Sunday, 28 July 2019



Emerging from the darkness of Jury’s Car Park, my face is misted with moist Atlantic air. Under grey skies I walk the morning streets of the city.

Like the tangy whiff of milk you decide has one day left, I’m a little bit off today, frowning, slightly daunted by the amount of tasks I have to cross off my list.

I chat for a while to the lass in the Spar on Mainguard Street. She’s sharp and witty and takes my brainbox up a gear or two. 

As I step out of the shop my body is instantly draped in a coat of wetness: soft day, as the locals would have it.

Taking a moment to stand still and stare, I watch and appreciate. Despite the blanket damp and melancholy ashen hue, most people on these streets of Galway are smiling.

Many seem to have time to stop and chat, in twos and threes; being human; enjoying some gentle craic; a little slagging; a dollop of gossip.

Emma O’Sullivan is dancing outside Evergreen at Johnny Massacre corner, and much as I admire her skill and artistry, I prefer to watch the tourists in her crowd, utterly thrilled to be presented with Sean-Nós dancing in the street.

Former All-Ireland champion, Emma is suddenly joined by a pair of 4 year-old twin girls, who run from their parents, and twirl and bump into each other, dancing as only 4 year-olds can.

I slip on that ‘local person with things to do’ expression (you know the one, I’m sure you do!), stride past the dancer and head towards Griffins.

Walking through the door I realise that my frown has been replaced by a wide-eyed smile, which is mirrored by the lass behind the counter.

We chat as I sort my weekly bread, and then I ease up towards Eyre Square, delighted to be living in Connacht.

Jobs all done, I head back down to Quay Street, where over coffee in the bar myself and Keith talk a little football with an Aston Villa fan from Milwaukee.

Then Kevin says something from behind the bar. I don’t hear it, but everyone else roars with laughter.

I know better than to ask anyone to repeat it, as the moment was then, so I say my goodbyes and step out, with the spring in my step accompanied by the sound of fading chuckles.

The rain has cleared and as is the way, in equal inverse proportion, Quay Street is mobbed.

Time for a little otherworldliness, so it’s up the wooden stairs for Sheridan's wine bar, above the legendary cheesemonger’s shop.

Over a tiny sip of something cold and dry I chat with Gerry about times past, and then dive into Buskers for an hour of solitude, privacy and peace in a big comfy chair.

A pot of tea, a scone and a newspaper, with a friend due, but not for an hour.

Ignoring the news I watch Cross Street TV unfold live, through the window.

People out there are still smiling.
I’m still smiling.
Galway makes us smile.

This year’s Galway International Arts Festival had energy pumping through the streets, locals excited by installations and a buzz reminiscent of older days.

There were smiles aplenty, built on a foundation that feels happy with its lot.

Life in Galway City and County can feel pretty tough, yet despite the weather, the fly tipping and the housing crisis, most of us would not choose to move.

Yes, complaining and moaning are a way of life, but I see the smiles on the street and hear the laughter on the buses.

Add to that innate happiness the broad rainbow of Galway’s artistic talent, and it’s no coincidence that such a great festival was born here.

Watching Macnas parades imprinted wonder on my soul. My first Arts Festival in 1993 had the Noah’s Ark parade, which was wholly splendiferous.

Jets of water shot out from God’s fingers. There was madness and joy, the air thick with exuberance

Years later, in 2000, I felt that same thrill all over again. Standing on a balcony opposite Jury’s, I had an incredible view of the parade as it emerged from Merchant’s Road.

It was impossible not to be infected by the happiness all around. Macnas produced an explosion of vitality and colour, led by the inimitable Little John Nee, working the crowd, getting us all giggling and excited.

Who was the guy in the marathon outfit, and the fat fella with the suitcases?

What was the story with the bride with the beard?

A gigantic cycloptic Phil Lynott drifted by, accompanied by inexplicable wobbly inflated heads.

Drums kerthrummped, brass bands broohaaahed, and children dressed in shimmering blue silk dresses danced on stilts.

Towering vacillating forty-foot people stamped immigration papers that sprayed water. 

A dancing caterpillar wiggled its ass as well as any Chinese Dragon.

I remember how deeply beautiful it all looked, just as I recall the local woman’s shout that came from behind me:

“Sure, who needs Rio de Janeiro when you have Galway City!?!”

Thoughts of months of rain and wind and damp spores on bedroom walls drifted into my mind and out the other side.

I could completely ignore the utter absurdity of her question, because I was drowning in the euphoria of the day.

Hell yeh, Galway is the perfect place for festivals, so it’s just as well we have 4,765 different ones every year.

However, to fully understand Galway, look away from the structured happiness. 

From Cleggan to Kilconnel, Knocknacarra to Doughiska, the place’s true forte is something incredibly simple, essential and good for us all: Galway makes us smile.

©Charlie Adley

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