mad in pursuit ireland


Galway City Magic

If we are in search of the beautiful and the picturesque, we must throw away rulers, and squares, and compasses and call in the elements of irregularity, unsymmetry, eccentricity. And the very genius of eccentricity dwells in the streets of Galway. ["Galway, Or City of the Tribes" by Thompson, 1865]

Jim plotted our drive into Galway as carefully as any explorer — which highways led to which rotaries dumping us out on which city streets — and we still got lost.

Turns out the famous Great Southern Hotel right on Eyre Square (how could we miss it?) had shape-shifted into the Hotel Meyrick. The desk clerk wondered why we had a problem with this. It's only a matter of striking up a conversation with someone to know what the score is.

We surrendered the car keys to the doorman and swore off driving for 36 hours.

Next day, in soft weather, we wandered over to the Galway City Museum. The first thing I saw was this quotation on the wall:

If the day was clear enough, and if you went down to the bay and looked west, and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts. And if you did, you would see working on the docks there, the O'Dohertys and Flahertys, and Ryans, and cousins of yours, who have gone to Boston and made good. [John F Kennedy, Galway speech, June 29, 1963]

And then the video clip of the Kennedy speech started playing behind me. You just can't predict when the tears will come, but suddenly I was in one of those "thin spaces" where past and present collide, surrounded by ghosts.

Down the hall were old photos of the turn-of-the-20th-century resort at Salthill, out on Galway Bay. I suddenly knew this was the place where my great-grandmother vacationed with her sisters. My dad had often referred to these annual holidays, but I hadn't known their destination. Days later Josephine and Paddy confirmed my hunch.

Their families were small tenant farmers working the edges of peat bogs, slaughtering their one pig a year for protein. But it's hard work ruling the roost, as matriarchs do. Sisters Catherine Dunne, Nora Crehan and Mary Coughlin insisted on their annual junket: a girls' week together at the seaside resort 50 km away. They had a friend with a lodge and kept their costs down by bringing all their own food. Being poor does not mean being miserable.

Another exhibit told us about people in the village of Claddagh across the River Corrib. They believed that when people died, their souls came back in the swans. When we looked out the museum window, across the river to the church on Claddagh Quay, sure enough, there were swans.

My family was here.

swans of Claddagh, Galway City Ireland


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5.10.07 We drove from Westport (Co Mayo) to Galway City with a stop in Shrule. We met Sinead for lunch at The Cellar Bar. After we saw that we'd gotten a €40 parking ticket, she escorted us through the maze of streets to our hotel.

PHOTO: the swans at Claddagh Quay, from the window of the Galway City Museum.