Wednesday 15 July 2015


 Local heroes John and Joe...

I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see headlines proclaiming how many millions of Euro this event or that festival will bring to Galway’s economy. Quite apart from the fact that after the Volvo Ocean Race finale there were many local people left out of pocket, the idea that cruise liners, events and festivals offer something special to Galwegians is missing the point entirely.

Of course it’s great that people from all over the world and every corner of this island flock to Galway City and county. Race Week would feel strangely empty if it was only attended by Galwegians, but it would still be an amazing festival, because it’s Galwegians that put the magic into any event, not the other way round.

When I arrived here Galway Arts Festival posters were created by the inimitable and irresistible Joe Boske. His wonderful depictions of our local flora, fauna and culture were as exciting and eccentric as the festival itself.

Joe Boske's great anthology - buy it!

In its present incarnation, sporting a logo that any multinational pharmaceutical conglomerate would be proud of, the Galway International Arts Festival is incredibly reliable and successful, taking its own productions on sell-out international tours.

However, as first illustrated by the success of Project ‘06 and the subsequent burgeoning Fringe Festival, down on the streets people feel sadly distanced from it.

Ah, and what streets they are! The perfect size for a city, in Galway you can walk everywhere, while if you want to explore the stunning countryside, nothing is more than 90 minutes away.
Quay Street offers the perfect rendezvous for tourists and locals alike and the river Corrib roars through the city centre like a bold artist’s signature at the foot of a painting.

Yet more than the geography of Galway, it’s Galwegians that offer the most. We’ll applaud your IronMan athletes. We’ll greet your Volvo yachts with the greatest welcome any sailor has seen in a century. We’ll host the entire nation for one week every August and everyone, from busker to billionaire will wear a grin and cross the cobbled streets with a spring in their step.

We’ll do all this because we thrill at human endeavour, appreciate the effort involved in throwing a party and love having a good time. Ask anyone in Ireland to sum up Galway in one word and I’ll put a penny to a pound that they say:


Galwegians know better than any others how to go with the flow. Arrangements are for sissies round here. You go out and let the evening happen. As you walk though the city, take a look at the other people on the street and notice how many are smiling. I have lived in London, Melbourne and San Francisco: some of the world’s most splendid cities, yet nowhere have I seen such apparently happy people.

I say ‘apparently’ because you wouldn’t want to be asking too many Galwegians if they’re happy. They’ll keep your ear busy all day explaining why they can’t be complaining, now, ‘cos nobody’d listen.

The reason that Galway hosts so many festivals, attracts the cruise liners and the coach parties is that we have a unique combination of charisma and creativity. In this city and county we have a plethora of painters, playwrights, boatbuilders and banjo players. We’ve sculptors, singers, stonemasons and horse trainers. We've fiddlers aplenty and poets. We’ve actors and scribblers coming out of our ears. We’ve film makers and food-foraging chefs offering culinary slices of cutting-edge cooking.

We’ve a spirit that others find incredibly attractive and contrary to the misconception that Galway is the graveyard of ambition, we’ve a collective buzz in the seat of our pants to get out there and give it a go.

For those people who can’t stand crowds, or those times when what you need is a moment’s peaceful reflection and inspiration, take a walk along the prom to Salthill and look across the bay to the purple hills of County Clare.

Stick out your thumb, jump on a bus or drive, but whatever you do: head west. You don’t need a huge ocean cruiser stacked with American tourists to make Connemara look stunning.

Wherever you roam out there you’ll see the Twelve Pins, mountains smoothed down by ancient ice to resemble God’s own fruit bowl. Walk on the white coral sands of Dog's Bay, Gurteen and Mannin Strand. Get out of your car and sit on a rock and watch small clouds whipping across a blue sky, their shadows racing over the sides of the mountains, over the surfaces of the glacial lakes and dashing rivers, picking out the nuances of the hillsides and the movement of the water.

That’ll do it. The coldest of souls could not fail to fall in love with our landscape. Look toward the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the hill behind An Spidéal and see all three Aran Islands in their rugged defiance. To the distant south the Cliffs of Moher and the sensual curve of Black Head, guarding the end of Galway Bay.

Dries your mouth and fills you with gratitude.

A few weeks ago I was chatting to another of Galway’s adopted sons, Little John Nee, about Galway’s bid to win the 2020 City of Culture nomination. I was worried that it might turn out as so often before, with locals getting screwed while major corporations cleaned up.

John’s response was a cocktail that summed up this place: equal parts optimistic, energetic and enthusiastic, as he talked I felt that nobody better embodied the strengths of Galway.

I remember watching him years ago, walking in the middle of the road with a suitcase, using his wit and warmth to excite the vast Arts Festival crowds, as the tremendous uproar, chaos and wonder of the Macnas Arts Festival Parade approached close behind him.

That’s why festivals love Galway: not so they might offer us something, but because of people like John Nee and people like you, reading this now, who have so much to offer.

©Charlie Adley

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