Sunday, 22 July 2018


I was updating my friend Whispering Blue on the latest predictable controversy raging around Galway City’s 2020 award.

“Ah don’t talk to me! Didn’t we lose the run of ourselves?” muttered the Galwegian.

There’s that expression again. I heard it often in 2009, spoken by others born here in the West of Ireland.

Didn’t like it then and don’t now. It implies we all have a station in life, to which we should adhere. 

Doubtless some might still put it down to keeping your head below the parapet, but there’s no Irishman I’ve ever met less likely to blame history, so what did Whispering Blue mean?

“Ah, you know Charlie, did we really need it?”

Did we need it? Did Galway City need to be awarded the title of European Capital of Culture 2020?

There I’d been when the announcements came in, dancing on Mainguard Street, deep inside the thronging mad mobs of joy that Galway City specialises in, and yay! We won! Galway is the best! I know it! You know and now the world will know it too!

While we drank in the excitement, the cynic in me hoped and then wrote of fears that this award might turn out to be yet another debacle, fuelled by hubris, wherein good local people get screwed while vast amounts of money disappear into offshore ethers.

Never once, ’til now, did I spare a thought for whether it was a good idea. My friend made a profound observation. 

Did Galway City really need it, and more importantly, did those who live here need it?

Depends on your priorities. If you seek only the bottom line, the profit margin, then yes, the possibilities are indeed tempting. If you value what makes Galway great, which is you, the people, then the promise of 2020 starts to diminish.

I’ve always loved the people of cities in western bays. There’s a certain liberality, acceptance and hedonism shared by the people of Bristol, San Francisco and Galway; a wondrous blend of world-weary locals with wit and a strong sense of the absurd, to better handle their city’s storms, floods or earthquakes.

They share their home cities with hordes of blow-ins such as myself, many of artistic bent, who drifted through their youths unsure what they were searching for, until they found it here.

Characters, Connemara, compassion and craic.

Those always were the ingredients of Galway and they still are, but during the 26 years I’ve lived here, this city and region has undergone a transformation, socially and politically.

The lads back in ’92 were forever telling me that I wouldn’t believe the changes they‘d seen in Galway. With pride and unabashed enthusiasm they declared their home town was Europe’s fastest growing city, and Europe’s youngest city.

Since then the place has exploded. Way back in August 2000 this colyoom asked:“Galway - a place with tourists, or just a tourist place?”

Now every day looks like Saturday in town, and while that’s great for the local economy, maybe it’s not so wonderful for locals.

Traffic congestion is now the first thing people think of when they hear Galway mentioned on the radio, followed by the fact that nobody can afford to live here any more. 

We’ve students sleeping homeless in Eyre Square while landlords clean up on air bnb. Our hospitals cannot cope with the numbers swamping them.

Should we continue to embrace 2020, with its tenuous offer of wealth for all? 

Or, instead of this rampant quest for global visibility - in which I confess I was caught up - should we now focus our energy and funds, and apply them to making this city work for those who already live here, and those just arriving off the bus?

The sexing of Galway started in the 1980s, when Ollie Jennings kick-started the Arts Festival with Pádraic Breathnach. Everything that made this city great came from our streets and people, yet have we now, as my friend suggested, lost the run of ourselves?

Have we have been blinded by the shiny blue logo, the glory and greenbacks, when really the last thing Galway needs is more?

From its street-rich grass-root beginnings the Galway International Arts Festival has grown into an incredibly successful corporate entity, but on a solely personal level, I feel it has been, as my late father used to say, “Destroyed by progress.”

With the inevitable lifestyle and financial costs to locals of 2020, what I fear now is that Galway City itself will lose its heart and soul. My mate claims that’s already long gone, but I beg to differ. 

As an outsider it’s easier for me to appreciate everything about Galway. I believe that it’s not too late to cling to the wreckage and rebuild, if we are careful about what is special here.

In our haste to sell Galway’s uniqueness, we risk in the process turning the city into a sad bland corporate entity.

We could relinquish the title. We could say no, thanks all the same, let Rijeka in Croatia enjoy the honour alone, but we won’t. 

The stats say that 80% of Capitals of Culture believe they benefitted from the experience. Maybe, but Galway’s never been 80% of anywhere else. 

If 2020 succeeds it will be through engagement with individually brilliant Galwegians, and should it collapse and fail, it will be, as always, local graft and genius who save this city.

Galway was, is and hopefully always will be Ireland’s capital of culture. 

We don’t need to be told we’re great. 

We already know.

©Charlie Adley

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