It seems the little man-een is coming back to us. At the moment in the middle of Eyre Square lies a large wooden box housing a team of workmen, beavering away on some secret project, Galway’s answer to Shrodinger’s cat. But this cat may be out of the bag, because speculation is rife (when is speculation anything other than rife? ) that in the second week of next month, a familiar face will return to the Square. And it’s not a minute too soon.
For the past thirteen years, the most identifiable symbol of Galway has been kept out of the sunlight and the rain and wind and away from any students who may wish to decapitate him and throw him in a bag on a bus to Donegal or someplace north of here.
It has been well over a decade since the original statue of Padraic O Conaire was strapped up like something out of Fifty Shades... put up on a forklift and brought away from the place he called home for many decades. The last cultural symbol of Galway sectioned... for his own safety.
The place simply hasn’t been the same without him. The original Padraic will be staying in the City Museum but a replica, made of shining bronze will soon be with us.
Padraic, an awful lot has happened since you left us. In fact, you were probably lucky to miss most of it, because however grey you were when you left, you’d be twice as grey now, like the rest of us, after the shocking’ decade we’ve just had. When you left in 2004, there was loads of money around. Feckers who only ever saw skiing during the winter Olympics were suddenly taking off to the piste where they feasted on fine wines and snorted cocaine off the taut bellies of alluring prostitutes; People were laughed at if you didn’t have a place in Bulgaria (with charming views of the Black Sea ) and everyone was tanned and waxed within an inch of their lives. They were the slip-sliding’ away years. And even your own beloved Eyre Square had a few transformations from a soul-less grass and flower-covered knoll to a knoll-less soulless concrete covered plaza. We need your face to be here again, to give the place a focus that the rusted sails and the Browne Doorway wrapped in the takeaway lunch box never can.
Padraic, you are in for a treat, because your favourite pastime has become a national sport. Where once you were pictured in black and white with lassies and lads draped over ya as a pictorial souvenir of their trip to Galway, now with your new bronze covering, you’ll be a dashing participant in the ‘feinin’, the selfies which will bring your image all over the world.
You return to the city to reclaim the statue rights from the two Wildes, Johnny-come-latelys taking your place, but who to be fair have had to put up with their own fair share of selfies and hen parties. However, one thinks that you, with your new bronze covering, will appreciate the seas of pink much more than Oscar would.
Before you left, you were the sole overnight occupant of the city, one who never left to rest his head anywhere else. Now that has changed too. The park and the streets and doorways around you are now home to many who have no other home — a legacy of the years immediately after your departure. Be a beacon of company to those who share your space, and let’s hope they all get sorted.
Padraic, you come back to a different country, a different city. A place that we would like to think has become more chastened, more welcoming, more indifferent to race or gender or class. As the symbol of the new Galway, we need you Padraicin, to make up the deficits that we all have in terms of tolerance and forgiveness, to represent a place that in two years time, will be on the cusp of being the European Capital of Culture.
As the most senior piece of artwork in the city, we look to you to greet all comers and be the face of the city for the coming decades. One hopes that you go on to define Galway pictorially for the next 100 years and that you survive Donegal Tuesday and Race Week with your head intact.
Fáilte ar ais...