Sometimes when I think of Galway’s relationship with the sea, I am reminded of the insult that the famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham uttered to a cellist who had performed poorly. “Madam,” he said, “you have between your legs an instrument capable of giving pleasure to thousands... and all you can do is scratch it.”
Sometime’s Galway’s exploitation and understanding and appreciation of our oft maligned but wondrous extreme shore of Western Europe is a bit like that. Because we have been trying so hard to develop other aspects of our culture and character for the last few decades, we have probably ignored the facet that it could yet to be the most rewarding.
Cities around the world would give their right arm to have the perfect seaside location that is bestowed upon Galway. From the fountain in Eyre Square to the edge of the docks is but a few hundred metres. As a city, our everyday citizens are closer to the water than many of their European counterparts. Around the world, the great cities are detached from their ports and harbours, cocooned away beyond vast acres of concrete and wire fencing.
But to blatantly use a maritime metaphor, the tide has been turning on this. In the past few years, Galway has finally realised the value of its proximity to and relationship with the sea. Whereas once, we looked merely to what we could get out of it, in terms of fish and seafood, now we are examining how we can better life by living with it.
And that is why events such as SeaFest 2016 are an invaluable part of the courting exercise on the way to our eventual marriage to the sea. The future of the city is linked to it. We would be crazy to ignore the possibilties offered by seafaring tourism and the millions that that can bring to our city and county; We are also learning of the vast possibilities that are offered in the fields of research and exploration and to that end, we are blessed to have awardwinning and groundbreaking marine research units at not only the Marine Institute at Rinville, but in both our major third level colleges in the city.
None of us knows the extent of the opportunities the sea offers to life in this region, but by attending SeaFest and by bringing children to it, you will be educating yourself and the next generation whose job it will be to bring this marriage to fruition.
Galway is a city that boasts and rightly so about our links with culture and the sea has influenced that. The plays of Druid invariably feature the dangers of lifes along our western seaboard and what those wild westerly winds do to our psyche.
Our newfound culinary excellence also takes inspiration from sources from our ocean-side locale. Our sports events, like the Challenge last weekend and the Frances Thornton Swim cross-bay happen because of it. So the sea is a big part of who we are.
Fifty three years ago yesterday (Wednesday ), John F Kennedy stood in Eyre Square and invited people through the mists of another metaphor to go down to the bay and look west “and your sight was good enough, you would see Boston, Massachusetts.”
Maybe it’s time we stopped staring over the seas and looked more at what’s under our noses on our foreshore. Enjoy SeaFest.