\"Galway

Galway City is feeling the effects of the ongoing recession in Ireland

Ireland's rural west bearing the brunt of the recession

\"Galway

Galway City is feeling the effects of the ongoing recession in Ireland

GALWAY - Twice between my hotel here and a coffee shop 100 yards away I was stopped by campaigners for and against the Lisbon Treaty last week.

Even when I politely explained that I was from New York and would not be voting, both sides insisted on telling me what a disaster it would be if the other side won.

In the event the yes side romped home, and everyone in power breathed a sigh of relief.

The vote was strictly among class and city and rural lines. The more educated and city dwelling you were, the more likely that you would vote for the treaty.

Rural areas such as Donegal voted against the treaty, as did many working class areas.

It neatly describes the schism in Ireland these days. Rural areas are feeling abandoned by central government, especially in light of the infamous McCarthy report which has demanded that funds for pretty much everything that is not Dublin centered be slashed and cut.

Working class communities are also bearing the brunt. The feeling is rampant that the property developers and bankers who got the country into such a mess are getting away with it, while the less well off are suffering with unemployment likely to hit close to record levels by next year.

In the west the sun is going down on Galway Bay, but not in the way the song envisaged it.

I was in Galway speaking at a media conference, and the anger that welled up when the discussion turned to what has happened to Ireland in the past 12 months was palpable.

It was clear that the media business is also hurting. Galway University’s journalism school graduated 30 students last year and none have yet been placed.

The Connacht Tribune newspaper, celebrating its 100th birthday, is the jewel of the west of Ireland, by far the most powerful regional publication, and yet it too is struggling in these astonishing times.

Galway itself is hurting. As I walked to a nearby pub with some participants after the conference, one pointed out to me a large swathe of downtown Galway that was abandoned and in disrepair.

It was to be the largest development in Galway’s history and was all set to go when the downturn happened. Now it is an empty shell.

Galway is the most buoyant of cities, a wonderful college town that annually hosts two of Ireland’s greatest events, the legendary Galway Races and a street festival that is one of the highlights of the year.

This year attendance at both was down dramatically. The pub we went into at peak time on Friday night was practically deserted but for some locals and a group of musicians playing traditional music.

Everywhere the mood seemed quiet, not the usual warm welcome in the City of the Tribes.

The following day it took an American to bring out that legendary Irish wit. She was a middle-aged woman on the 10:45 a.m. train from Galway to Dublin.

“I feel like I'm one of you. My ancestors came from Galway Bay,” she told some fellow passengers.

Her sweet account of her heritage got a major conversation going with a bunch of Dublin women returning from a girl’s week out in Galway.

“I bet you all come from large families,” she said.

“I'm one of 10,” said the first Dublin woman. “I'm one of seven,” said another.

“I’m one of one,” said the third to great laughter.

There is something about Americans in Ireland. They bring the Irish out of themselves. The whole way to Dublin there was laughter, craic and even ceol as one of the Dublin women gave us “Molly Malone.”

Now try and imagine a similar scene on Amtrak or the Long Island Railroad, where strangers meet in their thousands every day. Not likely.

But it took the Yank from Galway Bay to break the ice, the innocence of her declaration that she was as Irish as them and her folks came from Galway Bay.

The Galway girl and her friends made sure a long trip from Ireland's western outpost to the capital city was full of fun and craic. They are hard to beat like that, the Irish.

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