There is a strong sense of impending Christmas about Galway this week. Tomorrow, the city lights will be switched on, in a progressive way by a city-hopping Santa who will by the end of his journey have brought the power of illumination to us all. The crews have been working on this and on the Christmas Market stalls and huts for the past seven days. The clang clang of their hammers and drills; the constant beeping of the reversing vehicles; the rattling of the dividing fences that will provide safety, the chatter of men dangling by ropes from the steel structure that forms the big Ferris wheel, almost 100 feet above the ground.
It provided a visual and aural backdrop to us here at Eyre Square, the hum of machinery and cranes as the work continued to make Galway a truly festive location this winter. The centre of town is never quiet, but there are sounds now that signify the season which it is. And these were the sounds of approaching Christmas, when darkness falls early and the power of light to cheer us knows no bounds.
However, one sound changed all that for us on Tuesday.
The sound of sirens in the city and the hum of the Sikorsky rescue helicopter as it hovered about the docks and the river reminded us all of the fragility of human life. While we all had been thinking of the joy of Christmas and the evenings of hot foods and festive smells that await all of us who travel through the Square over the next month, just 500 metres away, somebody had gone missing and was probably lost to the unforgiving currents of the river that runs through us.
And there was the juxtaposition of life. One person’s humour is another person’s grief. We know not what truly occupies each other. Two sides of the one city — and yet another reminder of the pain that people are suffering day in, day out. Pain that we should all acknowledge in a non-curious way; pain that should encourage us to develop skills of empathy, so that we can go about our lives truly reaching out to those who need it.
Once again, I pay tribute to the emergency services who are called out on these occasions to risk their own lives so that they can prolong hope for the family and friends of the missing man. Let us remember them in our thoughts this evening, and try in some small telepathic way to send a little bit of comfort to aid them at this terrible terrible time.
And from tomorrow when the lights are switched on and the city becomes a sea of illumination, enjoy them, embrace them, and hopefully, they will be a sea of inspiration too to those who cannot see that any tomorrow will be a better day; But it will. Continue to treat life like a raffle, make sure you have a ticket by believing that the best is yet to come for everyone.