarket or at a restaurant table; whether you're sitting in Accident and Emergency, or, especially, if you're working in Accident and Emergency, hanging onto and focusing on one of these free and fascinating facts might save your sanity.
Pick one and you'll be safe as houses, guv'nor. Look at me. Am I honest or am I honest? Would this face lie to you? Oh, come on, I deserve better than that!
Now here come the facts.
Did you know that -

1 comment:

Charlie Adley said...

Chopper! Choppers! !ncoming! It's Race Week and I haven't run away. What's going on? And there's a big yellow thing up in the sky that makes you feel hot. Suggestions?