Thursday 16 October 2008

I loved my first year in Galway so much, I bought the process!


I am truly sorry for Galwegians, because you never experience arriving in Galway as a blow-in. Your first year in Galway City is one of the finest of your life. I liked it so much I bought the process!

I’ve left and returned to Galway three times, and each time, suitably signposted by attendance at different pubs, my new ‘First Year in Galway’ was embraced as fully and respectfully as it deserved.

When I first arrived, back in 1992, I was living in Lenaboy Avenue. In those pre-Tiger days, the road was far from the gentrified modernised place it is now.

There were three houses in the small street crammed with blow-ins, and we all socialised and drank en masse, falling into what was then Eamonn O’Reilly’s pub, not only because it was the first one we came to, but also because Eamonn was pretty relaxed about his clientele’s hairstyles.

Legendary ‘king for a day’ afternoons spilled into Salt’n’Pepper, and then onto Vaggies, or another of the nightclubs that pumped bass beat into late night Salthill.

When I required escape, I’d flee all the way to Lower Salthill for a late one at the Cottage, back then a cosy stony-walled cavern with a raging fire.

Indeed, there was something special about the Cottage, with Ruth and Bernie making music, Collie and crew enjoying the craic, and although its transformation is a wondrous thing, there was a particular collection of faces and smiles lurking in the old Cottage that you’d not seen since, well, probably since the last time you went there!

But I didn’t leave England to hang around with English blow-ins in Ireland, and so I am to this day eternally grateful to the trio of local Salthill lads, (now Gentlemen all, from toupĂ©e to the toenail tip) who took it upon themselves to perform my induction into real Galway life. 

Himself The Body, the Whispering Blue and young Blitz hauled my greenhorn Brit backside into an Tobar, which back then was a wonderful place to be. 

Well, it was, but there were a few characters, cautiously suspicious of this wide-eyed Londoner, who put the fear of god into me.

They didn’t know because I wasn’t about to let them see any weakness, and they never will, because I’ll not identify them.

Suffice to say that many have now mellowed (some even pickled slightly) and each would laugh heartily to think that this harmless auld dribbling scribbler ever held them in such regard.

It felt great to be a part of that period of time in there. During the height of summer, there was a strict ‘no tourist’ rule on the door manned by the late, much-loved and legendary Frank McCarthy.

As a fresh-faced ingenue, I valued my inside track to local life as precious.

The second time I had a ‘First Year in Galway’ came seven years later, after I had lived in Connemara, San Francisco and Sonoma County.

Heartbroken after the failure of my life in America, I embraced my return with a dangerously euphoric enthusiasm.

Years before, Taylor’s Bar had always been one of the Stations of the Crawl from an Tobar towards the clubs of Salthill, but after the States, I settled into Taylor’s as a snail to his shell.

Dangerously close to my room in Claddagh, I drank far too much way too often and revelled in the feeling of being back home.

Taylor’s was really three pubs in one: the back bar was where you might find some music, perchance Dalooney and Robbie and others jigging and reeling up a storm. Tourists always ended up at the back bar, so the vibe was relaxed and for its day, fairly cosmopolitan.

The middle bar was reserved for a hardcore regulars and hardcore drinkers. Certain stools would be sat on by the same backsides day in and day out, and on those nights when you needed your brain bent and twisted out of shape, there was ample opportunity for crazed Middle Bar Philosophical Debate with a Bulmer's twist.

But on a good night, the heart and soul of Taylor’s floated around the front bar, where a wonderful cross-section of the population mixed it up with wit, flirting and fluttering mischievous mayhem.

Over all the above, the omnipresent eye of one Seamus Mulligan endowed the pub with a singular presence, predictably unpredictable and ever ready to step out and take control with great theatre.

There were many good nights in Taylor’s, just as there were restful afternoons at the counter, nursing a mug of coffee for hours, struggling with the crossword and chatting to Una, whose smile somehow made life better every time it appeared.

But also, before the sepia hue of nostalgia completely rewrites history, there were nights in Taylor’s Bar, when the wind howled naturally outside and gutturally inside the pub, where three and half humans skulked at the bar and the place felt like the waiting room for hell. 

At its best it was perfect.

At its worst, Taylor's was a miserable and wretched place to spend an hour.

By the time I returned from north Mayo, ready to enjoy my third ‘First Year in Galway’, Taylors was a lap dancing club, the cottage was ‘funky’, its regulars some ten years too young for it to be once more my local. An Tobar had become part of the Dew Drop, and I was publess.

Well, no. Joining forces with Grumpy Chef, who just happened to have returned at the same time, we drank the backside off Neachtain’s, somehow managing to dredge up the same joy that we had felt each and every other time we’d returned to the City of the Tribes.

Since the demise of Taylor’s I have failed to find another pub that distinguishes itself as my ‘local’. Despite its definition, your ‘local’ does not need to be the nearest pub to your house (but oh the bliss when it is), but more a place where you feel as at home as you do when you’re at home.

I still enjoy a daytime pint in Neachtain’s, and will always like the Quay’s front bar. Now also I add Sheridan’s at the Docks to my circuit, and over the bridge sup happily at the Blue Note.

Galway has no shortage of good pubs, but however sad and pathetic it sounds, so many years after it closed down, I still miss my local.

Maybe I need to step out and back in again. And then again, maybe not.

My liver could not take a fourth ‘First Year in Galway.’

1 comment:

Charlie Adley said...

Thanks John. Sadly I never had the opportunity to meet the man himself.