It is a week 30 years ago this week that should stand out as the most endearing image of Galway. On that day, the eyes of the country, if not the world, were on Galway for all the right reasons. It seemed that the youth of Ireland were all attracted here. The event at Ballybrit was a magnet, the pulling powers of which have managed to stay active for the three decades since. Go west, young people, seemed to be the message and this message resonated around the country and around the world.
However, it was two years ago this week, that our perception of the city changed forever. At this time of the year, with the first touches of winter evident and the sun going down over the bay a smidgeen earlier every night, Galway is a lovely place to be. As the seasons meet, ours is the ideally-sized city for finding a nice cosy pub or restaurant, a book or a paper, and nestling yourself in the corner, and pretending you’re someway intellectual.
We had a lovely city, a safe city, and we were right to blow about it.
But in early October 2007, all that changed. On that week, the way we felt about the city was altered forever. The place we held up as being safe was discovered not to be. And we wondered why we had been so wrong.
Fast forward to early this summer when we thought we could dismiss the Riedo murder as the isolated workings of a sick mind, and another family is burying one of its children.
Tomorrow night, a concert will be held in the city to raise funds for the Manuela Riedo Foundation, a body that aims to help victims of sexual assault throughout Europe. The event, organised locally for all the right reasons, will be attended by Manuela’s heartbroken parents Hans and Arlette, and we urge all who can to go along or if not to attend the balloon-releasing ceremony at Salthill.
And yet two years on, it is hard to look Hans and Arlette straight in the eye and tell them that we are truly sorry and without explanation for what happened to their beautiful daughter. This difficulty arises because we know that there is an elephant in the room.
We need to know why Manuela’s killer was free to do what he did. It may be unpalatable for the people involved, it may be unpopular for me to ask this, but several months on, we still have not had any answers as to why Gerard Barry was not in custody when crucial evidence linking him to another serious sexual crime had come into the possession of the Gardai several days beforehand. Is this an urban myth. If so, let people come out and dismiss it. Why was he free to kill?
Many parents would love to attend a function to honour a foundation named after their child, but tomorrow will not bring such pride. They are humble, silent people who I’m sure believed their daughter could have gone on to achieve whatever she wanted. Her aptitude and eagerness to help others was evident from her activities. There will be a pride, but there is no doubt that they would give it all up if they could hear the key turn on their latch once again, and hear the noise of their bubbly energetic daughter come down the hallway.
Alas that will not happen.