Now that the evenings are getting dark and the end of year is setting in, the city takes on a new complexion. All of a sudden, darkness falls shortly after teatime as the summer city gives way to the winter and the shadows fall like a stage curtain.
The snake of rush-hour traffic starts its journey in daylight and gets home in dark, the red brakelights of the tailbacks painting a warm ring along the city’s roads. And for those of us who crawl out Lough Atalia Road or College Road each evening, there is the reminder of this time last year, when in the same week that the darkness really became evident, we were shocked by an incident that will hang over this city and county for some time to come.
For many years, the name Manuela will haunt this city. There is no need to use her surname, Riedo. Her first name suffices in reminding us all of the shock of that week — this week last year — when her young life was ended.
This time last year, her family bade her farewell and saw her disappear down the path of her home in Hinterkappeln in Switzerland, an idyllic place itself, as she embarked on a dream trip with her classmates to another idyllic place, the dreamy west of Ireland which every student seems to encounter as a rite of passage. They envisaged that she would grow from the experience and become more independent than she already was. As they saw her go, they felt that she would sample the Galway she had told them about, the place with the studenty feel, where people had fun as an obligation.
Within a day of her arrival, she partook in that, sitting watching the swans at the Claddagh as the sun shone down over the city. In those pictures as she squinted at the lens, her face facing the evening sun, she was the picture of contentment. Yet it is a picture that will bring little comfort to her heartbroken and devastated parents Hans and Arlette. According to friends, a light has gone out in their lives, their hopes and dreams shattered, the child they had nurtured for 17 years, gone.
Their house is silent, even when visitors call, the absence of Manuela is noticeable in the devastation that is etched on their faces.
It is obvious that the memories have only got worse for her family and that not until they hear the full details of her last few hours, will they have any closure in the case. The name Manuela will be uttered many more times in the year ahead.
It was fitting that several hundred turned up in the Augustinian Church last night to remember the young student in a beautiful ceremony and listen to the words of Dick Lyng as he recalled the spirit of the young Swiss student and verbalised the impact that her short stay in our midst had on us all. Her passing sent shudders through all families and changed the way that we looked at the city and its supposed liberties.
Although we know that all the sympathy and sorrow that all Galway people felt at her death is not worth to Hans and Arlette one thousandth of what they would give to hear her turn the key in their front door again, at this stage, it is all we can give. We hope that our prayers for the comfort of their sorrow will be answered and that they will come as support in the difficult days and years ahead.