Just as I first did 25 years ago, I'm arriving in Galway City on the bus to Eyre Square. Now, where and what is drawing me in?
As then, so too now, it’s O’Connell’s great pub that first suffers my arse on a barstool. Friendly and full of characters, I could stay all night, but it’s barely evening and there’s much rambling to be done.
I’m too early into both Murty Rabbits and An Púcán, both empty, save for the bands who play away. Is there a lonelier sound than a banjo in an empty bar?
Barr an Chaladh in Woodquay is already buzzing with GAA buzz and bluster, but as I plonk myself down, backs both sides of me are turned to the stranger, so I head south, like a swallow in Winter, seeking warmer climes.
Crossing Eglington Street feels tonight like the border between strange and familiar. The lads told me to visit Tribeton, for the spectacle of the building, but truly, I can't be arsed.
This Tuesday in January proves an absolutely perfect night to be out in Galway City. Dry with a gentle mild breeze. Nary a festival in sight. Empty roads.
For a second I’m overcome with nostalgia and head towards an Tobar, but then I remember it’s closed. Open everywhere are a host of new eateries. Taquerias, chili cafes, sushi bars, kebab, falafel and coffee shops. A long way from the dearth of food that greeted me when I first came to Galway in 1992.
Then it was considered classy if a little tinned sweetcorn was served with your sangidge, and never mind the brine soaking into the meagre pan, making it soggy and yuk.
Strolling past Tig Coili’s I can hear my excellent friend Dalooney and the crew playing up a storm, but it’s onwards for me, past the Kings Head, which is now a live music whiskey bar bistro. Used to be that being a pub was enough, but evidently not any more.
Lovely - ahhhh!
That’s me flopped into a chair outside Tigh Neachtains, where my Jamie comes in at €5. Ouch indeed, but sitting here on a calm evening, watching Galway walk by feels comforting, like a gentle recurring dream.
A little later I go into the middle bar to say hello to an old friend I haven’t seen for ages. I ask after another old friend, and she points to an empty stool and tells me he was sitting right there, and now he’s outside smoking a fag.
Oops! Hadn’t even noticed him, so I dive outside to apologise.
Sadly he doesn't want to know and takes issue. The more I try to explain, the less he's having any of it. He feels very strongly that I am talking rubbish, so I leave feeling disproportionately and profoundly sad.
Unbeknownst to them, certain long-term challenges that do not make the pages of this newspaper have left me exhausted and emotionally fragile.
What I need is gentle support and encouragement, not unfair accusations.
Tonight I want to bump into friends, not fall out with them.
Persisting in my pursuit of happiness, I sit outside the Quays, where a man in a Galway jersey is describing his female friend as a Tan. I laugh and interrupt to say if she's a Tan then so am I. Despite my admission - or maybe because of it - he offers a strong smile and a slightly over-firm handshake.
We chat for a while, swapping stories of the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, and warmed by this craic with a stranger, I gradually start to feel I'm getting back into my night out swing.
Heading west, the roads are still void of traffic. Along the riverbank beside Jury’s, I stop and stare at the roaring Corrib, mighty and wild with fresh Connemara rain.
Down into Dominick Street, where both Aniar and Dela are closed.
Given an absence of diners, the lass in Creole is on her knees, taking photos of a cocktail that is doubtless about to hit several social media platforms.
Into Monroe’s, where I’m calmed by the welcoming odour of woodsmoke. It’s wonderful to see that some things never change, and in Monroe’s, Tuesday night is still set dancing night.
My thumbs tap the bar to the music as I watch local Galway alive, well and shtomping their feet to a fiddle and two boxes. Up around down and hoop up around again: magical.
Here there’s change from a fiver for a Jamie, and I leave with a smile on my face, kindling glowing anew in my soul.
Inevitably, inexorably my evening is headed for the Crane.
Hmm, the Blue Note?
No, I’m too old, but I might take a wee one in Massimo’s front bar. Holy Moly - Mo’s is closed too!
Running out of options I head into the Crane, where I find a barstool next to an old friend. To the accompaniment of the massed young musicians of Trad Soc, (truly, there’s a whole lot of fine music in a traffic-free Tuesday Galway City) I enjoy my friend’s wit, wisdom and wealth of experience.
Our conversation has put on my night the ideal cap, so saying farewell I walk along Sea Road, only to spot my two friends from earlier, walking towards me.
I offer them a goodnight and rather drunken slightly strange bowy swirly gesture with my coat.
They both walk past me in silence.
Having ended my night out consumed by sadness, the next morning
I walk the Salthill Prom to remind myself how good life is.
The universe does not disappoint.
Above a bay teeming with dark high tide water, a piercing gold sheen shatters the sky over Kinvara, with gentle silver tones dusting the roofs of Bellharbour.
Behind, the Burren sits somehow solid yet also amorphous; a grey pastel gift.