Monday, 25 May 2009

Sure, the Volvo boats are stunning, but Galway has the finest boats of all!

You know how it is when you hear yourself saying the same thing, over and over again, year in year out? Unless you’re an arrogant fool, after a while you find yourself wondering if maybe you were wrong all the time.
So can there be a better outcome than to be proven right, just when the self-doubt was starting to niggle?
Ever since I arrived in Ireland back in 1992 I have been shocked, saddened and confused by the bizarre Irish mentality that so often looks abroad for help.
Fresh off the boat from France, I walked the streets of Cork City looking for a job, but found myself continually discouraged by the locals.
“It’s all been shite since Ford and Dunlop left.” they told me.
“But that was ages ago, wasn’t it?”
By the time I arrived in Galway, Digital ruled the jobs roost, and not a bad word was ever said about them. Sure, didn’t they help out families with their mortgages, and didn’t they sponsor the Galway Plate?
Yes, and didn’t they then bugger off exactly when it suited them, just like all the other American and multinational companies? Didn’t they lay off all their workers in the name of economic efficiency, and who could blame them? Just like Boston Scientific and MedTronic, they are corporate creatures, whose only concern is profit.
And that profit is cashed in abroad: somewhere else, not in Ireland.
Yet here in Ireland I met every day resourceful Irish people, fired with passion, imagination and well up for hard graft.
Everyone had a scheme or a dream; a business that’d make them rich; a product that’d sell by the millions, but tragically these ideas drifted into empty pint glasses, unrealised and unsupported by successive governments, who thought it more important to pump Irish taxpayers money into offering tax breaks to foreign companies, on the off chance that they might stop over for a while and pump some short-term money into the economy.
Just like the Volvo race, you might say.
As my love of the Irish grew, it hurt more and more to see their talents, ingenuity and energy squandered. Gripped by some kind of post-colonial inferiority complex, (apologies to Martino and any others who object to the term ‘post-colonial’ in this 26 county republic, but down here in the real world...) it seemed that having finally gained independence, the Irish didn’t trust themselves to deal with it. They quickly found warmth and security clinging to the belly of the European Union beast, while they suckled on the teats of American and global industries.
Now the milk’s run dry, and a fake boom built on greed, foreign investment and EU Structural Adjustment funds has plunged us into potential ruin. But fear not, fair readers, because I was right all along. The Irish are indeed magnificent, and all that passion and all those skills are still available.
Yes, we’ve got the Volvo yachts coming in this weekend, and I am genuinely excited to see them. But I’m much more excited about seeing the ‘Badoiri an Claddaig Gleoiteog’ coming upstream into Claddagh Quay on her maiden voyage this Sunday, May 24th, at 5:00 pm.
Purchased in a poor state of repair last year by the Claddagh Community Boat Club, the Gleoiteog is truly the physical embodiment of all those exceptional Irish qualities listed above.
From the great works of Club President and King of Claddagh Michael Lynskey, through Chairman Michael Coyne, Vice Chairman Martin Joyce, Secretary Peter Connelly and Treasurer James Croker, all 35 members are local boatmen who burn with desire and ambition to revive and sail the great Galway Hookers. They want to teach young people how to restore the boats, how to sail them and on the way, instil within Irish youth the importance of their own history, and its relevance in the modern world. Alongside the inestimable collective experience of these Claddagh seafarers, the club were lucky to have on board a member who has an in-depth knowledge of timber work in boats.
But of course such a massive restoration project needed a lot of financial support, so the members of the club recently turned to the people of Galway for help.
You might be forgiven for thinking that in such desperate economic times, a few lads knocking on the doors of hard-up businesses looking for sponsorship of an auld boat might have had a rough ride, but oh, you’d be so wrong.
As Peter Connelly explained to me, everyone from local businesses to City Hall jumped at the chance to invest in the project.
“We had 100% great reaction, passionate and unquestioning. This project has shown and will show the city that the talent is still there. All these people involved with their own businesses know how look after the pennies, so we never wasted a cent. Everything we used was carefully sourced and priced. It’s a community project, through and through, and when they gave us money we respected them for the trust they gave us, to take this boat upstream.”
Alongside the bucket collections, barbecues and small business sponsorship, the Gleoiteog project has been helped and supported by the Galway City Partnership, as well as City Engineer Kevin Swift, Heritage Officer Jim Higgins, and Catherine Connolly, who helped to co-ordinate meetings.
From the tip of her keel to the top of her mast, ‘Badoiri an Claddaig Gleoiteog’ is a symbol of how great the Irish can be, if they are simply asked to invest in themselves and be proud of their skills, vision and heritage.
Now more than ever the time has come for the Irish to start appreciating each other, and to work as a team, like these heroes of the Claddagh Community Boat CLub.
The magnificent Galway Hookers crossed the Atlantic centuries before anyone had ever heard of a Volvo.
Yes, it’s great to see the fastest and most modern boats in the world in our harbour for the next two weeks. But the greatest boats of all have been there all the time, and I’ll be on Claddagh Quay on Sunday to cheer my heart out as the pristine and perfectly restored ‘Badoiri an Claddaig Gleoiteog’ sails up the Corrib.

The club has been asked by the Galway City Heritage Department to restore another Gleoiteog. For information on how to become a sponsor, please call Michael Coyne: 086 383 9150; email:

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