Monday, 9 December 2013


When I returned to Galway from California in 1999, I moved into a house on Grattan Road, overlooking South Park. Perfectly placed, so if I turned right out of my front door I’d be heading up the Prom, while a left turn took me on a very short walk into town, along the Claddagh basin and over Wolfe Tone Bridge.

The very first morning I attempted that walk, it took me a lot longer than I anticipated. As I approached Claddagh Hall I looked across the river Corrib. The previous night‘s downpour in Connemara had been transformed into furious brown waves, tumbling one upon the other, licked in grey and sepia spume, raging to catch up with each other.

That alone would have been enough to stop me in my tracks. I love Galway City’s river, and sometimes while standing on O’Brien’s Bridge, watching the whooshing flow disappear out into the bay, I fantasise that I’m standing on the stern of a mighty boat.

But that morning it wasn’t the river that made me stand motionless. It wasn’t the sight of the opening to Quay Street in the distance, sucking locals and tourists alike into its medieval orifice like a Faustian temptress.

It wasn’t the beauty of the bay, or the shimmering allure of Co. Clare’s Burren, purple limestone hills promising days of gentle walking followed by nights of raucous craic.

I wasn’t frozen in my tracks by anything that was there. The pleasure I found was in what wasn’t there at all.

There were no hordes of people, walking six deep across the pavements, struggling to avoid bumping into each other. There was no constant roar of traffic. Yes, of course, the number of cars on our streets has risen substantially since then, but believe me, even today, compared with the major urban centres of the UK and USA, Ireland’s most brilliant city is still a gentle place to be.

That first morning of my return I didn’t so much stop, as perform an upright slump. My shoulders dropped and my neck drooped, my knees crumpled and I couldn’t move an inch.

Didn't want to. My body was awash with fast flowing inner rivers of relief, stomach-wrenching rolls of gratitude and broken glass shards of remorse that cut through all the rest.

Standing there I thanked the universe for returning me to the calm. My soul was bleeding from the massive gash of guilt I felt, for all the pain I had recently caused others whom I loved.

So there I stood, with a heart tormented and a head that could not believe the calm.
Looking to the city across the river, it all seemed so placid. After so many years in America, this major city of Galway seemed like a slow peaceful oasis of sanity.

Of course I knew then as I know now that Galway is as insane as anywhere else in the world, but that feeling of peace and tranquility revisits me every time I return to Galway city and county.

As regular colyoomistas know, I have recently visited both London and West Yorkshire, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in both places, with each beloved person I visited. Yet nothing compares to the joy I feel each time I return to the West of Ireland. Whether I’m driving down the N17 from Knock Airport, or hurtling along the wonderfully empty M18 from Shannon, I always raise my fist in the air and shout out, loud and triumphant:


Because I am back. I am home again. To this wandering Jew, who spent 20 years travelling the globe in search of a home, the happiness I feel in having found it remains undiminished. 

While I was living in California, a very lovely friend of mine in San Francisco once confessed to being confused. She had been raised in a military family, moving all over the USA as a kid, so she could relate to my search for a place that felt like home. However, she didn’t understand my choices.

“You always talk about Ireland as if it was your home, so if you’d finally found it, why did you leave it?”

She knew well the answer, but I took her point. Sometimes, evidently, you have to leave a place to find out it was where you belonged all along.

So now I’m back once again, walking past a pair of buskers on fiddle and double bass, who put a spring into my step as I turn into High Street. Smiling faces everywhere.

Yes, that’s right! I’m quite sure that if you asked people in Galway whether they thought they lived in a happy or miserable city, they’d probably opt for the latter, but they would be so wrong. Galway City and County alike are full of happy people

Yes I know: trying to make ends meet is bloody tough at the moment, and even more often than usual all the locals are saying “Ah sure, I’d complain but nobody’d listen!”

Everyone has a bad day once in a while and we all need a little moan and all that kind of malarkey, but hear me now: I look at the faces of people on the streets, wherever I go, and here there are more people smiling than anywhere else I know.

It’s infectious. I love it.

You could live and die a long life in London without ever bumping into somebody you know, yet in Galway it’s almost impossible to remain anonymous. Everyone from half-hearted Howyas to full-blooded friends come by you on the streets, and after my short breaks back to Blighty, I love the feeling of belonging that is granted to me, back here in my adopted home.

Quite simply, it’s culture shock, of the most sublime kind. Here there is room to breathe, faces to smile at and a rare calm in this modern world, that’s yet to be destroyed.

For these things, we must be truly grateful.

©Charlie Adley


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