It is strangely apt that Galway, Ireland’s “second city” of music and culture has an unofficial theme song that is catchy to the point of addiction, singable and almost universally recognizable. And that it was written by a country rock musician out of Nashville. Such is Galway’s embrace of tradition with one arm, and what-the-feck-do-you-care modernity with the other. The pubs lining Shop Street, some dating from the 17th century, have Gaelic names and the feel of antiquity. But my survey of the buskers turned up only one playing Irish music. Two, if you count the plugged-in punk trio’s rendition of “Gloria” (originally recorded by Them, fronted by a painfully young Van Morrison). There were acoustic Hendrix covers, Hotel California, and a pair of dueling “Caledonia”s within earshot of each other. What is it with the Irish and that song?
And with all due respect to Steve Earle, the typical Friday night “Galway girl” here seemed unlikely to make it down Shop St – let alone the whole way to the Salthill Prom – without one hand each pulling down fore and aft on her hem to keep butt cheeks and nethers from popping out of what passed as a skirt as she shuffled between clubs. I found myself returning to a cartoon I remember from the last time miniskirts were in vogue, musing at what hard times they must be having, to be unable to afford more clothing than that.
So yes, I’m in Galway. One, honestly, the writing hasn’t been going well. I sit and stare at words that feel dead on the page. Trying to shuffle them around seems as productive as operating on a corpse. Had half a dozen attempts as starting something new, all stillborn. It began to feel like a pointless deprivation to pass precious days in such apparent futility while the whole of Ireland beckoned from beyond the windows. Then I got email out of the blue from a South African team involved with shipboard data collection. They’d been looking at OpenRVDAS, the software package that I manage, and wanted to talk. It somehow came out that one of their team had just flown into Ireland and would be sailing on the Celtic Explorer, northbound out of Galway on Tuesday. Would I be interested in meeting up?
So here I am.
But honestly, it doesn’t feel like Galway suits my disposition. Mind you, the Saturday morning farmers market was grand – there have been one or two, but it’s a rare town that can’t lift my spirits with its farmers market. You can count on detailed, always-educating conversations with cheese vendors, and weary, but cheerful smiles from the bakers. Have you noticed that, at the start of any farmers market, it’s always the bakers who are smiling? I think that’s because they’ve been up since 2 a.m., while everyone else is still waiting for their morning coffee to kick in.
Perhaps it’s just the fact that Galway is an actual city, and I’ve grown further away from cities as I’ve turned this latest chapter in my life. Jumping from the blissful desolation of the Sheeps Head to the crush of Galway’s Latin Quarter here can’t have helped. So I may head down to Doolin tomorrow – small town, better known for its traditional music and proximity to natural wonders. I have an introduction there to folks who run a session at one of the pubs there, and it’s an easy walk from town out to the Cliffs of Moher, which I’ve been told I shouldn’t pass by. Obviously, I’ll keep you posted.