Sunday 9 September 2018

You have to discover your own Galway!

Two pairs of friends are heading my way. One couple from England in a camper van, the other from California in a rental car, both arriving roughly the same time and each, on the way, experiencing their own Ireland.

Four different people who will enjoy Galway City and County in their own individual ways,

The only thing I’m certain of is that whatever they choose to do and wherever they go, they will leave loving Galway.

The thing I’m less sure of is whether I should show them my Galway. Would it be fair to bombard them with my passion - now that this Englishman is Irish, I dare to use your language - my grĂ¡ for Galway?

Shouldn’t they have the freedom to find their own Galways?

They’re arriving at one of my favourite times of year. For a week or two there’s a brief Galway hiatus after the arts festivals and races yet before students get their money and oysters are shucked.

We have the chance to breathe; to look around and appreciate where we we live.

After an achingly dry scorching summer our land has turned green once again. Autumn arrives with the soft sweet odours of ripe fruit mingled with fresh rain, soon to become a cocktail of damp and decay.

Overhead the swallows are gathering, perching in crammed lines up on phone wires, shooting off for practice runs with their second batch of fledglings.

Come the next northerly wind and they’ll be off. For some their departure carries sadness at the loss of Summer, but while I’ll miss their aerobatic display and company, I embrace Autumn.

We have four seasons and it seems pretty stupid not to like each one. Why write off a quarter of your life?

I’m standing still on the bog, aware how the light has started to change, as sun travels lower in the sky.

Distant chainsaws cut timber.

On the western horizon black clouds crash bulbous tips into distant dark hills. At once the sky becomes blood-streaked: one of the Gods has spilled red wine on the Tablecloth Of The Firmament.

Just another Galway sunset.

I don't expect my Galway to be ideal for others, particularly because much of mine hides away from what Galway does best: socialising. The craic in Galway can be fierce, so in the past to survive I discovered escapes that nurtured, helping me to survive.

One of those escapes we all share, local and tourist alike, because we all must walk the Prom to Black Rock. Every day an endless variety of light offers a differing panorama of Galway Bay and the coastline of Clare, the purple hills of the Burren appearing, disappearing, stark and then veiled in morning mists.

For Galwegians this walk is a universal ritual. The loping teenage hangover victim walks three paces behind the short rotund brown cardigan grannie.

Overtaking on the inside come super-fit mum and dad in identical running suits, with triangular pushchair and baby to match.

All of us, we walk up there, kick the wall, spin around and walk back.

In my personal Galway there’s water everywhere. The legendary bay and roaring river Corrib are only part of the story. A few yards off city centre streets I stand and watch trout jumping by the stillness of Galway’s myriad canals.

Shortcuts slip me away from racing shoppers to hanging gardens of fuchsia and lobelia, where clematis loll above meandering currents, while up past the university my feet ease their way alongside the river on rich wild pasture.

In Autumn my Galway becomes a place of vivid light, of contrast and colour. Sitting on the riverbank by Claddagh Hall, I make sure to appreciate the ultra-dry air of this north-easterly breeze, which creates scalpel-cut edges of blue sky on mossy green rocks on blue water and white swan.

Oh my god. That shattering white of the swans captivates me, as they preen themselves on the wet dark rocks, while the ebb tide river trickles out to the bay.


That’s the thing with Galway, you see.

You get distracted. I was going to take you on a tour of my Galway, City and Connemara, but I ended up sitting and staring.

Time to walk over the lock gates and Wolfe Tone Bridge into the city and abandon ourselves to the narrow jaws of Quay Street.

My Galway would lead me to the tiny front bar of the Quays, which has somehow retained its authenticity. It remains, defiant, like a wonderful carbuncle of old Irishness on the cheek of yet another Paddywood conversion.

There I’ll sense the ghost of Galway’s Traveller matriarch, Biddy Ward, sitting in the corner by the fire, supping her Satzenbrau, scowling at how the rest of the place has become a theme pub.

After the Quays I think I’ll encourage my friends to explore the city.

“Have good time!” I’ll say. “Tomorrow I’ll impose my Galway upon you when we visit Connemara. We’ll go to the magical Inagh Valley, where the 12 Pins meet the Maamturk Mountains, and then we’ll find an empty beach in the Aughrus peninsula.

 “After lunchtime pints and seafood at Oliver’s in Cleggan, we’ll go south to walk the white sands of Doonlaughan, surrounded by treeless moonscape.

“Tonight wander out and find your own Galway. It’ll be built on the people you’ll meet, the strangers’ faces that can so easily become your howyas of each waking day.

“My Galway is all of the places I'm not going to tell you about. Now, go find a hundred of your own.”

©Charlie Adley

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