Sunday, 13 November 2016


“How ya doing?”

“Mighty. And you?”

“Good thanks. Bit tricky this, but your mate with the northern accent, the lad we were drinking coffee with outside Pura Vida? I’ve known him for years. We’ll often stop and chat. Thing is, I’m not sure of his name.”

As my friend stares at me over the table I’m not sure if I’m about to be reprimanded or helped out. How could I possibly be so shallow as to say I know someone, when I haven’t a clue what they’re called?

His mouth drops open, his eyes stare at the table as a gathering red flushes up from his chin to the crown of his head.

“Jeeze Charlie. Now that you mention it, I’m not sure myself. I think he’s married to the sister of that Dave from the market, because it’s his brother I was talking to. Not the brother from Letterfrack, he’s not been around, the other fella, the one who married the Yank and moved over there and came back after the crash, he’s working in Thermo King now I think, and …”

As he rambles I find myself forgetting who it was I was asking about in the first place and no longer caring in the slightest. Over the last couple of decades I’ve become used to this.

U2 sang about the land where streets have no names, but the truth is that sometimes in Galway City, people don’t need them either.

Even though this city has changed in many ways since I moved here in 1992, all the things I first loved about it remain almost intact, so I was saddened to hear Whispering Blue and Soldier Boy, both raised here, agree that the place had lost what made it special.

They felt that the place had grown too big, lost its intimacy and spontaneity.

Whenever I walk around Galway City streets with one of my local mates I’m still to this day astonished at the number of people they know. I’m a Londoner and over there bumping into people you know is a rare and special event.

To me this buzzing upcoming European Capital of Culture is still also a provincial county town, with an extraordinary smile on its face and a spring in its step. 

Home to dreamers, scribblers, dancers and software designers, you’ll know many people in Galway, just not necessarily by name.

This city of 14 tribes has many more now. Scores of Brit blow-ins like me; Europeans availing of free movement; 20,000 students and a welcome tide of others from further afield. Also, let’s not forget those poor souls lost in the limbo of Direct Provision. It’s easy to ignore them. Many of us do, but they live here too.

Many wonderful tribes from all over the world on this western seaboard, colliding with local culture, wondering what on earth everyone is talking about. 

If you are one of the many thousands recently arrived in this wonderful patch of the planet, allow me to share the following snippets of advice, gleaned from 24 years of simultaneously sticking out and blending in.

Despite what they tell you, never ask anyone if there’s any craic. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing will plunge a conversation into silence, a room into panic, a mood from light into darkness than somebody asking if there’s any craic. 

Unless there’s been a very recent death in the community, the air will hang heavy until someone starts talking about sport or a new dress on sale in Monsoon or, thank the Lord for its ubiquity and neutrality: the weather.

As a na├»ve new Galwegian you will at some point inevitably find yourself trapped by a local, who is convinced that you know somebody that you don’t.

You need to be prepared. There’s more than a little bit of Mrs. Doyle about it all, but instead of a cup of tea being forced upon you, the other person cannot rest easy until you either admit that you absolutely definitely don’t know the person never have never will now please step away from my face, or simply lie and say oh yeh, him? I know the fella.

If for you, as it was for me, you find neither of these options attractive, because you don’t want to upset someone and you don’t like telling porky pies, then learn this my friend, and use it freely:

“I’d know him to see him.”

Works a treat every time. The Galwegian who was for obscure reasons obsessed with you knowing this absolute stranger will breathe out, nod, smile and like a humpback whale across hundreds of miles of ocean, return the call:

“Ah you would! You’d know him to see him.”

After this blissful exchange life will immediately return to normal, whatever that might be in Galway.

Just room for one more quick-pick of idiomatic signposting. Even though the Irish are fascinated by death, preferring a good funeral to a bad wedding any day, they don’t mean someone’s died when they describe them as ‘up above.’

‘Up above’ can mean they’re still at home with Ma in Shantalla or taking a few months rehab in the cottage in Roundstone. I know from experience that this tiny bit of knowledge can save a whole heap of tragic confusion.

Only locals truly know how much this place has changed, but for me, never mind the streets, until the day comes when we need to know our friends’ names, there’s hope for Galway City.

©Charlie Adley


Unknown said...

ha Charlie dont know what "yermans" name is, but know Mrs Doyle she lived two doors up from me. Ya that Mrs Doyle.!

Charlie Adley said...

Yer man Herman the German? Or Mrs Doyle from over the Foyle?