If the sea was covered with a sheet of strong glass, and if the skies reflected off it, like they do off the water on a summer’s day, you can be sure we would be out there all the time, slipping and sliding on it, falling on our arses on it, making up strange glass-bound games to play on this strange playground.
If it stretched pane-like all the way across to Ballyvaughan we would be like Irish Inuits, scooting across it pulled by an army of donkeys with ash hurls on their feet. We’d never be off it. But if the glass ended at the edge of the bay, our journey would probably stop there. And we’d trek back, having been to the edge, without any great desire to go further.
But it’s not made of glass, so we’re not out on it all the time. So we look at the sea and all we can do is think of ways to stop ourselves falling into it. Maybe we’re a generation bred on the fears of Synge. Maybe we’ve seen too many depressing plays with Aran Island mammies wailing the loss of child after child, sacrificial lambs to the waves that lap at our shores. You see, we don’t think as much about the sea as we should. We are aware of the beauty of the land that goes out to meet it, but beyond that we are failing to perceive it as a rich meadow in which grows unlimited possibilities.
So there is a magic and drama about the sea that grabs us all. It was wonderfully wrinkled French explorer Cousteau who said “the sea, once it casts its spell holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
One cannot look at the sea without feeling an impulse to embrace it, either in it or above it. It is hard for any of us to stand at the edge of the water and not wish for the wings of a swallow. The sea too, looks at us and wants to come to us. It does not like to be restrained by ugly walls or rocks or shores and every chance it gets to come ashore it does. Lapping at our feet like a playful puppy, but roared on like a lion when the mood takes it.
We have a strange relationship with the sea here in the west. For centuries, it was our thing. It brought people here. We sang about it. In fact we did everything with it apart from truly embrace it as a key part of our culture. It shapes us. We are a city on the edge of something. Push the sea further out west and we are but a midland place, soggy, our socks damp from the bog, and not the heaving froth of a morning wave bringing some other bit of madness.
We often look at the sea as the ending of one land and the faraway beginning of another, but let us not forget that oceans just separate lands and not souls. The sheer brutal power of the sea we share here is that which is experienced in Newfoundland. So let’s turn around, everyone, and look at the sea, and think of the possibilities. Let SeaFest this weekend show all this potential. Feed this information into the minds of the young who will not let such a resource go unreleased as perhaps this generation has. Fair play to Peter Heffernan and his team at the Marine Institute for organising SeaFest — a spectacular event that will draw the guts of 100,000 to Galway this weekend. The Marine Institute is leading sea exploration here from Galway and we are fortunate to have world leaders in sea exploration, using technology that is used to perform many tasks, mainly scientific, but last year, they performed a human task when their robotics were used to help search for the crew of Rescue 116. The beautiful documentary about the Atlantic which was screened some months ago also give us some idea of the wondrous cliffs and troughs that lie underwater, out from our coast and out from our consciousness.
This weekend, honour the seas and those who mind it by coming to Galway and bring your family and friends along to see the wonders of the seas. Let yourself be seduced by the waves. Download the Seafest app and start to look at the water and learn from it, and see how it is probably the most important factor in the future prosperity of this city and county.