Monday, 7 October 2013

I love the sounds and silences of Galway!

Driving home from town last Wednesday, I had a bit of a moment. Summer just didn’t want to leave. The car windows were open, wafting me in a balmy 26°C breeze. The Cranberries were blasting out of the speakers, and all of a sudden the present was gone from me. I was lost; abandoned in a reverie of times past.

Paul McCartney realised 50 years ago that the pop song offered its fans an encapsulated moment in time. Whenever they heard that tune, however many years in the future, they thought of that first dance.

My moment wasn’t quite so romantic. Listening to The Cranberries’ ‘Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?’ whilst driving under blue skies, my mind disappeared back to Ballyconneely in 1994, when Dolores O’Riordan and her band were hitting the big time.

Ensconsed on a barstool at Keogh’s pub, I’m sat beside two gentlemen, sadly no longer with us, but then the core of what I call ‘The Brethren of the Bar’. Before the smoking ban, every pub had its own contingent of older fellas who constructed endless conversations through empty Tuesday afternoons, and every other afternoon, come to think of it.

These lads were staring at a photograph in a redtop tabloid newspaper. As I recall, it was of herself, Dolores, on her wedding day, revealing a slightly risqué visible panty line, or somesuch. Whatever it was, it titillated these two fellas. One leaned bacGalwayk, scratched his hairy cheek and smiled, declaring:

“Sure, she’s nothing but a hoor.”

New to the village, I was eager to arrive quietly. Not wanting to appear rude, I tried not to laugh out loud at yer man’s opinion, but instead ended up snorting Guinness out of my nose, simultaneously managing to offend himself and make myself look a prat.

The Cranberries were Ireland's sound of that distant Summer, and once again for me this year, when Summer happily refused to budge.

With the warm weather eating into Autumn, I’m enjoying the sounds on Galway’s streets. Walking up High Street on a sunny day, the harpist lass plucks her gossamer tunes making me feel all ethereal and lucky to be alive. Just up from her, on Johnny Massacre Corner, there’s the Mumford and Son’s style lads, be-hatted be-bearded very pleasant and quite fun, but not something that gets my blood pumping.

Outside Eason’s the Atlantic Pirates are gathering a collection of the smarter 50-year-old American tourists who come to Ireland now, with the kids away at college. The lads belt out the classics with admirable gusto and skill, and I thoroughly enjoy them. But then again, I don’t work in Eason’s.

Earlier this year one of the band was standing outside Four Corners, playing his banjo on his own. Heading up Church Lane I found myself humming Beethoven's 9th Symphony. He’d been playing Beethoven’s 9th on his banjo? The wonderful choral section? On his banjo? Wow! I turned around, went back and tried to find him, but he’d gone.

Away from song, Galway teems with the spoken word. You'd think maybe a scribbler might be half decent at talking, but still I sometimes become dazed and confused by the West of Ireland. Last week I was buying a new pair of walking boots for the wetness to come. I asked if she had this in a 9. She said yes, that’s a 9 there, in your hand. I said great, put it on as she watched, and then had to accept that she wasn’t going to get the other boot. I had to explain to her that I wasn't willing to pay €100 euro on the strength of one boot.

This happens all the time to me, to the extent that I accept that I’m the odd one out. Most Irish idiosyncrasies I enjoy. I'd be a fool to live here if I didn't appreciate your eccentricities as much as my own, but there’s one Irish attitude I’ll never embrace.

As it happens, I last experienced it on the same day as the boot incident. Walking into a newsagents I offered:
“Beautiful day!”

To which the lady behind the counter replied:
“Oh it is thank God. Beautiful. But we’ll suffer for it. I don’t know how, but I’m telling you, we’ll suffer for it somehow.”

At times like those I’m very happy to be the foreigner. If the locals want to spoil their own rare sunshine by worrying about the inevitability of impending pain, then so be it.

Sometimes the only sounds I want to hear in Galway are the waves breaking on the bay, or now that I'm near the lake, the gentle ripple of water on mud and pebble.

Best of all, there exists an off-switch for noise, just as there is for movement. I still have to breathe, but when I stand stock still, in that rarest of West of Ireland moments, when there is not a whisper of a breeze, when the power tools are retired to the shed and drained, when the tourists’ rental cars are parked in sweeping solid rows once more at Shannon Airport, I can feel the silence.

There’s the sound of my breathing, which I tend to see as a good thing, but here where I live, with fields shorn of grass and livestock, with trees soon to be bereft of leaf, revealing huge crows nests built high in their canopy, I feel bliss.

There are many different types of silence. So far I love all the ones I’ve met. As with all of the universe’s greatest gifts, silence is best sampled rather than lived. As much as I love the sounds of the West of Ireland, I adore the fact that by living here, I am also allowed moments of silence.

Va-Shoooom! Memory over, I’m back in Bennett, my car, driving home in the early Autumn heat, singing the Cranberries’ ‘Sunday’ at the top of my voice.
Some songs stand the test of time.

1005 words
©Charlie Adley

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