Saturday 29 July 2023

Immoral, magnificent, the Galway Races offer the essence of Ireland!

Around the world there are great cites that define the essence of their country.
Not national capitals, these are yer second favourites: much-loved places of culture, art and inspiration, like San Francisco, Liverpool, Melbourne and Galway.
Galway City is only Dublin's poor relation in economic and demographic terms. To this Englishman, Galway City is pure Ireland, and Race Week is the triple-distilled spirit of Galway City.
Ergo: Ireland is Race Week; wonderful and horrendous; immoral and magnificent.

Oh yeh, and it sends you mad. Stark staring cuckoo. Whoever you are, and whatever you're doing, if you are around Galway City during Race Week, it will infect you, as sure as a gee-gee has a leg at each corner.

Kitchen porters are clanging and rushing; chefs pouring sweat while barstaff fill buckets; hoteliers hop; gamblers and cards sharks a-pumping; prossies a-jumping; priests go insomniac with the overtime; the streets overflow with eaters and drinkers and dresses and hats, plastic pint glasses and a billion fag butts.

Up above choppers fly everywhere, buzzing-bizzing like is this a flashback or a film?

Spot the difference: Galway during Race Week and the set of Apocalypse Now.

The Horror.

The Mystery.
The marvellous madness.

What’s a fella to do, as the song says. Thunder clouds roll in and it’s sweaty. The flies are out and it’s Race Week.

On Thursday morning Siobhan from Claregalway spends hours in front of her long cupboard mirror, checking her accessories.

She’s broke but hell, she’s going anyway.

Tommy from Salthill, well, nobody’s seen hide nor hair of him for days, but that’s the way it is in Race Week.

He’ll get himself into a card game and you won’t see him ‘til he’s done. Used to be a problem back in the day when the kids were young, but now, well, to be honest, it frees up his long-suffering missis for a few days. So everyone’s happy.

Himself from Ballybrit is delighted to be back working the door at the Owners and Trainers Bar, watching the good money coming in and the bad money going out.

He’s grinning to himself at the pittance he’s being paid compared to these Fianna Fail gombeens.

He’s watching it all and lapping up the scenery. There’s yer trainers and owners, coming and going, and then there’s all these other yokes who are looking for nothing but a little bit of information, d’y’see? 

Just a nod or a wink from the bloke who owns a fetlock and Colm from Roscommon is on to his phone to do the betting faster than the Heineken floods cold nectar into his glass.

Then there’s the players. The really class ones are the types most people miss, but Himself on the door, he sees ‘em, because he’s learned to spot people hiding in plain sight.

Relaxed, happy, calm, but sucking up the hottest angles, placing the biggest bundles on the nose. They’re not yer each way betters.

He smiles as he thinks of it. No, these aren’t yer each-wayers. These are the players.

The work is good, he’s happy for it, but the watching, listening and learning, that’s better than a banker’s bonus.

Well, no, not better than a banker’s bonus, but great craic. Rather be doing it than not, safe to say.

Siobhan’s met up with her friends in Eyre Square, and they're heading up to the course on the bus. They were going to get a taxi, do it in style, but there was a bus right there, so wha’the.

Her mates all look amazing and it’s just a kickin’ day out.

She’ll get the first round in. That’s it, she’ll get the first bottle of bubbles, that way everybody’ll remember and nobody’ll notice that she doesn’t do much betting.

She’d budgeted for her share of a taxi,  but the bus was a money-saving godsend. Thank you God, she says to herself, as she listens to Anne-Marie’s story about and a lad called Brian and bottles of Bulmers.

As long as the bubbles aren’t too crazy expensive, she might even have a bit left to bet with, too.

Now that’d be a laugh alright. She’s working part-time in the Londis round the corner, and hitching to lectures at NUIG. Loans and rent and life’s not all fun, but you have to sometimes.

Sometimes you just have to, and today is Ladies Day.

After his stint working the door, Himself is back in town, sitting outside Coili’s, watching a fire juggler across the way.

Turning to the grey-haired boho next to him he says:

“He’s alright, s’pose, but not good enough for Johnny Massacre Corner!”

The man replies: “I am sorry. Who is John ze Masterpiece, pliz?”

Himself smiles. “S’alright mate, no bother.”

What was he thinking? Like yeh, really, the guy’s gonna be a Galwegian, tonight, in Race Week!

Cork’s got jazz and Kilkenny makes comedy and hurlers. There’s the All Ireland Finals at Croker, but that’s a couple of hours sport with a day and night’s drinking.

The nation comes to Galway for a week, but this is not merely some pathetic endurance test.

Back when Plate Day Wednesday was the big day, when the meeting ran only a few days, the Galway Races were no less significant.

There’s a depravity, corruption and decadence to the affair that cannot be ignored, but putting aside the traffic and the pavement pizzas for a moment, the best part of Race Week is the spirit of the city.

Galway soaks up the farmers, politicians, insurance brokers and hairdressers. They are all welcome to have their own parties, to gamble and screw each other, or gently sip tea and suck Galway oysters from the half shell.

Siobhan’s eye liner is a disaster by the time she’s back on Quay Street. The cobbled streets are a total mare to those heels now, ouch, bleedin’ exhausted, pure bubbled out, but nobody noticed about the money.

Now they want to go for a drink. She’s enough for one and the bus home.

“Coili’s for the music?” asks Roisin.

So they head up High Street, and in the distance, Himself spots Siobhan, and she kinda catches his eye.

What’s a fella to do?

©Charlie Adley

Friday 21 July 2023

Without this weather would we lose the place we love?

True to form, everyone has forgotten the wonderful late Spring and early Summer we enjoyed this May and June.

We walked under sunny dry cloudless skies for six weeks, but a fortnight of sodden July has erased from our brains all we then enjoyed.

The rains came exactly when they always do: just as festival season hit Galway.

Humid damp air cooks under morning hot sunshine, conjuring towering thunderclouds by midday.

We console ourselves with "We don't live here for the weather!" but that’s becoming less true with each warming year. 

I’ve lived in San Francisco and Melbourne, yet take the weather of the West of Ireland weather every time.

Wise words were spoken to me during a deluge decades ago.

October late evening, the rain roaring sideways up Dominick Street, I sought shelter in a shop porch opposite the Left Bank Café.

Crammed in beside me, an old bloke (think: Del Boy’s’s Uncle Albert) was lifting his head and smiling like he’d just picked the winner.

Together we watched as blankets of water ripped off the Atlantic Ocean, powered up Dominick Street, torrents of insistent swirls, dancing silver under the street lights.

“Tell me, without this weather would we lose the place we love?”

Impressed by his sensing I love it here, I stared into his eyes with a look that said

“Do what? Go on then, I’ve bitten.”

We turned our heads together, back out into the rampant bleakness;
both knowing well that this was not a passing shower;
that we would have to brave it and deal with the consequences.

Turning to me one again, Shorty White Hair threw back his old head and laughed maniacally.

“God’s gift to Ireland!” he screamed above the clamour of the storm. “God’s gift, the RRRAAaaaiiin!” he cheered.

Not really in the mood for theological debate, I resisted the urge to reply

“Well ta very much, God!”

instead settling for the more respectful:

“How’s that then?”

Delighted, he launched into his spiel, which was, I must admit, entrancing.

“Without the rain there’d be a hotel on every clifftop. Without the rain there’d be caravans and mobile homes as far as you can see. Without the rain there’d be millions of tourists here every month of the year and the farmers would go broke and sell up to build more hotels and the land would be gone and the space would be filled. Without the rain everything you love about Ireland would be gone.”

Silence fell between us.

Somehow this stranger could not have summed up better what I love about the West of Ireland. Almost beyond the compassion, warmth and wit of the people, I adore the pace and space of the West.

Step out of your shower in Florida in July and you instantly need another shower. The towel won’t take the water off you.

Humidity sucks, but not water from skin. Sleepless nights, above the sheets, scared to move an inch to break sweat.

No thanks.

In Rome they're telling people to stay indoors.
In Greece; Canada; everywhere, it burns wild and terrifying.

I’ve seen a forest of blue gums with their bases intact and untouched, their canopy still alive with green leaves, with all between scorched charcoal black.

The fire moved so fast it didn't have time to take the tops and bottoms of the trees.

70 mph fireballs racing from each exploding eucalyptus to the next.

No thanks.

When I lived in the Redwood Empire, it stopped raining in May, and you most likely wouldn’t catch a drop ’til mid-November.

By that time, frazzled beyond reason, I was that eedjit dancing with joy in the downpour in the library car park.

Irish weather is terrible, and as Autumn already threatens, consider this: wherever you live in Connacht, you’re never more than 20 minutes from somewhere stunningly beautiful.

If you step out of your bus or car and stand in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes, you’ll be giving thanks, feeling privileged to live in this extraordinary part of the planet.

We have so much empty space. Wildflower meadows pop up in vacant lots between launderettes and pubs on Irish streets.

Here in North Mayo, I can walk for hours without the sound of distant traffic. I lie in my bed in the morning and listen to plaintiff donkey brays crashing through the air, pheasants gawaaaaghrrrk-ing.

Our mountain sides are empty.
Our clifftops are grassy, lined with wild orchids.

At night, in our rare and splendid area of darkness, we can see the Milky Way in all its glory.

During the day we can walk among wildlife, dreaming for a moment we are the sole representatives of the human race.

Yes, we have gorse and bog fires, but they don't outrun a speeding car.
Our land stays still; no significant tectonics.

The odd mudslide, once a year or so.
Flooding, yes, increasingly.

If I ever buy a house, it’ll be on a hill.

Flying low over Ireland, you fully appreciate how this nation is a shcattering of green bumps and lumps, sticking out of vast and many puddles.

We have windstorms in winter but little snow, and over 300 days a year between 10C and 20C.

I’ll take that.

I’ll take it all, with clifftops clear of hotels.

©Charlie Adley

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