... a line of golden light lit up along the length of the cloud’s upper edge, a shimmering rim of brilliance running across the entire opening of Galway Bay.
I had a bit of a moment the other day. With an hour to kill before a meeting in town I drove to Salthill, walked across the car park to the Prom and stood on a rock on the sea wall.
The early evening air was cool and clear. There was not a breath of wind. Under the fading light of a clear blue sky the water in the bay lay perfectly still, a silvery sheen pockmarked by bobbing bunches of seaweed.
Climbing down the rocks I walked along the beach, until I was beyond Palmer’s Rock. The sun was sinking behind a massive wall of dark cloud, towering high into the west, rising from the horizon until it occupied a third of the sky.
As the sun disappeared behind this great grey barrier, a line of golden light lit up along the length of the cloud’s upper edge, a shimmering rim of brilliance running across the entire opening of Galway Bay.
In contrast to this dazzling line of light, the wall of cloud below turned black. Had you just arrived as a stranger in the place I stood, you might well believe that this water vapour was in fact stone; that Galway Bay was a lake, edged by mountains high and mighty, from Black Head to Bearna.
Even though I know a cloud when I see one, something primal deep inside me double checked to make sure that this black monolith was not a tidal wave, rushing to consume us all.
No. Nothing as dramatic as that. So calm, in fact, that the ocean’s edge became indistinguishable from the beach. As the tide edged out it left a glistening shine on the sand, while dusk’s light bounced off the motionless ocean, appearing as a blend of mercury and mirrors.
Despite the roar of traffic in the background and the hordes walking along the Prom, I still managed to find my own space and peace down there.
Staring at a tiny lump of sand, watching as the water lapped over it and receded, waiting, watching, waiting, watching, wondering when will come that moment when the tide might turn.
That’s what I do. I watch the tide and drift into peace. Neither Mindfulness nor Meditation, and yet equally both, I have no desire to put a label on it.
It’s what I do; what I did that evening and have done everywhere I’ve lived in the West of Ireland. I stared for hours at the sunken rocks of Bunowen Bay and the dunes of Doonloughan when I lived in west Connemara. For many years in north Mayo I watched the tide turn along Ross beach, and lost myself many a time in the utter splendour and endless beauty of Kilcummin back strand.
Yet all these natural wonders and altered mental states were only the precursor to my moment. Quite possibly my mind worked then as it has done today, taking my long-overdue return to tide staring as a trigger to my past.
Whatever caused it, I encountered a tsunami that evening. Adrift within the calmest moment the Atlantic seaboard could ever offer, I suddenly felt lost at sea, washed overboard by a freak wave of emotion.
Replacing my physical vision with a reel of memories, my mind ran a major film event in front of my eyes, showing me reruns of many of the varied events in the last 23 years of my life that have played out on Salthill Prom.
The night in August 1992, when I sat there on the rocks with my new-found friend, as we decided to stay, to try and find a home and make a life here in Galway.
Seven years later, having failed in and fled from America, the day I once again stumbled along the Prom, searching for stability, soaking up familiarity.
The night in 1993 when I fell out of Vagabonds and sat on the sea wall with my beautiful date, stole a kiss, sipped whiskey from a naggin, felt thrilled at the opportunities the night ahead offered, and then dropped my house keys into the dark void between the rocks.
The day I walked to Gentian Hill believing I would never again take a step without back pain, and the day when I realised it was gone.
The out-loud talks I’ve had with myself, like the crazy guy you don’t want to sit next to on the bus. Open dialogues that escape my mind, transforming into voice, in your space and face, as I walk alone along the Prom.
A few days after my decision to stay in Galway, the weather changed and my jaw dropped. Fog and low cloud had been obscuring the Burren, so great was my joy to see for the first time the sensual purple hills of County Clare.
Thousands of walks along the Prom, which was for as long as I lived in Salthill my lifeline, my mental health, my physical saviour.
The Prom lifted my spirits, cleared my head of the detritus of everyday life. Along its length I spilled my emotional angst, vitriol and bile, so that by time I returned home my mind was free, my spirit cleansed, my body alive and tingling.
Meteorological marvels have sometimes allowed me to make out smoke rising from a chimney far across the bay in Ballyvaughan. A beam of sunlight will pick out a field of rich deep green above Bell Harbour, and when the light shimmers and glows in just right way, all three Aran islands can float into view, vibrating as melting mirages in the distance.
I was silly to be surprised by my moment. I had not been to the Prom for many months and was foolish to underestimate my love for it and Galway Bay.
My heart was almost washed away by the flood of memories. My soul lifted like a kite in the wind, tears swelled in my eyes.
Having paid my respects to the Prom and my past I gave thanks, turned around and walked on.