The West's Awake by Cormac MacConnell
Galway the summer place to be in Ireland this year -- Western city defies all the naysayers in doom and gloom times
Posted on Thursday, July 05, 2012 at 08:43 AM
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My gentle brother Cathal is over from Scotland to play a gig with his friends in the Crane Bar, which I've often mentioned here before, and our evening will end there much later,but first we go to the Oslo Hotel in Salthill for a meal and a few pints.
I own a pair of red britches that I don for special occasions. I'm wearing them this midsummer night in the City of the Tribes.
I remember when the Oslo was a very genteel and somewhat staid house and when you would not dream of entering if wearing red britches and no tie. All has changed nowadays.
It is a merry meeting place, and the main area of the bar/café is filled with big timber tables suitable for families and party groups. A big screen on the wall permits us to watch Germany reaching the final stages of the Euro football championships as we eat. A huge plaque on the wall details all the many beers available, including the Oslo's home brew, and many of the other tables are occupied by German visitors whose good form intensifies as their team triumphs.
We enjoy ourselves before heading out into Salthill again to cross the road to O'Connor’ssinging pub. When I came to Salthill first as a teenage tourist it was long before the balladboom and even the era of the Dubliners.
But O'Connor’s was already a singsong pub with great performers, including family members, decades ahead of its time. We enjoy its lively atmosphere hugely for an hour before venturing out towards the city and Cathal's gig in the Crane.
Recession be damned! The streets are crowded and merry, and we take a cab rather than walk. There is a buzz in Galway as always, but even more intense than I've ever seen it before except during race week.
My sons explain this is because of the excitement being generated by the upcoming arrival of the fleet taking part in the Volvo international trans-oceanic yacht race. It officially ended in Galway this year because the totally spontaneous welcome given to the crews last time they arrived was so special that the fleet wanted to make it the official end of the race this year. That's Galway for you.
The city responded big time. Hundreds of thousands of euros (where did they come from?)were spent in building a welcome center at the port, a towering building. Traffic systems were revamped, fireworks prepared.
Even a new bridge was erected at the CladdaghBasin for the expected crowds! And a huge tent village on the green zone of the Claddagh itself, for sponsors and exhibitors and recreation generally, was already in place 10 days before thefleet came sailing in by night for journey's end.
Long before it reached Galway, though, bonfires blazed a fiery welcome all along the Connemara coast. Recession be damned for sure.
Cathal was just starting to play upstairs in the Crane when we eventually arrived there. He was with maestro Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson and splendid Clare guitarist Gary
O'Brian, and the upstairs bar was well packed.
If I have a special fondness for this bar it is understandable. The Crane was my local for many years when I lived in Galway. I had many good nights there, and none better than the night I first met the Dutch Nation who is now my wife and the light of my life.
A great spot, a musicians' and singers' paradise. A noble atmosphere.
I have to say that I've never heard my zany and talented brother in better musical form. He and his colleagues charmed the house for hours with a mix of the best of Irish and Shetland music and songs. Mairtin O'Connor, the best box player of all time, was there, and so, also, Fran McPhail of the Voice Squad.
In keeping with the family spirit, both son Dara and myself were stone mad to get up and sing too but we didn't because, frankly, we were out of our league. Splendid stuff. A great night out.
And when we emerged out again at some hour the street outside and the whole small Cranearea was just as lively as ever. God bless Galway! Recession be damned!
We took a cab home as well, out along the froth washed rugged coastline of Connemara. I took a coach home to Clare the next afternoon feeling just a little tender between my ears but heart warmed and happy.
I'm deeply sorry for not writing a gloomy and recession related piece again this week. But what I've written here (and on another wet day too!) is the truth.
The statistics of economic doom and gloom are not the whole story of modern Ireland at all. There are so many facets of the survival and even revival story in the west.
You can wear sackcloth and daub your forehead with ashes if you feel that way. It seems the majority of us are taking a different approach. And that is very good.
Sackcloth and ashes? No, a pair of red britches is easier to wear!